Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, California | Leading By Design

Bruce Burdick

Environmental Design '61

Bruce Burdick formed The Burdick Group in 1970. His wife, Susan, joined as his design partner in 1983. The Burdick Group has garnered accolades in the fields of industrial, exhibition, furniture, retail, graphic and interactive design.

Burdick's clients include Esprit de Corp., Herman Miller, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, AT&T, Wells Fargo, Philips (Netherlands), Samsung (Korea) and the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville, Ky. His work has been recognized by the Industrial Designers Society of America, the American Institute of Graphic Arts, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, I.D. magazine and Time magazine.

In addition to his professional achievements, Burdick was the founder and director of the Environmental Design Department at Art Center in the 1970s, and served as a board member of the Stanford Conference on Design.

Art Center: How do you see the role of the designer today?

Bruce Burdick: A designer works in an interstice, the space in-between what is known and what will become, and this is the ideal place in which to operate. In this space, you are working ahead of the known information. And what you have to do is to feel very comfortable operating in this fringe area in order to push something out.

Corporations don't usually work this way. They primarily have old information, so they build on that old information trying to search forward to something else. So this interstice is really the home of the designer, and where you want to be.

You have to use intuition and a sense of where we might be going to have something come out of that. And when people talk about the future and future design, it's a type of anticipationbut it's one that's driven out of research, new materials and new thinking.

AC: Couldor shoulddesigners be leading a bit more in terms of working in and with corporations?
BB: You have to look first at the different results you get from a private design practice versus being inside the corporation. From a private practice, you're naturally going to get someone who is more independentwho isn't owned by that corporationand probably has developed a capability of talking to clients and bringing them along. With the corporate person, maybe those skills were never called on, or they were specifically minimized.

 Independent studios are extremely important. The work that gets design recognition usually comes from someone who is in private practice.

AC: How do you measure a designer's impact on society?
A designer's influence on public opinion comes down to his or her designs and how the public utilizes those designs. Designers change people's perceptions of what a car, a desk, your clothing or your house can be. Tupperware changed one of the ways we work in the kitchen. Earl Tupper understood this conceptthe gestalt of a product. It is the highest order of design to squeeze function and pleasure together so tightly that a person cannot separate them.

If you look at a Porsche, there are many things going on in that design. It's beautiful and highly functional, and yet there is a lot of subjectivity that went into it. But that subjectivity doesn't tip over into becoming mannered, or retreat into fashion.

AC: What do you hope your work contributes to society?
Enjoyment, usefulness and understanding.

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