Shaun Jackson: Innovator, Educator, Business Entrepreneur Par Excellence
I have met few people in the design community with greater heart, more zest for life, and more talent at merging design excellence with business acumen than Shaun Jackson, so it was devastating to hear Tuesday, January 15th, that Shaun Jackson had died that afternoon.
When Shaun Jackson passed, the design and business world lost a leading light. I know my world is an important degree smaller and less bright because he isn’t in it.
I knew him best for his charismatic presentations: Will anyone who was at the IDSA 1994 Dearborn conference ever forget when he started to undress on stage, removing first the tie and then the business jacket (the women held their breaths!), and then layer after layer to emerge in full Harley leathers?
“That’s when I knew that he was special,” says Celia Weinstein, IDSA conference manager at the time. “He challenged you to think out-of-the box.”
Shawn did not just design; he looked at the norm and redefined it, as his many benchmark products (and the 1994 presentation) demonstrate. He made excellence his standard.
He understood that innovation does not tell its story, it embodies the story.
It takes risks. But it prepares and mitigates those risks as far as possible with calculation and thorough preparation, perfecting an idea relentlessly in the crucible of design principles and business acumen.
There lies the element that sets him apart in the community of designers. He was as much a business leader as a design leader. He launched two companies on the backs of his design innovations and grew them into global markets. He had the intellectual power, talent and charisma to play in all the sandboxes.
Shaun was interdisciplinary by inclination, seeing design and business as a continuum through which to serve people. And he saw education as an essential fuel for ensuring that this continuum produced real value.
Shaun held faculty appointments in art and design, architecture, and business, while he led the firm, Shaun Jackson Design Inc., with several clients such as Apple, Dell, Toshiba, General Electric Medical Systems, Herman Miller, Nike, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, Harley Davidson and Patagonia. He started both Eclipse, maker of soft saddlebags for motorcycles, and High Ground, maker of cases for laptops that fold open into mini-desks.
Indeed, he produced extraordinary value himself, holding more than 50 patents, establishing winning companies with winningly designed products.
His long-time friends say it very well.
Mark Dziersk, managing director of LUNAR Chicago, described Shaun as an inspiration, a visionary.
“Shaun was formed by the combination of pure positive energy and the will to make everything better and more meaningful. You couldn’t help but be drawn to him. He changed the world … but there was a lot more that he was planning to do. I will miss him forever.”
Bob Schwartz, general manager of global design and user experience at GE Healthcare, agrees, saying, “When Shaun made his fortune in business and sold his company, he decided that, rather than continue down the mogul path, he would dedicate his life to teaching. He used his resources, wit, intelligence and sense of adventure to help shape the thinking of scores of young design minds. A more noble contributor to the ongoing future of design is hard to find.”
And beyond the professional Shaun is the private man for whom friendship was a precious gift. Celia recalls with feeling the many times he offered support to his friends, saying, “Beyond all our professional collaborations, Shaun was my friend. I always knew I had his ongoing support and his friendship. I will miss him forever.”