Richard Wilde, My Hero

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Last night Richard Wilde, the chairperson of the BFA Graphic Design and Advertising program at the School of Visual Arts, in New York City, was inducted into the One Club’s Educator’s Hall of Fame at Gotham Hall. I was honored to give the induction speech to 400 guests. Below is a version of what I said about this incredible educator and special human soul. (And here is a video of Mr. Wilde.)

I can honestly say – and this is not hype, trust me – I can honestly say that Richard Wilde is the most extraordinary educator in this room, on this street, in this city, state and country.

You’ve made an excellent selection for this educators award!!

I can make this claim, not because I conducted exhaustive market research or extensive polling or analyzed the metrics. I didn’t consult a consultant. I simply know for a fact there is no one else in the academic world who has so successfully commanded both an advertising A

Advertising was the mother of graphic design. And for ages graphic designers have rebelled against mom. Graphic design was born of a need to make advertising layouts. And before the age of the art director, layout artists were second class. In the forty plus years Wilde has been at SVA as educator, chair and erzatz psycho therapist to tens of thousands of needy students, he’s masterfully taken the best of this oil and water combo and made gold. Literally!

The number of gold medals, gold pencils and gold cubes his students won over the decades is astounding.

How DOES he do it? Great teachers! Sounds easy, but its NOT! Believe me! Great teachers are very difficult to come by. Not all great creatives can teach. And not all teachers are great creatives.

Richard’s ability to find the ones who can do both is uncanny. He’s not just a department chairman, he’s a manager, coach, director, choreographer and producer. Running two concurrent departments with over 900 students requires Herculean strength and a good breakfast. I know he has both.

I know very little about the inner mysteries of advertising: What makes a successful ad, how to determine what will overtly sell or covertly invade the sub-conscious. Wilde does. And more important, he knows exactly how to impart the knowledge, stir the imagination and elicit the ambition that goes into making a finely tuned ad-person. He does so by investing them with the same attributes he gives to his graphic design students. His programs provide the necessary range of skills and then he insures the confidence required for them to be great. It is incredible that when leaving his program, students get significant jobs – and for most the education is so spot on they do not have to go to graduate school – to the dismay of our admissions department.

Wilde was not initially motivated to be a graphic designer but he liked making pictures. At Pratt Institute he began to realize how art and design could be used to alter minds. So he got a BFA in Graphic Design/Advertising, and an MFA in Printmaking and Painting. But here’s a shocker, he was a doctoral candidate at NYU in Language and Communication. With that Robert DeNiro look and Mel Brooks accent, he certainly needed the bonefides.

He never finished, but getting this honor is like being Dr. Wilde.

Here’s another Wilde fact: His shades of dyslexia. During his formative years, Wilde processed information differently than most students. This only became clear later on in life that the left brained academic world was not equipped to educate him. So, because of this inability, he had to educate himself by inventing creative problem solving methodology to bypass traditional methods of learning. Curiously he embraced academia with an understanding of how this world systematically teaches right-brainers. Far from weighing him down, this enabled him to understand the ways to educate all – left and righat brained – students. Let’s just say Wilde exudes empathy.

He once told me that people do not select a profession. The profession selects them. And Wilde, he says, was chosen to be a graphic designer, advertising art director and educator. Today each discipline influences the other and his students get the rewards.

Those rewards are, if you pardon the metaphor, a cacophony of courses that when mixed together in all the possible combinations become individual symphonies, custom composed for each particular student. He may not play all the instruments himself, but Wilde knows which works harmoniously with the other. If he doesn’t have what the student needs or wants he readily finds the best person.

Wilde is influenced by humor in any form it takes. He’s the only guy I know who wears Chinese pajamas to a formal event. Now that’s funny. His wit invests his own work in both advertising and graphic design. On one hand what he produces for clients, and he’s done his fair share, is highly conceptual on the other he understands the formality and strategies neccesary to be a savvy brand-er.

I’ve known Richard for nearly 30 years. And with the exception of his jump shot he hasn’t changed a bit. His enthusiasm for teaching advertising and design is as electric as it ever was. Even after all these years, when I spend time with him, I have to brace myself for a roller-coaster like ride of bragging. Not in an egotistic sense. He’s earned bragging rights for all the designers and ad people he’s put into the world.

To experience his excitement for his students and alumni is one of the great wonders.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all post
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