Faculty Spotlight: Assistant Professor Lee Clark

GDES Faculty Lee Clark

Lee Clark

One of the things Lee Clark is most grateful for in the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD) is the small class size. “It allows me a lot of time to sit down with the students and get to know them as individuals,” he said. “I can really make an impact because I can see what they need and I have the time to teach them one-on-one.” An alumnus of SIGD himself, Clark holds a B.F.A. from Auburn and an M.F.A. from Savannah College of Art and Design. He has been teaching graphic design at Auburn since 2020 and was named Assistant Professor in the fall of 2022.

Even though he loves design and values his Auburn education, Clark knows that college is not easy for everyone. As a student, he struggled with setting career goals and deciding what he wanted out of life. “Some of my students are going through a lot,” he said. “They look at my resume and think everything came easy, so I spend a lot of time talking to them outside of class about life and things not even related to school. I hope I can offer something to someone that one day really helps them in a way they never expected.” Clark knows what he’s talking about, because it was one of those unexpected moments with a faculty member that changed his life when Professor Emeritus John Morgan suggested he would make a good teacher. Clark had been working hard on his senior project, and Morgan noticed the extra hours he spent helping his classmates. Morgan recommended that Clark go earn an M.F.A. and come back to teach at Auburn someday. “I never would have considered teaching if it were not for him saying that,” Clark reflected. “It’s just crazy that his one comment had so much weight and shaped my life so much. Professor Morgan knew the industry and he knew me, and he could see that I would be good at teaching, even when my parents and I could not.” Because of Morgan’s influence, Clark now takes the time to talk not just to current students but also to young alumni. He often gets texts from recent graduates who want to hash out work issues or career concerns. “I know I’ll have a read on them and their skill set and the industry,” he said. “They can’t get that same help from their parents, no matter how much they’re trying to sort through it all with them. I spend a lot of time talking to alumni because I see how much value Professor Morgan added to my life at that time, and it’s nice to be paying it forward now.”

After graduating from Auburn, Clark moved to Hollywood and worked in graphic design for the film industry. He soon got a job offer from The Walt Disney Company in Florida and went to work in the company’s in-house advertising agency, Yellow Shoes Creative Group, as an Interactive Art Director. In that role, he created online ad campaigns, microsites, banner ad campaigns, e-mail blasts and more. He was able to take projects from concept to creation, assembling and managing creative teams that executed projects, moved them into the market and then managed them. “I’ve made video game ads that played before movies that guests could control by waving their hands in the air,” he stated. “I made the first Disney iAds for Steve Jobs when he wanted to launch the platform with brands like Disney on board. My career is really littered with all sorts of crazy things like that.” Perhaps the most interesting story from his time with the company is how Clark inadvertently became a Disney Fine Artist. He had painted large Disney character art for his office, and an Imagineer who saw his work began using it to decorate resorts on the Walt Disney World property. Soon vacationing guests were asking to buy Clark’s work, so Disney began selling his prints in its galleries. He found himself working on advertising all day and then painting until the middle of the night. His work was so good that Disney began asking him to paint for live audiences of thousands of people. “I once painted after then-Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech while the musicians Romeo and Rubin Studdard played music for the crowd. I have a lot of insane stories on my time painting, just all kinds of things few people ever get to experience.”

After ten years with Disney, Clark found out that his job would be moving to California, and he couldn’t bring himself to go. “Disney had been asking me to move to California for a decade, and I told them ‘no’ for years. I had hated living in California,” he said. Soon his former college instructor Wei Wang, now head of SIGD, called and offered him a teaching job, and Clark began at Auburn in the fall of 2020.

Clark feels like one of his main contributions in the classroom is his ability to share incredible industry experience. “No one runs a shop like Disney does,” he said. “I see a lot of mistakes being made by agencies and shops, processes and systems that Disney nails but few others get right.” He wants his students to be creative leaders as opposed to just designers, and he also thinks that technology is forcing students to become what he calls “creative technologists.” He sees the roles of industrial and graphic designers beginning to merge and encourages his students to have a solid understanding of human-centered design. “Technology is changing so rapidly that clients and corporations cannot keep up with the possibilities,” he explained. “Students really need to be able to listen to their clients’ input, question it, reject it and then move forward with new solutions that the client and brand partners have not envisioned.”

While sharing his experiences with the class are important, Clark says the students themselves are his favorite thing about teaching. He knows they have already seen a great deal of design in their lifetimes due to their familiarity with gaming and the Internet. “What surprises me is how talented they are for their age. They are just so far ahead of where I was in college design-wise,” he said. With all that talent, it just takes instruction, practice and encouragement to get students to a professional level. “I feel like I’m part coach and part cheerleader most days. But once they see that you believe in them it really helps them believe in themselves.”

Related people:
Wei Wang, Lee Clark