There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.
NEW YORK, United States — John Bricker is the creative director and principal at Gensler, a design and architecture firm. A graduate of Arizona State University, Bricker leads Gensler's retail and branding studio, which he founded in 1980. Named as one of the Top Retail Design Influencers of 2012 by 'Design: Retail' (formerly DDI), Bricker has worked on creating prototypes for the global retail expansion of the NBA, Armani Exchange and Havaianas. His studio's recent projects include designing branded environments for Fred Segal, Cadillac and El Palacio de Hierro's new flagship store in Mexico.
BoF: Please describe your current role.
I am the creative director of a 5,000-person multi-disciplinary global design and architecture firm that specialises in everything from luxury retail stores to wine labels to the tallest buildings in the world. I feel like a creative “cheerleader” with a curatorial filter — I am to a designer what an editor is to a writer. I lead a team of strategists, architects, graphic designers, technologists and interior designers to establish creative visions for our clients. We build places for people, and my job is to define the experience and the journey, whether it is a retail space or a corporate headquarters.
BoF: What attracted you to the role?
Gensler was actually my first job out of school. 35 years later, I’m still here and learning new things every day. Designers have a tendency to move around frequently, but I decided I’d stay. The firm’s commitment to let creatives be creatives and explore entrepreneurial paths is what has kept me here, but I was also drawn to its global reach and diverse client base. One week I may be working on a new retail concept for Havaianas, and the next, developing the brand experience in Condé Nast's Headquarters. You never know!
Today’s retail is not just about online versus bricks and mortar, but a seamless integration of the two. Physical space needs to be designed with experience driving every decision.
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
Designing environments has always captivated me because they are far more lasting and tangible than an ad campaign, so I like to say that “the next one” is always the most exciting, whatever it might be. Right now, I am working on a brand program for Melissa McCarthy’s new fashion line, which will cross all touchpoints from mobile to physical. Her point of view is, "Fashion does not have to stop at a size 12." Now that’s a brand ethos.
Another memorable experience was working on a temporary store for Dior while their flagship was under renovation. I brought in an illustrator, Ann Field, who could draw in Mr. Dior’s illustrative style to recreate the architectural character of his atelier in Paris. Each room was lined in a digital print wallpaper in silver and grey that replicated the molding details of his atelier.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
My role evolves as the influences, tools and demands of the world change. Retail today is not just about online versus bricks and mortar, but a seamless integration of the two. Physical space needs to be designed with experience driving every decision. At Gensler, our conversations are centred on experience design and how we can choreograph customer engagement and interaction within a space. We’re thinking beyond architecture and interiors to design service platforms, sensory environments, and digital interactions. Our aim is to convey a strong brand message and establish emotional connections with our clients' customers.
BoF: Tell us about a time you failed and how you learned from it.
An early failure, which ended up setting me on my path to success, was not actively listening to my clients. Thinking I would just do "the cool stuff" was a lesson that I should take a more holistic and responsible approach to design. Yes, it must be beautiful, but more critically, it must perform for the client and the end user. Knowing your audience is vital. Then design becomes less subjective.
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
As the eyes and ears of your clients, you're responsible for having a pulse on the world and capturing the zeitgeist. Awareness of what’s going on around you is critical. Second, keep your ego in check. This work is not about you, but about delivering a compelling solution that you can be proud of, whether it's as small as a logo or as grand as a flagship store. And most importantly, don’t take yourself so seriously — I mean it, really. We don’t affect the sun rising tomorrow.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.