I was an experienced graphic designer and art director before I was ever an ArtCenter student. What intrigued me even more than the work itself was the challenge of interfacing with a variety of creative professionals: designers, yes, but also layout artists, writers, photographers, and illustrators. What I really learned at ArtCenter was how to exist among creative people.
I oversaw my first sponsored project back in 1989. It was an ArtCenter project. Since then, I’ve joined Newell Brands, and much has changed in the world of design. Back when sponsoring projects was still a novel idea, there was a substantial emphasis placed on recruitment, and it was expected that students would support the College through the work they did.
From a student perspective, being part of a sponsored project is more helpful than any portfolio review. It’s helpful for me too, since I get to see the students in action. I led my first design team two years after graduation. I was a student of the game, and then I learned how to coach.
Is my passion still design? Absolutely. It’s just that I love designing creative teams. I love working to optimize each individual member’s skill set to its maximum potential. I love watching a bunch of creatives from different walks of life working together in synchronicity. It’s the greatest joy in my professional life.
On a personal level, there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment to having once been a student who was involved in sponsored projects, and then coming back around the other side as a mentor. It’s a real rush. Ultimately, it’s about connecting, and utilizing ArtCenter as a platform to test out new ideas.
Occasionally, I had brought my bosses out to ArtCenter to see evidence of the incredible work that the students were doing. I recall one such trip with my former boss at Newell Brands, Mark Tarchetti. I asked Mark to give me three days to show him what was going on at the College. Mark and I spent most of our second day on campus, where we were given a tour and allowed to audit a few classes. One of the classes we sat in on was on writing advertising copy. After we left, Mark asked me if all the advertising design students had to take that class.
I said, of course! As an aspiring car designer, I had to learn aerodynamics, mechanical engineering, and much more. Mark was stunned.
It’s a privilege to be a sponsor for these projects, and see a new generation of leaders taking shape before your eyes. These sponsored projects are designed to inspire creative confidence. ArtCenter students can seem arrogant when they’re out there in the world, hunting for jobs. It’s not arrogance you’re seeing, it’s confidence – confidence in the details of the school’s curriculum, in the strength of the faculty, in the fact that all the teachers are themselves practitioners. I’ve taught at art schools around the country, but nobody goes the extra mile like ArtCenter does.
Few things in life are genuinely transformational. My time at ArtCenter was really and truly just that. When I enrolled, I was a normal guy with a dream. After graduation, I was set up for a career that would shape the rest of my life. That clarity is worth more than anything material.
As a sponsor, it’s not hard for me to put myself in a student’s shoes. When I see them struggling, sometimes I want to say to them, “Do you have any idea how much you’re learning right now?”
Of course, it’s impossible to ask yourself this question in the moment. There’s too much pressure. You’re too in it. It’s not the kind of thing you totally understand until ArtCenter is fully in your rearview mirror.
Many times, I sat in my car in the ArtCenter parking lot, despondent, telling myself I would never make it. The truth is that anybody can make it, if they put in the work.
That means you, too.
BFA 87 Transportation Design
Senior Vice President of Design and Innovation at Newell Brands
Former Group Vice President at Prince Corporation and Johnson Controls
Co-Founder of TWISThink and NewNorth Center for Design in Business