Storyboard: Jini Zopf

From Campus to Corporate and Back

Creativity isn’t only what I do for a living. It’s my life, my ethos.

Growing up, I didn’t realize that coming from a creative family was a special gift. I only began to cherish this heritage I had when I arrived at ArtCenter. I started taking Saturday High classes. By the time I began my first year at ArtCenter, my family had already provided me with a model of what it meant to live and work in a creative community. They had my back one hundred percent, to the degree that my grandfather funded my tuition, and my parents sold their home in Orange County just so they could move closer to the College. These privileges are not lost on me.

My mother passed away three years ago. She and my dad were instrumental in helping shape my passion for design. They offered critiques of my output in loving, constructive ways. No matter what I produced, my mom was capable of “speaking into the work,” as I like to say. Her loss was one that continues to reverberate throughout my life.

My dad was a landscape designer whose professional title was “Ornamental Horticulturalist.” My mother was an artist and professional calligrapher. My aunts are causal artists who have a beautiful hand for drawing. And my husband was a professional photographer for years and now is in marketing and branding. I’m blessed to be surrounded by such inspirational individuals.

When it comes to working for companies like Mattel and Disney, it’s not just packaging or branding that makes one’s work stand out; it’s ideas. What I have a passion for is discovering new ways to enjoy a seat at the decision-making table as a creative. My focus is on empowering creative teams. Designers do better, more interesting work when they’re fueled to soar higher than they ever knew they could. It can be difficult to really make a mark, artistically speaking, within the byzantine workings of a company like Disney. But I believe that properly nurtured designers create brilliant work. It is in this process of fearless creative cultures that design teams can present their ideas with confidence and change the world.

I worked in the world of corporate design for 20 years. It’s a terrific environment to work in if you want to learn about creative leadership and design process. At a certain point, I found that I was less and less involved with hands-on design work. After a while, I wanted to get back to the craft. When an opportunity arose to teach at ArtCenter, I seized it without hesitation. I could build my personal design studio, interact with students, and choose the projects I wanted to work on. It was a no-brainer.

I try to teach the next generation of designers that any job they take is ultimately about much more than just a salary. It’s about who you’re becoming. Granted, every corporate position is different. Would I ever go back to that field? Who’s to say? What I do know is that most creatives are expected to run at a pace that’s super-human, and ultimately, not realistically sustainable. I saw it in individuals around me and thought that I could likely create an even more long-term environment for myself to thrive in creatively.

Teaching and managing my own design studio has fulfilled that beautiful balance for me and provided the opportunity to creatively inspire growing talent in young designers while continuing to practice my craft with passion. Because, at the end of the day, the intersection between young ArtCenter students, fellow ArtCenter faculty and my professional design projects a daily thrill that I love watching naturally take place.

What’s the alternative to the restless, run-and-gun lifestyle of leading corporate design teams? Cherishing nurturing moments with other creatives who share your priorities. Once I left corporate, I wanted to continue to foster the relationships that I had over the years at LEGO, Airstream, Disney, Jakks and Mattel. My departure had been, in some ways, a chance to truly foster this universal belief I have that the talented humans who’ve I’ve been blessed to rub shoulders with over the years are now my friends and colleagues in new design adventures. It’s all about the people you work with, even more than the project.

Creativity is so much more than just “results.” It’s working with the humans that produce those results. Productivity and aesthetics for the mere sake of itself... this has never been interesting, not to me.

You can’t create anything worthwhile out of fear. Great ideas take flight when a creative’s headspace is nurtured and nourished. That way, everybody shines.

Jini Zopf ArtCenter Faculty, Product Design
BFA 00 Illustration
Former Senior Manager, Mattel (2012-2017)
Former Company Manager, Packaging Design, Disney (2010-2012)

You can’t create anything worthwhile out of fear. Great ideas take flight when a creative’s headspace is nurtured and nourished.

Jini Zopf
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