Darren Bourque, ’97 Digital Media/Electronic Imaging
I wanted to push the boundaries of what could be done then, and I still take that approach now.
by Bob McCarthy
When Darren Bourque enrolled at UMass Dartmouth in the Fall of 1993, the Electronic Imaging program (now known as Digital Media) had only been in existence one year. Though advancing at an astounding rate, computers possessed but a fraction of today’s power. Digital and 3D animation just emerging, Flash had yet to be developed. The internet still its infancy, the dot-com bubble was on the distant horizon. The industry evolving along with the near-constant leaps in technology, everyone was learning on the fly. Even the faculty, most of whom had spent their entire careers designing without the benefit of computers, were thrust into a new world. Taking a foundational approach, they instilled in students the need for fundamentals, stressing that technology is not a replacement for creativity and skill.
“I remember discussions with professors about the use of computers in design,” says Darren. “The most important thing I took away was that, however powerful computers were, they were and are just a tool. Computers alone won’t make for good design, you must understand the fundamentals.”
From its inception, the Electronic Imaging program sought to merge traditional and digital design. The core graphic design and typography courses emphasized fundamentals, while the digital design classes encouraged experimentation and exploration. It’s a combination perfectly suited to Darren, who embodies the modern creative professional, equal parts classical and contemporary artist, drawing on both talent and technology. But though exploiting the newest software offered him the opportunity to engage in uninhibited creativity, those foundational classes provided challenges that appealed to his industrious nature.
“[We had to] build an insect that would carry an egg safely to the ground from six stories up. Or build a kite, based on an insect, that would actually fly. I love that kind of challenge.”
For some, the ever-changing landscape of an emerging field can be trying. Everything nebulous, the rules and tools are in constant flux, offering little structure and even less certainty. But that very dynamic helped shape Darren’s creative process.
“The fact that the technology was constantly changing and improving had a big impact on my approach to design. I wanted to push the boundaries of what could be done then, and I still take that approach now, seventeen years later.”
But while improved technology has opened the door to unprecedented creativity, it means Darren now works primarily on-screen. To maintain that balance between hands-on and virtual design, he has discovered outlets in silversmithing and woodwork. And in a nod to those balsa wood insects launched from Group VI, he insists, “Some day I’m going to build a flying machine for the Red Bull Flugtag.”
Now an Art Director at Isobar, Darren leads the visual design of large and small scale projects, working with copy writers and creative directors to craft compelling digital campaigns. Though it can be unsettling to talk to junior colleagues who have never known a time when there weren’t computers or animation software, Darren is proud to have been one of the first practitioners of digital design. And regardless of how sophisticated the technology becomes, he still prefers to view it as a way to push boundaries.
“In general, computers allow for greater creativity because they allow you to try and fail faster and experiment more.” It’s that ability to imagine far-fetched ideas and entertain them as possibilities that is most satisfying. “The best part of my job is when we are brainstorming for a new project and are exploring any crazy idea that comes to mind. In those moments, the team frequently stops and reflects on how we can’t believe we get paid to do this.”