John Barratt, President & CEO, TEAGUE; Spark Juror, 2010

Who are you, professionally speaking?
As CEO of TEAGUE, I balance running a business with my creative ambitions; I love what I do and I think it shows.

How did you choose your design discipline?
I wanted to be an architect, but wasn’t great at math or physics. So I decided interior design might be a good alternative. At 17 I started to explore interior design courses at universities and on one visit I came across industrial design—I’ve been hooked ever since.

What are some elements that make your designs distinctive?
That they respond to their context and users; seems obvious in a way, but it’s too often not the case.

Is your work international, or regionally focused?
International. We’ve got a lot of North American clients, but we serve business across the globe and do our best to maintain a strong global perspective so we can identify with diverse cultures and communities at home and abroad. Understanding people is fundamental to good design.

What is your ideal project or commission?
I get excited about them all. My friend and Teague’s Creative Director, Tad Toulis, says it best, “A great designer finds ‘up’ in every project.”

Have you worked in sustainable materials?
I have, but it’s not always as easy as we’d like it to be. We do a lot of work in industries (aviation/consumer electronics) that don’t have a great track record of a sustained interest in the environment. We do our best to off set that by choosing clients who have demonstrated a commitment to bettering our future such as Hewlett-Packard, Boeing, Interface Flooring, etc. That goes beyond materials, with explorations into environmental technologies, programs for carbon footprint reduction, etc. HP is a fantastic example—not only do they publish their environmental goals, but they report back on them. At some point, ideally in the very near future, the world will demand that level of transparency from all organizations, and we’ll all be better off as a result.

Who are your top 3 favorite designers?
* Archille Castiglioni—who I believe to be the father of relevance.
* Le Corbusier—-what he did in the 30’s still moves me.
* Walter Dorwin Teague—for his boldness and confidence in both design and business.

What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading “Designers Don’t Read” by Austin Howe; smart man, not bad looking either. He places a real emphasis on point-of-view, which I like. When you look at a lot of design firms today you’re quickly presented an offer list. It’s good to know what people are capable of, but for the most part, we’re a community of inventors and innovators. We can pretty much do anything, whether it makes the core offer list or not. Capabilities no longer set us apart; point-of-view is what make us truly distinctive.

What advise can you offer to a new graduate?
Know your strengths and play them up. Have a vision for yourself and pursue it. Have a point of view. Be dynamic. Don’t worry about money, worry instead about learning; it’ll be more valuable in the long run. Listen well. Build relationships and use them. Be optimistic. Enjoy what you do or quit. Respect what you do and respect who you do it for. Design is an honorable profession—don’t ever forget that. Drink 3 liters of water a day. And always, always, maintain a sense of humor.

How did you get your first paying design job?
I did a paid trial period for a consultancy in the U.K. when I finished my master’s degree. I didn’t get the job. It’s the best thing that ever happened in career. Seriously.

What do you do for inspiration?
I travel a lot, and when I’m travelling I walk a lot, and when I walk I observe—cultures, the built environment, people, amazing adaptations…I’m most inspired by man made things. I’m also very social, and I love getting into peoples minds, to understand what motivates them. So people inspire me. Design is constantly evolving, but the job of design has never changed—we’re in the business of making the world a better place. To do that you have to be both in and of the world, travel the world, and be passionately interested in people and their lives. I’m inspired every day by the places I go and the people I meet.