Original Interview: January 2017

Adam Ridgeway

TDK Awards 16′ winner, Adam Ridgeway, tells us about bumping into artists on the streets of NYC, AI making designers obsolete, and shares some wise words of advice to his 16 year old self: ‘If it makes you uncomfortable – do it.’

What are your t­hree must-read design books/blogs/podcasts and why?
1. Design Matters with Debbie Millman
2. The Observatory with Jessica Helfand and Michael Beirut
3. The Design of Business / The Business of Design with Jessica Helfand and Michael Bierut

I never miss an episode of these podcasts. When you commute as much as you do in New York, podcasts are indispensable. Reading the New York Times Magazine is another must. Grabbing a coffee from Abraco in the East Village before sitting down with the Magazine is how most Sunday’s start. Gail Bichler and Matt Willey produce an incredible magazine – both in content and form – week in, week out. Each issue leaves me with a significant takeaway.

What are the three worst jobs you have done leading up to where you are now, and how did you learn from them?
1. Laboring on a construction site
2. Dishwasher at a café
3. Neighborhood Paper Delivery Boy

They gave me perspective. You need to crawl before you can walk. I think you have to endure hardship before you understand what’s right for you. I was very fortunate in that I found what I love to do and what I am passionate about.

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What is the design landscape like on your city and where do you fit in?
The design landscape in New York is unlike any other. It is the most competitive, motivating and eye opening of anywhere in the world. I bump into artists on the street that I have idolized for the past 10+ years and they will often be down for a chat. I come from the most isolated city in the world (for its size) so opportunities like that did not previously exist for me. All the great galleries and museums are incredibly accessible. The rich history of New York will never cease to amaze me. The people are incredible – almost everyone you meet seems to be doing something fascinating. My undergraduate studies in architecture, urban planning and graphic design have left me with a well-rounded appreciation of what New York has to offer.

What career advice would you give your 16yr old self?
If it makes you uncomfortable, do it. Shake off your social ineptitude and talk to somebody on the subway. I am a shy person by nature so in hindsight, I think it hindered me in doing what I wanted. It is so easy to be reserved and cautious but over time I began to realize that wasn’t going to get me anywhere. You must continuously reach out and make things happen. Take ownership, be responsible and professional in everything you do.

Secondly, stick to your own style. Produce work that you are proud of: work that you are happy to see go out into the world. Be cognizant of how you project yourself to the public.

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Where do you think design is heading in the next five years and how will you adapt?
I think it is going to be immensely tech-centric. Programs are being developed that intend to make people like me obsolete. To combat this, we need to diversify our offering and the technology that we are versed in. I’m not preaching dogmas like ‘print is dead’ (I don’t believe print will die) but I think designers need to be mindful of the volatility in our industry given the current rate of development in technology. Elizabeth Kolbert recently wrote a piece for The New Yorker titled “Our Automated Future: How long will it be before you lose your job to a robot?” that addresses the imminent encroachment of AI into our lives. If that space interests you, it’s a great little read.

2016 for you in a sentence.
Contrasting. Personally, it was a great year, both as an individual and a professional. The move to NYC and commencement of my Masters at Parsons was incredibly fulfilling. However, from a global perspective, 2016 produced a number of uncertainties. The list of disasters is almost endless. In reminiscing on such misfortunes I think it’s vital that we look to 2017 with complete optimism. We have a lot to make up for. One of the greatest things to come of the election of Trump to the presidency was that in New York, designers and others alike rallied together in the Town Hall to discuss what they could do in such a time of anguish. It was pleasing to see designers come together with such a sense of agency.

Instagram: @adam_ridgeway
Website: adamridgeway.com

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