Design Wisdom

Life After Design

By John Van Dyke

Designed by John Van Dyke, Casa J in Mexico was John’s first award-winning retirement project.

 I started as a commercial artist.

That term morphed into “graphic designer” and then we liked to call ourselves a bunch of other things that elevated us as thinkers, not just artists. In all fairness, many of us actually started thinking specifically about why we were asked to do something.

By asking that question, eventually we saw that we could influence outcomes with design. The power of design was discovered and from there, we began to see design as a balance between us and who we serve.

A new designer/consultant was born that conducted research and perfected the art of the sales pitch. Some of us created iconic brands and trademarks. This movement was the forerunner of today’s brand everything language. Design became a profession and no longer just art.It is the profession that I spent 30 successful years in.

The pool at Casa J.

Someone once said that when I got up in the morning, I made getting dressed a design project. I don’t think anyone with design in their DNA can quit design. It is the lens through which we see everything. Sitting around talking about the way we used to do something makes me crazy unless we are bringing an idea forward. I couldn’t quit design after retiring so I went on to design and build a house in Mexico that has been recognized for its architecture. In life and work there are only two trajectories. Up or down. There is no flatlining. We either keep learning, creating, growing, doing something we have never done before, or slowing sinking into something we will not recognize.

When I was nearly wrapped up with the house, the 2016 election happened. I woke up and I didn’t recognize my country. This moment initiated my next big project, An American Mosaic.

Van Dyke’s current project, An American Mosaic.

I have been traveling around the country for the past three years. Over time, this work has become a self funded documentary project talking to people on camera about their lives. I was asked if this was a personal project, like a hobby; it is not. It is deeply personal, but it’s not a hobby. Creating is what I do, it is who I am. My history in design informs this project because all design is telling a story.

And this is the most meaningful story I have told.

I would suggest that in addition to today’s design thinking one might consider design wisdom as having value. Wisdom being the kind of knowledge that moves from doing and toward thinking, understanding, and processing. I am no longer looking for the next opportunity for success; I’m looking to create. 


John Van Dyke was Principal and Creative Director at Van Dyke Company for 20 years. John’s current project, An American Mosaic, has been an ongoing story about the American people. More information can be found here www.american-mosaic.com