Mind at Work: Partner and Design Lead Steve Ryan

Whenever possible, we like to sit down with one of our creative minds at VSA to find out what inspires them. In a world where there’s constantly pressure to “produce, produce, produce,” it’s important to stop and reflect on the special people, places and things that actually drive our creativity.

Today, VSA’s Chicago-based Partner and Design Discipline Lead Steve Ryan sheds light on the four things that inspire him and help him do what he does.

1. Winter Color Guard

Before I was a designer or art student, I was active in Winter Color Guard (or simply winterguard)—an easily overlooked activity. Most people have never heard of winterguard. It’s subterranean and niche. In fact, a good friend of mine once called it “a community of rejects and social outcasts.”

Winter Color Guard is the maker-movement-equivalent to Merce Cunningham, John Cage or Martha Graham. It’s also a hotbed of talent. I know no better storytellers than people like Michael Shapiro, Mike Gaines, Karl Lowe, Sal Salas, Tony Florio, Scott Chandler, Alan Spaeth, Greg Lagola, Michael Lentz, among other creative directors—the list far too long to share here. It is the best example I can point to of how constraint leads to incredible creativity. And, my participation in this activity shaped—and continues to influence—how I think about storytelling today. Here’s SVCa recent favorite performance.

2. Nick Wooster (Fashion icon, influencer, and designer)

Nick Wooster is my personal roadmap to aging with style, grace and a sense of humor. According to fashion blog, Business of Fashion “[Nick Wooster] has been ordained ‘the alpha male of American street style’ by GQ and called ‘Woost God’ by some of his most rabid fans. But Nickelson ‘Nick’ Wooster, known for his sharply tailored blazers, handlebar moustache and arm sleeve tattoos, is more than an arbiter of good taste.”

He has spent the better part of his career curating men’s fashion for the likes of Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Thom Browne. He’s outlandish. He mix-matches pattern, trends and influences with abandon.

3. William Forsythe (Choreographer)

William Forsythe is known for a particular flavor of improvisation-based choreography—what he calls “improvisation technology.” Truthfully, I wish I had discovered this 25 years ago. If so, maybe I would have ended up a choreographer instead of a designer. Regardless, as a technician I find his thinking to be exhaustive and nearly complete. As an artist, I find that he composes in interesting ways that cause me to chuckle, and the final works—though highly technical—never feel like they lack in emotion, empathy or storytelling. In my opinion, his “improvisation technologyon YouTube is relevant to anyone who works in any creative field. Or, check out his piece “Limb’s Theorem” here.

4. Generative Art / Processing

For as long as I can remember I’ve been attracted to randomness—the phenomenon in nature as well as a methodology or approach to creating artworks. From the likes of Jackson Pollack or the scribbles of Lautrec’s drawings, I find it incredibly exciting. For that reason, when I first saw what people have been doing with Processing—using math and data to manipulate randomness into art—I was immediately inspired. Since then I’ve been trying to carve out time to explore what’s possible.