[This post is part of a series on Mentors and Heroes]
Jorge Arango is an information architect based in Panama, and founder and chief instigator at BootStudio, one of the first web consultancies in Central America. He is also the current president of the Information Architecture Institute. Follow him on Twitter @jarango.
Jorge Arango’s hero is…
Walt Disney, Experience Designer
How long have you known of your hero and have you ever met?
I’ve been aware of Walt’s work as long as I can remember. I never met him; he’s been in cryonic suspension since before I was born. ;)
How has your hero had such a profound impact on your life?
When I was a kid, Disney’s theme parks got me hooked on the idea that environments could be designed for experience rather than sheer utility. Of course, I couldn’t have put it in those words back then… however, I still remember the excitement I felt in these spaces knowing that they had been created primarily for my enjoyment. I was enthralled when I learned of the tricks used by the imagineers to create their illusionary spaces — forced perspectives, “weenies” at major destinations/intersections, etc., and ended up studying architecture in part because of this fascination with creating experience-oriented environments. (Something I was ridiculed for in architecture school, where theme parks are considered the epitome of bad taste.)
I’m also inspired by the fact that Walt was an artist in love with technology, always pushing the technical boundaries of media in order to please “them”. (He spoke of “them” — his audience — in reverential tones, and took great pains to ensure that “they” got their money’s worth at his shows.) Starting with rudimentary cartoons, he quickly improved his art through gutsy, expensive innovations (first sound cartoon, first color cartoon, the multiplane camera, first full-length feature cartoon, etc.) His critics were always saying he was nuts — as good a sign as any that he was heading in the right direction.
Walt is a great example of someone who “followed his bliss” (his gut) and had huge success — and a great time — doing it. He hated to repeat himself, and was always aiming higher (and more ambitious) for his next project: when he had conquered animation in film, he moved on to “animation in-the-round” (the theme parks), and after that — in the months leading up to his death in 1966 — was seriously planning to build a “city of the future” in Florida. As always, people said he was nuts. (I have no doubts he would have built it if he’d lived, and that it would have exceeded everyone’s expectations.)
How do you gain knowledge and inspiration from your hero?
Mainly through books. The classic biography is “Walt Disney: An American Original” by Bob Thomas. A more recent — and in my opinion, more balanced — portrait is “Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination”. Christopher Finch’s “The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdoms” is a good overview of the man’s work. A great way to get into Walt’s mind is to experience the environments he loved, and where he played “god”. (Disneyland in Anaheim is the only one Walt got to see during his lifetime, and is still the best of the lot.)
What is one piece of wisdom your hero has been quoted as saying that has stuck with you the most?
“I knew if this business was ever to get anywhere, if this business was ever to grow, it could never do it by having to answer to someone unsympathetic to its possibilities, by having to answer to someone with only one thought or interest, namely profits. For my idea of how to make profits has differed greatly from those who generally control businesses such as ours. I have blind faith in the policy that quality, tempered with good judgment and showmanship, will win against all odds.”
What else do you want the world to know about your hero?
He was not a very good draftsman, artist, animator, or deal-maker. His main skills were storytelling and — critically — being able to identify talent in others, and motivating them to employ it.
Thank you Jorge for sharing your hero with us!