Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Beautiful Future - The Genius of Syd Mead

I'm firmly in the middle-ages of my life. One of the interesting things about getting older, is that you have the perspective of time to look at innovation and change. I was born in 1965, an era that was full of futuristic promises - space travel, new materials and technology, computers, and a very early internet. The sixties were all about a utopian vision of the future. Change was good in every way. Little did we know that it would lead to the scarcity of resources, shaky politics, and family crises of the seventies. (sorry, went a little dark there) 

Although I was young, it seemed like our future was full of shiny promise and an easier lifestyle. Pop culture and corporate artists painted a vision of streamlined living paired with unbelievable assisting technology. You can see this theme in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, in the kitchen. It even showed up in music, with the electronically influenced sounds of the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, and even the Beatles. All of these groups started to dabble in the sterility of synthesizers created by pioneers like Robert Moog

One could argue that Syd Mead was at the center of this futuristic vision. He's most popularly known for his work with sci-fi movies like "Star Trek", "Blade Runner", and the original "Tron". However, he was prolific in many other fields. After a short stint in the Army, he graduated from Pasadena's Art Center in 1959 and went on to work at Ford's Advanced Styling Studio. Check out this awesome pic of the studio environment - a retro designers dream! 

After just two years at Ford, he branched out into contract illustration work with other large firms like Philips Electronics. In 1970 he started Syd Mead, Inc. Along with his other high-profile clients his firm did architectural renderings for Intercontinental Hotels, and several big design firms.

What I love most about Syd Mead's story of success is his endless productivity and talent. The quantity, quality, and variety of his designs is staggering. This is a visionary artist, who has never stopped working. I find this incredibly inspiring. He's played a very important role in product and conceptual design. In many ways, I think we need to envision and manifest our future more often. Just like Syd does on a daily basis.

In 2010, Mead did an interview with Drew Stock for I was agog to hear that Michael Jackson almost created an amusement park with Mead, but it never got past the concept stage. How interesting that they were close friends! He also talks about his experiences in film-making. The article is definitely worth a read. In it, he responds to the question, "How do you cope with the fact that the future never really arrives?"
"The future arrives in bits and  pieces, constantly. The future doesn’t start from zero, it starts with the entire accumulation that is represented by ‘now.’ What we do now actually invents the future. If we celebrate crap, guess what? I strive to depict my futures  as bright, functional, well conceived and consistently elegant. At least, I can say that I didn’t contribute to everything going to hell." 
Played against the backdrop of our current obsessions with zombies, war films, and post-apocalyptic themes, I think Syd's vision of the future looks pretty bright. I recommend browsing his body of work on Google images. Here are some of my favorites.

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