Storyboard: Tim Larson

Take the roundabout and keep going

My pathway to design was always a roundabout one.

I grew up in a modest town just east of Portland. As a kid, Portland was the big city. The specter of Nike loomed large over Portland’s creative community and its cultural omnipresence served as inspiration to many – including myself. The legend of Nike instilled in me the idea that one could be creative for a living – and that connecting with an audience was everything.

I didn’t attend ArtCenter as a student. My undergrad studies were focused on business and communication. During this time, I found myself increasingly drawn toward the concept of image making. In some ways, my creative path began when I started filming the school’s sports games using 16mm stock and cutting the film on flatbed editors.

I became engrossed in the complementary worlds of photography and filmmaking. I was getting turned on to the power of visual and sensory immersion: the act of pulling an audience into a world of my own creation.

Post-grad, I transitioned into advertising. In hindsight, I was looking for ways to translate ideas and place my audience in a digital environment that felt innovative yet accessible.

In those days, your title meant a lot. Whether or not you were a filmmaker, an advertising executive or an art director, your designation was significant. The truth is, I always had the mindset of a designer – even back in my days when I got by shooting and editing sports films, working as an account exec and producer. Creativity, for me, has always been a way to solve problems, but I also know good designers perfect their creativity with knowledge and experience.

And so that was it. I was a designer, I said with finality.

Virtualizing anything and everything is one of the most liberating things about being a designer in the digital age. That’s what got me interested in the medium in the first place. It’s the perfect frontier for people who want to push the envelope relative to what has proven to be achievable.

Recently, my Portland design firm was challenged with virtualizing ArtCenter’s new Digital Alumni Gallery. Our goal was to create a one-of-a-kind communal experience that connects users to a database of empirical information. Who are the alums? Where are they? What have they done? What are they doing now? How do I get in touch with them? The gallery library itself is…well, massive.

One of the things I love about ArtCenter is the tremendous level of care the College applies in curation. Our team is still working on additional modes of interplaying, like physical sensors, voice sensors, advanced ID recognition technology, and more. For a school that thrives on connection, I feel confident that the new gallery is indeed the next plateau of creative networking. Ten to fifteen years ago, none of this would have been possible.

Creative paths don’t get more roundabout than mine. It took years and years of grueling work. Presently, both my sons are experiencing their own arduous passage at ArtCenter. Sam, my youngest, will call me to tell me he’s been up for 27 hours before a midterm. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know the feeling.

Sam is in his third term in Product Design, which means he’s in the workshop all the time, focused on the act of making. Zach, my oldest, is in his seventh term in Graphic Design, and he has a completely different and equally formidable creative toolkit to work with.

I understand what the College is doing for them. They’re being prepared to meet deadlines, work as team players, and deal with peer reviews. In other words, they are being trained for the real journey of being a creative.

I try to offer what guidance I can while also letting them discover things on their own. If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my roundabout journey, it’s that the creative way of life is different for everybody – and that’s inherent to the trip. Be clear about your purpose and you’ll get to where you’re meant to go. We’ve got the data to prove it.

Tim Larson
President and Design Principal at Downstream
Father of two ArtCenter students

If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my roundabout journey…be clear about your purpose and you’ll get to where you’re meant to go.

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