Five Questions for: Design Strategist Jacob Simons

AS DIRECTOR OF DESIGN STRATEGY AT GENSLER’S SEATTLE OFFICE, JACOB SIMONS WORKS DAILY TO DELIVER DESIGN WITH A PURPOSE. Using research and strategy, he’s helped develop new products, environments, brands, and experiences for the likes of T-Mobile, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and The Port of Seattle.

Still, Simons cites one of his biggest challenges as knowing when to make a difference via design and when to just stop and enjoy. “Much of life presents itself for us to experience—with presence, humility, grace, gratitude,” he says. “Not for us to manipulate and ‘improve’ in some way, however creative and meaningful we claim it to be.”

Herewith, Simons tells GRAY more about his love of research, why the struggle isn’t real, and why he’s over “shiny, precious things.”

What’s the most exciting project you’ve worked on in the past year?

Top of my list is our research grant. Yeah, I know…why not some complex, world-class campus for a leading tech client? Those efforts are certainly exhilarating, but to truly move the needle we must not only devote our daily energy to delivery within projects, regardless how significant they might be, but also open ourselves up to the profound influence that new knowledge and perspective can have in shaping our relationship with design, our work, and the impact we seek to have in the world. And those big amazing projects and clients? They are the primary beneficiary of this exploration and learning! Stay tuned for the publication – Research Catalogue V.3 comes out in early 2019—along with all the other wonderful work being completed within the Gensler Research Institute.

Jacob Simons, Gensler
What has been your biggest challenge as a designer?

Remembering that not all circumstances and interactions are available to my reimagination. Know when to “make a difference” through imagination and optimism, and know when to stop, breathe, and simply enjoy what is.

What is a recent interesting article you’ve read?

“No More ‘Struggle Porn'” by Nat Eliason in Entrepreneurship.

There is a pervasive glorification of struggle all around us, most prominent in cities dense with young, hungry, motivated professionals hunting for their breakthrough. Yes, hard work is certainly important, but “a masochistic obsession with pushing yourself harder, listening to people who tell you to work harder, and broadcasting how hard you’re working.”

Please resist! With that said, I don’t agree with everything in the article, particularly comments about sustained failure and “the dangerous side effect: not quitting.” If you truly believe in your idea, your mission, your business, do what is necessary to succeed. Don’t quit!

Let’s change the narrative to more meaningful matters. Let’s resist the adrenaline and hype of struggle, and give our voice and time to more purposeful conversations. I care about you, your convictions, your mission, how we can make an impact together…so much more than how mad and relentless is your hustle.

Gensler
Over the past two years, Gensler has partnered with the Seattle Mariners in an effort to improve Safeco Field’s infrastructure, working on projects ranging from code compliance projects to feasibility studies and concept designs for new hospitality spaces. In addition to these, Gensler’s brand design team provided an enhanced fan experience along Royal Brougham, including an installation capturing Dave Niehaus’ famous catch phrase “My Oh My!” (pictured). Photograph courtesy Gensler.
What one celebrity, living or dead, would you love to have dinner with?

Colin Kaepernick. I just want to learn from him. Specifically, what he has come to understand about himself after losing what he loved for something in which he believed. What fueled his conviction? What drove him to take action the way he did? His thoughts on those he offended? And how can I, someone who hasn’t faced discrimination, feel more useful and less like an imposter in the dialogue around equity and justice for all?

How does living in the Pacific Northwest influence or shape your design aesthetic?

It shapes my mindset as a designer and strategist. It shapes the experiences I seek to influence in my studio and our work. I’m not sure it has shaped my aesthetic. Unless, of course, values like authenticity, hope, resilience, wonder, humanity, and equity can be correlated to aesthetic characteristics. I’m sure the PNW has had a hand in my preferences. But I need to take a closer look.

I must say, Vashon Island—my new home—certainly has its own look and feel. We call it “farm funk.” What it comes down to is less polish and more patina. Brands, places, products, and even people should carry the impressions of a good life. Find more delight in the dents and dings—we’re all a little beat up. I’m over shiny, precious things.

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