Design Icons: Dan Goods, Artist & Creative Director

In this series, we're sharing conversations about work, life, and the future with some of today's most influential designers and artists.

Dan Goods is passionate about creating moments where people are reminded of the gift and privilege of being alive. During the day, he leads an amazing team of creatives at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory transforming complex concepts into meaningful stories that can be universally understood. The team’s work can be seen in public spaces, art museums, and in outer space. After doing the dishes and spending time with his wife and kids, Dan collaborates on art installations, immersive experiences, and creative problem-solving projects around the world.

He is an Art Center College of Design graduate and has been honored with NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Award. Dan has also been recognized as “One of the Most Interesting People in Los Angeles” by LA Weekly.

We caught up with Dan to learn more about his journey into the world of art and design, how he approaches his art practice, collaboration with teams, and more.

Hi Dan! Tell us about yourself – how did you get to where you are today? When did you first become interested in art and design? 

When I was in high school, I was never the person drawing. I never took an art class and I never imagined that I would ever work in the world of art and design. I did like to dream about creating things that I felt needed to be in the world, though.

I recall seeing a diamond-shaped plot of land and making drawings of the wiffle ball stadium I wanted to turn it into. When people saw my plans they laughed as if it were a joke, but I was serious – why shouldn’t there be a stadium where we could have fun playing wiffle ball?

After high school, a mentor asked if I had ever thought about going to an art school because he could tell that I liked to make things. I laughed. No way had I ever imagined that as a path in my journey. I got home and on my bed was a postcard from an art school. 6 months later I moved there and realized I found my calling.

Artist and Creative Director Dan Goods

How would you describe your art practice and what is your personal philosophy around the importance of creating public art? 

Usually, I try to create something that has a beauty that draws you in, and then when you look closer there is a second layer of meaning that makes you think in a new way. Public art is hard. There usually isn’t a lot of money, you have to speak to a lot of people, and it has to stay relevant for a long time, but when done right it can have a powerful influence on a whole community.

Orbit Pavillion at the Huntington

Your work usually requires transforming complex concepts into meaningful stories that can be universally understood. Can you share an example of a recent project where you took complicated or abstract concepts and brought them to life? 

Right now I’m working on a project for a law school. I know nothing about law and law is complicated and confusing to me, but in talking to the dean of the college he mentioned how law decisions ripple through society like waves. Some are small and don’t have much of an effect, others are like tidal waves and have more influence than anyone could have imagined.

I may not be able to understand the technicalities of law, but I can understand waves rippling through society. To communicate this, I have a list of the most influential decisions in history. I’m wrapping three huge columns with flip dots, an old low-resolution tech that used to be used in train stations, and creating waves that will slosh back and forth between the columns based on the influence of those cases. You can see which one is active on a nearby screen. The more influence the case has had, the larger the wave. I will also receive live data of cases that have just started that day, each represented by a droplet. In the morning, there will just be a few drops, and by the end of the day, there will be 50-100, each with the possibility of being a tidal wave in the future. Hopefully, it will be as intuitive and informative as it is beautiful and relaxing to watch.

What is your creative process like and how do you approach collaboration with partners? 

I usually start by trying to understand the essence of the subject I’m working with and come up with a compelling phrase that is true and meaningful to serve as my guide. Then everything I do, from materials to technology, tries to enhance that concept. That said, I find that I get to the end and make up a concept that is better than I originally thought.

As for collaborators, I love working with talented people who have talents that are different than mine. Most of my projects have included a team to develop the ideas. What I love is that the projects become much more than I could have ever imagined on my own.

airField by Dan Goods in collaboration with Nik Hafermaas and Jamie Barlow

What is your management philosophy and approach to leading project teams? 

I really think of the people on my team as collaborators vs. just hands to do my bidding. I want their perspective and talents to make my idea even better. Having that phrase about the essence of the project is really important because it gets everyone on the same page and moving in the right direction. Also, if you treat your team well, they will go the extra mile.

Do you have any favorite design tools or resources that you find yourself using regularly? 

It is so easy to miscommunicate with someone else when describing the qualities of a project because we all have a different construct of the world in our head to compare comments to. One of my mentors at art school was legendary designer Lou Danzinger. To help communicate and describe something to others, he suggested thinking in terms of a dial. If it is a crazy idea, is it a “7” crazy or a “10” crazy? If you need to change the amount of crazy, are you changing it by one digit or five? If you want to saturate the colors, where on a scale of 1-10 should it be? If your story is speaking too much to one audience, how far to the other side of the dial does it need to go? I use this framework all the time because it gives much more precision to a critique than just saying “I don’t like that.”  

Where do you find inspiration? 

I love talking to people. Every human is so different and listening to other people triggers ideas that don’t seem to come from my own head

What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned throughout your career?

Don’t be a jerk. Think about others’ needs as much as your own.

It seems simple enough, but it is not always heeded. It is a small world and accomplished people don’t have the time to work with others who are going to disrupt a team. You are always more valuable if you are looking out for others.

What do you hope people walk away with after experiencing your work? 

Awe, wonder, and to have both their heart and mind provoked… a smile.

Curiosity by Dan Goods and David Delgado

When you look to the future, what are you most excited about? 

A chance for us all to be better than we are today.

What advice would you give to someone at the beginning of their creative journey in the world of art and design? 

The jobs of the future don’t exist today. If you have a passion, follow it the best you can, become the expert and others will come to you for it.

Past is Present by Dan Goods

Thank you for sharing with us Dan! To see more of Dan’s work, visit his website and follow him on Instagram.

All images courtesy of artist Dan Goods.

Lindsay Stuart
Lindsay Stuart

VP, Brand Marketing & Communications at Noun Project

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