According to Bryan Thompson, a common trait of great innovators is the ability to find inspiration where they’re not intentionally looking.
“I think designers are constantly searching for fresh ideas without realizing it,” said Thompson. “After experiencing something significant, I find myself sketching. Sure enough, revelations sparked from the memory work their way in.
“For example, the design of the Nissan Actic concept car stemmed from a road trip a few of us took from Ohio back to California. We hitched three Airstream trailers to Xterras and slept inside. In the morning, we were mesmerized by the way the shiny aluminum interior of the trailer reflected the changing autumn leaves. We thought, wouldn’t it be interesting for a car to reflect the driver’s personality—both figuratively and literally?
“Another design came about while on a cross-country flight with a friend and codesigner Anke Mazzei. We had just spent four days scouring Manhattan on foot looking for up-and-coming designers and new trends. Exhausted and exhilarated from our adventures, we ordered herb tea for two from the JetBlue steward.
<span class='CALLOUT'>Thompson's success is a result of perseverance and commitment to his dreams.</span>
“When the tea arrived, it was so good and warming that we started to talk about its relaxing effect on us. Anke asked, "Couldn't we design a product that makes you feel the same way?" A couple napkin sketches later, the "product" designed itself and the giant "Tea Bag Lamp" was born. We didn't stop at the sketches, though. When we got home we had it manufactured.”
Currently Thompson is working as an exterior designer for a start-up American automotive company and designs travel trailers on a freelance basis for the iconic American company, Airstream. His latest design for Airstream was unveiled in December 2008. Previously he worked as a designer at Nissan Design America (La Jolla) where he also contributed to the design of the Titan Armada interior and spearheaded the project to design the Nissan/Airstream BaseCamp Trailer. His most recent project with Nissan, a full-size commercial van, debuted at the auto show in January (2009) as a concept car and will go into production in 2010.
While working at Nissan, Thompson took part in one of the most significant experiences in his life—the Sweat Equity Enterprises (SEE) program that brings professional designers together with teenagers in Brooklyn and the Bronx. SEE was cofounded by fashion designer Mark Ecko and design teacher Nell Jordan to engage underserved kids in education. Thompson got to know Ecko through work on two Nissan cars that had been customized with Ecko’s fashionable touch.
As part of the program, Thompson taught students the basics of automotive design. Every two weeks he flew to New York to meet with six teams (comprised of three students) challenged to design a car that could be priced under $9,000 and appealed to urban youth.
“The judges loved the designs so much that they made animated digital models of all of them,” Thompson said. “The winning design was made as a three-dimensional scale model at Nissan, just like a real car and featured on a billboard in Times Square. One of the students went on to write a blog for The New York Times.
“We had this preconceived notion that all of the designs would come out looking like something from ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ but the raw talent in these kids blew us away. The program gave them confidence in their work and connections in the industry. This has inspired me to pursue teaching some day.”
In 2006, Thompson caught the attention of producers with Bravo. The Advocate had featured an interview with him about his work, and the channel thought he would be an ideal writer to create a blog for their show Top Design.
“I worked on the blog for about two years,” Thompson explained. “I structured it in a way that juxtaposed up-and-coming designers with some of the big names in the field. It was really a win-win situation. Their work was promoted by the blog, and I got to meet some amazing designers.”
Thompson’s success is a result of perseverance and commitment to his dreams. Before transferring to CCS, Thompson was advised by a guidance counselor at a university in Arizona to give up his goal of pursuing automotive design. After completing some of the general education courses, he traveled to Europe where he knocked on the office doors of some of the industry’s top manufacturers and asked them how he could become a designer. They all pointed him to CCS.
Thompson recalled the days he spent at CCS as some of the best times of his life. Instructors like Carl Olsen, Dave Lyons and Bob Boniface helped him break free from focusing just on technique and really explore the concept. They also helped connect Thompson with professionals in the industry.
“As part of one assignment, we each had to design a car based on one of the decades,” said Thompson. “I was given the ‘70s. It was not a popular choice. But I really got into the big overhangs and dramatic proportions. This forced perspective opened the door to a more whimsical approach to design—an approach that breathes life into my work today.”
Thompson’s automotive, furniture and product design can be seen at: HYPERLINK "http://www.bryanthompsondesign.com" www.bryanthompsondesign.com.
- Graduation Year: 2000
- Title: Automotive Designer
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