Interview: Angie Sailo | Elaina Winter: Photography
At 10 am the PC crowd trickled in the door, the pace leisurely, a slow-moving river of Venti coffees. They were expecting the usual Seminar - someone important, from somewhere far away, clicking slowly and steadily through a PowerPoint presentation, peppered with the occasional joke. Interesting? Yeah, sure. But this near studio week, 10 am might as well be 3 am, and that Starbucks was meant to get them through to the Q&A, past the inevitable first-quarter student's "What inspires you?" question, and on to a working lunch.
But Marc English is not the typical speaker. This was not a typical morning. There was no chance anyone was dozing off.
I was just starting school last year, when Mr. English marched into the room wearing a turban and strumming a ukelele. This time he'd tapped a band of our own students for his big entrance - Mary and the Dudes O'Plenty. The makeshift minstrels weaved through the crowd, playing a variety of instruments, including a plastic bag, a kazoo, a stool, and a recorder.
After an impressive recorder solo, the band bowed its final bow, and Marc took the stage amidst a variety of envelopes he'd set out previously. He demanded volunteers to choose envelopes labeled fear, love, courage, etc. Then, as the room of orderly rows turned into a chaotic shuffling of metal chairs, Marc was ready to tell his story.
Each of the envelopes held a memory for him and a lesson for the future creatives in the room. He laced in and out of success and failure, beyond letterheads and logos, into traveling and family, making the world of design a metaphor for his life's journey. He finished off his presentation with a sprinkle of love. No really. He walked around the room sprinkling his love on the heads of everyone in the audience. That love looks like blue glitter now, as it settles in the corners and cracks in the floor.
After Seminar and throughout lunch, the stories continued as he drew some important conclusions and cleared up the common misconceptions.
The Weight of the World
Marc doesn't do political. It's not what moves him. Design moves him. Books and movies. With all the buzz about what a designer's responsibility is to a community, he admits that it can be to lead a dialogue, but he still maintains it doesn't have to be. He thinks you should be active. Be informed. Vote. Stand up for what you believe in as a citizen, but that voice isn't only in design.
No One Wants to Hear Your Problems
I've noticed a split between how creatives define what they do. In the book Inspirability, by Pash, Marc describes himself as a storyteller, so I wanted to know if he sees a difference [between storyteller and the usual "problem solver" definition], which he quickly explained this way: "If you take the whole problem solver idea, what you get is a story." He goes on to note that storytelling is giving something a voice. Making it relevant. Everyone loves stories; problem solving, on the other hand, starts with a negative - a problem. He sums it up, "A problem solver sounds like someone who fixes your tire. To me design is not a problem, it's a positive, an opportunity."
Marc describes design as a form of enrichment. "Beauty is something that everyone responds to," he observes. "I have posters in Chinese, French and Arabic. I've ripped them off walls. I don't know what they say, but there is something about them I find beautiful." He believes that's the real power of design. It can add to the quality of life by simply adding beauty, and he urges young designers to make things other people will want to steal.
Don't Give a Damn 'Bout My Reputation
I wanted to know how Marc measures himself against the badass rebel reputation that follows him around. His response: "Yes, I've been wild and crazy. I've ridden bicycles into swimming pools - one bike, one swimming pool." All hype aside, he'd like to be known as someone who lives fully, opting to be a Benjamin Franklin rather than a rock star. "Benjamin Franklin preached moderation," he says, “but he also knew how to hang, and how to get work done." Marc understands the need for people to label. He can't waste his energy worrying about it. He concedes, "I'm aware of what's being said and written. At the end of the day, those people don't know me. They'll believe what they want to."
About Portfolio Center Interviews
Portfolio Center students share a strong desire to communicate ideas, the willingness to let go of preconceived notions, and the compulsion to learn new ways of thinking. These qualities are fostered by the school's constant stream of industry bigwigs, who bring their varied and colorful perspectives from all over the country. These creatives, who are always generous with their time and energy, tend to hang out with students, conducting informal workshops and continuing the day's discussions over dinner. Often, what results are provocative interviews - written, shot, and designed by PC students.