Storyboard: Earl Gee

Teaching excellence

I loved making things as a kid. Transforming corrugated cardboard into a makeshift rocket ship. Converting a cereal box into a mask. When I made something, I never played with it for too long. The “making” was far more exciting.

I greatly enjoyed my art classes in my elementary school’s gifted program. Al Parker, the school district’s Art Coordinator, had me combining words and pictures to create “wordmarks,” mounting a one-man show in the school district administration building. I was 11 years old. Who knew I’d be designing logos and logotypes for global brands years later. This is the impact a great teacher can have on a student. Every child should have someone like that in their life; I still keep in touch with Mr. Parker to this day.

At Alhambra High School I drew editorial cartoons for the school newspaper. Not realizing it at the time, I was already developing my aptitude for conceptual thinking and working under a deadline. My introduction to ArtCenter occurred in 1976 through the College’s Saturday High classes. ArtCenter had just moved to its new location in Pasadena. I was blown away by the stunning architecture and student gallery—I’d never seen anything like it.

My first post-ArtCenter job was a result of receiving the Landor scholarship in 1983. I was impressed by Landor’s world-class portfolio and high-profile clients. Thrilled when they made me an offer, I moved to San Francisco to join Landor’s Special Projects Group. I was able to work alongside 17 designers from the leading design programs (Yale, RISD, Pratt, etc.), many of whom remain my friends, collaborators, and clients today.

What brought us together was a shared aspiration for excellence. When I began teaching at San José State in 2018, I asked myself: “How does one teach excellence? How can I inspire students? How can I help them reach their full potential?” It’s one thing to teach someone how to do something; it’s entirely another to teach them how to do it well.

My instructors at ArtCenter expected nothing but the best from their students. I was lucky enough to study under such legendary professors as Judy Crook, Bernyce Polifka, and Ted Youngkin. Each inspired in their own way—through academic rigor, innovative pedagogy, or constant iteration—creating a foundation of design excellence which informed everything I was able to accomplish in my major, and professional career.

At ArtCenter, excellence is an expectation. Going above and beyond is in our DNA. Never settle. Strive for perfection; sometimes you’ll actually achieve it. ArtCenter taught me the value of excellence to our culture. If you’re going to do something, do it better than it’s ever been done before.

Excellence began with my instructors. In Graphic Design/Packaging there was Paul Hauge, Hal Frazier, Sharon Aki, Wayne Hunt, and David Hundley—all respected professionals with proven design methodologies. They taught me the importance of quality in concept and execution—a standard of excellence I apply to every project—for design to create value. And now, I instill these same principles in my students.

To be immersed each day in ArtCenter’s imaginative concepts, products, and environments was an exhilarating experience. To this day, I enjoy designing a brand, poster, book, package, exhibition, or interaction with equal enthusiasm—a multidisciplinary approach to excellence inspired by ArtCenter.

I strive to represent ArtCenter in everything I do, and make the College proud. I’m always looking for ways to give back: contributing to the annual fund, supporting scholarships, or hiring fellow alums. I’ve also been honored to design the Alumni Council, DOT Launch, and Design Accelerator brands for the College. ArtCenter gave me opportunities that changed my life. I’m gratified to further ArtCenter’s brand and reputation in the world.

ArtCenter is about connection on every level: between art and design, theory and practice, creators and audiences. ArtCenter has enabled me to enjoy a rewarding 38-year design career, the privilege to teach at a public university, and make a difference in the profession. ArtCenter taught me the meaning of excellence.

Earl Gee
BFA 83 Graphic Design/Packaging
Partner and Creative Director, Gee + Chung Design
Lecturer, Department of Design, San José State University
AIGA Fellow, 2015, San Francisco

I asked myself: ‘How does one teach excellence?

Earl GeePartner and Creative Director, Gee + Chung Design
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