Expert Advice from Jason Gillette (BFA 2010)
by J. Howard Rosier (MFA 2018)
As one of SAIC’s Career and Professional Experience (CAPX) initiatives, Nexus Career Conversations gives students a chance to interact with alumni and creative professionals about their career journeys. Spring 2018 speakers include Jason Gillette (BFA 2010). Gillette transforms everyday life through design for people working in contemporary open-office spaces. The entrepreneurial alum saw a business opportunity in his own frustration with working in a noisy and distracting environment. In 2016 he founded TURF, a design company that fights noise and echo with sculptural acoustic ceiling and wall installations. Gillette’s sales pitch: They’re beautiful, made of recycled plastics, and allow people to focus on their work. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with him.
What future did you envision as a student?
When I started, I wanted to be a practicing fine artist, maybe do art installations or activations that could somehow be used for commercial purposes. Toward the end of [my] time at SAIC, I knew that I wanted to use space as a tool to change something.
What was your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge I faced was building a pop-up solar-power car charging station for a major global automaker. Because of things outside of my control, we were running behind on that project. I asked for an extension, and they told me “no.” We shipped it incomplete knowing that I’d have to fix it. It arrived at the Italian border and was hung up in customs for four days. I had five days’ worth of work, and now I only had one day to complete it before its official launch. When the structure arrived, it didn’t fit in the facility. We sequestered a nearby abandoned auto body shop. We were able to get a clean floor and start working, but the shop didn’t have electricity. I knocked on the neighbor’s door and ran an extension to have power to work through the night. I also had to figure out a way to convert the US electrical system to a European electrical system in an abandoned auto body shop outside of Milan, running off of extension cords.
You made it?
It wasn’t the most beautiful execution, but we made it. Because of that, we won a couple awards. That experience taught me how to navigate incredible stress. That’s a really profound thing to learn.
Advice to new entrepreneurs?
The practical advice is to live radically below your means. If you make $500 a month, figure out a way to live on $100 a month. It will make you feel comfortable taking risks.
What’s your five-year plan?
I think the expectation is that I have a very clear vision of my future. The reality: I don’t. I actually think it’s a liability to have a clear picture of what you want in life. I take every opportunity that presents itself to implement good design with critical thought and rigor. I let it shape my future.
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