No one could speak as eloquently, insightfully or as inspiringly as Matt could about design and its relation to art. When listening to him lecture, I was truly in awe. He was also world class at helping students through his critique of their work. I have never seen anyone do it better. All of us remember things that Matt told us that we use and share with others in our lives all the time.
Matt was one of those rare teachers who was intimidating and scary as hell yet managed to be beloved by his students. Praise from him would make your month. Critique was harsh but honest. And always helpful if you were willing to listen. His classes were a rite of passage for all of us in the design program and, while the d.school has taken off in recent years, I’ve never been able to picture the program without him.
We all knew him as Matt.
As much as David Kelley embodies the well-rounded, inquisitive, open-minded ethos of the program, I always felt like Matt was its empathic, perfectionist, joyful soul. His assignments were simple prompts which forced us to think, make decisions, and take things as far as we could take them.* There were no simplistic easy answers (a surefire way to get in trouble in class) and the amount of effort and risk each assignment response required is what caused his classes to be so intimidating.
*Why I loved the Jay DeFeo show. Her work is the simplicity of Matt’s assignments approached with the brilliance of a master.
Bringing in a piece for critique involved exposing your thinking and accepting that there was always room for improvement. Despite the safeness of the classroom no one was there to take it easy on anyone else. The inherent challenge and pressure though forced me—and my classmates—to bring our A-game each class and took all of us to places we didn’t think we could reach. The rewards of ending up someplace you never believed you could be, receiving a positive critique, and seeing the joyful twinkle in Matt’s eye made it all worth it.
It’s easy to say that he was my favorite teacher. He’s definitely the one who I reference and quote* most often. His classes on design are the ones which I remember most distinctly from my course of study and the work I did for him is still some of the work which I am most proud of—not in a look what I made kind of way but in a look what I thought up kind of way.
*“Perspective is a disease of the eye” being my favorite.
The teachers you remember decades after taking their classes are the ones who changed the way you thought and who live on in the back of your mind still reminding you of their lessons.
There’s always a Matt daemon running in the back of my mind pushing me to go a bit further and do a bit better and asking me whether I’ve truly considered everything. It’s also pushing me to approach and critique things from a true use and design point of view. It’s why I mouth silverware before buying it.
Thank you so much Matt. I’m lucky to have been able to learn from you.