I have many design heroes. Some of them I know and some I just
know through their work published in books and presented in
lectures. They're the usual suspects, I guess, like Mockbee,
Kalman, Gehry, Sagmeister, Starck, Mabry...
Unfortunately, I have very few true mentors. This is probably
due to my own, not recommended, career tactic of “going it
However, there are two people that deserve “mentor” status.
The first was a man named Don Bell who taught Design and
Photography at the State University of New York at Binghamton,
where I attended for three years. I was a Studio Art major at the
time, since they didn't offer a design major, but I was starting to
take some design related classes like 2-D Design, Screenprinting
and Black and White Photography.
Basically, I was a design virgin.
Don was really the first person to formally introduce me to the
craft of graphic design. This was 1976, so we did everything by
hand... which unlike some old people like me, I don't miss at all
now. What Don did was spark an interest in design and then offer me
much unwavering support. In fact, it was Don that suggested I leave
SUNY Binghamton after two years and go to a “real” design
So, I transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology after my
sophomore year. This turned out to be a tremendous mistake and I
left after a year and a half and happily returned to finish up with
Don at SUNY Binghamton. Well, actually I was “asked to leave?
because I was a ”trouble-maker“ but that's a different essay.
(Although I'm delighted to tell it whenever I get the chance.)
To be clear, I don't feel like I learned how to be a
professional designer from Don. What he gave me was much more
valuable. It was the desire to create and the encouragement to keep
My other mentor, Michael Vanderbyl, is more ”professional“ and
”famous.“ Michael has had a significant impact on my career that
can be classified in two distinct phases. These are BF, Before
Friendship, and AF, After Friendship.
I moved to San Francisco in 1980. This was the very beginning of
a well-documented period called ”The Michaels.“ While I admired
them all (Schwab, Mabry, Manwaring and Cronan) it was Vanderbyl who
most impressed me. He seemed almost God-like at the time and
frankly, scared me shitless. I closely followed his career and
eventually mustered the courage to call and visit him for a
portfolio review. He was very well behaved and even took me back to
his office to show me some new work. (I recall that I saw a comp
for a poster for Simpson Paper Company that was peeling slightly
off the illustration board.)
I am very happy to report that Michael and I are now very good
buddies. He has continued to be a huge role model through his
commitment to design and teaching. Michael has also offered me
tremendous support in my career and even, almost single-handedly,
got me accepted into the exclusive and super-secret Alliance
I am most indebted to both Don and Michael and can only hope
that I can offer the same help and inspiration someday.
The Bielenberg Institute at the Edge of the Earth
C2 (A Creative Capital Network)
San Francisco, California
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