ArtCenter College of Design | Pasadena, California | Learn to Create. Influence Change.

Tyrone Drake

Graphic Design '96

After graduating from Art Center College of Design in 1996, Tyrone Drake embarked on a graphic design career that has encompassed a wide range of work in both the architecture and entertainment fields. He has worked as director of graphic design and publications at the USC School of Architecture, director of graphic design for the A+D (Architecture+Design) Museum in Los Angeles, and as art director at Merle Norman Cosmetics. Drake has worked as a graphic design consultant to a number of Los Angeles-based architecture firms, as well as the Los Angeles Chapter of the AIA (American Institute of Architects). He currently serves as design consultant on way finding and environmental graphics for Santa Monica College.

Tyrone collaborated with Ringo Starr on the design of Starr's CDs Ringo Rama and Choose Love. As a design consultant in the entertainment field, his clients include public radio station KCRW, Walt Disney Consumer Products, the Los Angeles Clippers and 20th Century Fox Pictures, where he worked on the graphics style and product merchandising for the animated film Titan A.E. His work has been exhibited in two shows at the Pacific Design Center, in addition to the Pasadena Museum of California Art's 2003 Biennial.

Art Center: At what point did you realize that you wanted to pursue graphic design as a profession?
Tyrone Drake: I didn't wake up one day and say, “I'm going to do graphic design for a living.” I think I was simply born to do it; it was always in me and it manifested itself in my ending up at Art Center. The effect of music in our culture and in my family had a tremendous effect on me growing up and influenced my creativity. I would sit for hours and draw copies of album art of groups like the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire. It's ironic that years later I ended up working with Ringo Starr on the design of two of his records.

AC: Has your Art Center education impacted your creative process or perspective?
Art Center was a cultural change for me, and it was intimidating in the beginning. It took me a while to get comfortable. One reason was that I had a lot of angst at the period in my life and the Art Center environment tapped into some of that angst. I had to learn to adapt to the Art Center environment, an experience through which I have also used as a business professional. Any time I meet a potential client, I try to get a sense of their environment. I try to understand it. I try to put myself in that environment so I can be comfortable, because I can't be truly creative if I'm not comfortable.

AC: How do you define design leadership?
Having a commitment to truth and honesty in solving design problems as well as having the ability to nurture your ideas and those of your client. I believe it's important to nurture new ideas and new talent. Using Miles Davis as an analogy, it was important for him to have the best musicians he could find and to allow them to do what they did best. He didn't get in their way, which in turn benefited him. For example, Miles allowed John Coltrane the freedom to express himself and then let him go on to his own thing. I think real design leadership takes that into consideration.

Leadership also means being responsible and respectful to your target audience. Too much design today is market-driven. It's not as true as it can be—there's a lot of irresponsibility in that regard. I see a lot of market-driven advertising and think, “Wow, how did they let that happen?” Part of design responsibility is to understand how the end user—the person at the end of that message—is going to relate to it. For some people, it might be good thing. For others, it might be bad. A good leader is really thorough in terms of understanding that.

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