Monday, October 20, 2014

A tribute to John Marshall

Recently, I was involved in a somewhat philosophical conversation about the relationship between Product and Industrial Design, specifically regarding why one typically resides in schools of Engineering and the other schools of Art and was reminded of John Marshall, who passed away several years ago after a very difficult battle with cancer.

John was a remarkable individual; Genuine, authentic, passionate and extremely talented. He founded the Industrial Design program at BYU in 1967 and taught there for 41 years, first in the Art Department, and then in the College of Engineering when the program was moved there.  He also taught design in Hong Kong, Israel and Switzerland and practiced it at Hewlett Packard.  What many may not realize is how ubiquitous his work was in electrical engineering circles.

Growing up and working in Palo Alto, I was unknowingly exposed to John's work very early, both when I worked in HP's Prototype Model Shop at the Stanford Park Division and at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, who's labs were stuffed full of HP test gear.

Here are a couple of samples of John's HP product renderings;

Signal Generator
Compare these with some actual HP test gear and the family resemblances are striking.

HP 8656A
HP 8570A
John insisted that his students learned and understood the inseparable connection between form and function. He also knew that the tools of engineering could also be forms of art.

Lest anyone think John was only about circles and rectangles, he also did landscapes, cars and the occasional chicken;

His influence and passion are deeply missed. I regret not having gotten to know him better.

As a further tribute to John's vision and passion for good design; Back in 2011 Ziba's Industrial Design Director, Paul Backett published an article in Core77 entitled Designing the Ideal Industrial Design Program wherein he wrote of BYU's Industrial Design program;

"Less well-known than many American design programs, BYU continually impresses with solid, unflashy but well-considered design work that solves real problems and addresses human needs.

The school is distinguished by a remarkably passionate teaching staff who instill that passion in their students. They also inspire an incredible level of user empathy; students here, more than almost any other school, are clearly not designing for themselves. 

The BYU work ethic is one of the strongest I've encountered, with students tenacious enough to make short work of obstacles that would completely frustrate the typical ID grad."

It was interesting to note that of the seven ID schools Backett mentioned, only two; BYU and the University of Cincinnati, were in the United States. High praise indeed.

This year (2014) year also marks the tenth anniversary of the XVW. In 2004, a team of BYU Industrial Design Students completed a fully functional sports car, built from the ground up, and unveiled it to representatives from General Motors and Ford.  Resembling a Corvette convertible and featuring a Volkswagen engine, the car was designed and constructed by three groups of Industrial Design Program seniors over a period of more than two years.

Advised by John Marshall, a team of 16 students built the one-of-a-kind automobile as part of a senior design class. The project exposed them to the varied phases of automobile development.  They learned how to design better vehicles because of the perspectives they gained, and fostered relationships between BYU and the auto industry.

2004’s group of industrial design students included Brian Sanderson, Jason Tippetts, Cameron Bigler, Trent Fulkerson, Ryan Dart, Matthew Pectol, David Haskell and Todd Taylor.

A former student said that John; "Always made me feel like I could design anything a good job."

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