Our Q&A with George Anthony Gottl, founder and chief creative officer of UXUS, about the radical thinkers who have inspired him
Can you pinpoint the thought, whether yours or someone else’s, that led you to a career in design?
I have always been attracted to art and design. There was not one point in my life when I decided to become a designer – I have always from an early age been interested in creativity. When I was a young child, around four years old, I made a model out of clay after visiting Disneyland with my parents, trying to reproduce the park on the map that we bought when we were there. Design gives us tools to shape our environment and I naturally gravitated to that as I got more exposed to great architecture and design around me. I wanted to be part of shaping things versus just consuming them.
In terms of the design and architecture industry, what do you consider the most radical era or pivotal moment?
Pivotal moments have always coincided with the emergence of new tools and technology that unlock unforeseen potential. So, plate glass and steel in the early 20th century, and now rapid prototyping and computing power to enable predictive design and potentially infinite personalisation at a mass scale – an exciting contradiction in terms!
Which radical thinkers have been inspirations to you in your career?
Rem Koolhaas because he opened my eyes to the power of narrative and collective memory when creating places and spaces. It’s exciting to think beyond just bricks and mortar, and even more relevant now that each one of us has the digital tools to create and broadcast narratives, building up layers of meaning to a place and our collective experience of it.
Who are the radical thinkers who inspire you now?
Right now, it’s Yuval Noah Harari. His books are visionary and talk about humanity [in a way] that is both inspiring and frightening. His book Homo Deus was particularly visionary – I didn’t want to finish it. I’m usually inspired by themes that go beyond design itself, but rather [ask the question] why design at all.
Who outside the industry can architects and designers learn from?
Writers and psychologists: how to tell a good story and what makes people tick – both of those aspects help create meaning and relevance beyond the obvious. And for firsthand creative inspiration, artists always help point the way to how a subject can be explored in new ways, often blending both emotional and intellectual responses.
What will lead the way for more radical thinking in your field?
Embracing purpose in design and architecture and thinking about experience first, and then creating everything in the service of those experiences. Anyone can design an object, a building, a thing. But it’s so much more radical (and relevant) when you can create something meaningful, crafted to have purpose and allowed to evolve with time.
Could you recommend a book/article/blog that inspired your thinking?
I love In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki. It’s a good antidote to conventional Western thinking.
Radical furniture: Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair
Could you name two buildings/pieces of furniture that you consider radical designs of their time, or perhaps still to this day?
Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair because it transcends both nature and its cutting-edge fabrication, and because (like any great piece of furniture) it is both sculptural and functional. Also, the Eames DSW chair: it defined modern chairs, and the design is over 60 years old and still looks contemporary.
I think best with … (e.g. my hands/a pencil/ with a computer)
A pencil and Google.
I think best … (e.g. first thing in the morning/ last thing at night)
First thing in the morning.
I think best when… (e.g. in a gallery/at home/ outside/over drinks/with friends/ on the bus)
In peace and quiet. Or after a stimulating art show. Music also helps (anything as long as it takes me out of my everyday thoughts).
The thought that keeps me up at night is…
Where is society going? The digital world has created so much disruption and it seems that as a species humanity is not ready for the potential that we have unleashed.
The thought that gets me out of bed each day is…
Creating, solving problems and making something beautiful in the process, crafting a beautiful story.
Do you like to think with, or think against?
With. I like to test ideas and build upon a thought with others. Multiple perspectives enrich and evolve thinking. Being polemic also has its advantages, but it’s a means, not an end.
If you weren’t a designer/architect, where do you think your way of thinking would have led you?
Fine art – solving my own brief through creative exploration. Art was a part of my curriculum at Parsons. It unlocked the kind of creative thinking that I use today.
Radical Furniture: The Eames DSW chair, which ‘still looks contemporary’
Could you describe radical thinking in three words?
Destroy, imagine, build
What’s the most radical thing you’ve come across today or this week?
I recently returned from Beijing and Shanghai. Asian culture is fascinating and such a departure from our Western way of thinking. I am always re-energised and inspired after returning from Asia: their creative viewpoint is both 2000 years in the past and 2000 years in the future, and the result is always disruptive and fresh.
George Gottl was born in Los Angeles, California and is the founder and chief creative officer of UXUS, a leading global strategic design consultancy with clients such as InterContinental Hotels Group, McDonald’s, NIKE, Bloomingdale’s, Sephora, H&M, and Tate Modern. He was the creative director at Nike and the global creative director at Mandarina Duck before joining UXUS.