by Heidi Youngkin
My father, Ted Youngkin, was something of a legend to a generation of students at Art Center College of Design. For many of these young and aspiring designers, illustrators, and painters his class was their first experience at the college, and possibly the most terrifying. He demanded nothing less than their absolute best. He challenged them, taught them to think, and made them work harder than they had ever had before to achieve more than they ever thought they could. He was absolutely and ferociously dedicated to honing their skills and drawing out their talent. But as scary as “Mr. Youngkin” might have been, it’s pretty hard to argue with his results. The students who passed through his classroom are the absolute best at what they do. It was a great source of pride for him that his students are in charge of the design future of major car companies in nearly all industrial nations. And not just the automotive industry—he was fond of saying that most of the products we use in modern life have probably had his students working on them as part of a design team that made the product come to life. He loved that.
I had a privileged view of my father’s teaching, as I was born just a few years after he started to teach, and was always a regular visitor to his classes. My father was a talented artist and designer in his own right—his own contributions to the design world are significant. But it was always obvious that his greatest joy and gift was teaching and developing the talents of others. As hard as his students had to work for him, he worked just as hard for them. I’m enormously proud of him and his legacy.
My father passed away last year, at the age of 88. In keeping with how he lived the rest of his life, he died quickly, quietly, and without fanfare—almost matter of factly. He was never sick a day in his life. In the months since then, our family has heard from many of his students, sharing their sympathy, memories and incredible stories. It’s meant so much to us, and it is such a tribute to him. So thank you to all of daddy’s students. You’re all an essential part of his remarkable biography.
I have very fond memories of Ted Youngkin from my student days at the Art Center College of Design (1969–73). I remember he ordered a new blue Chevy pickup, and when it was delivered he realized that the instrument cluster had a blank where a gage could have been. He called it his humility gage, because it reminded him he didn’t have everything.
He also had some opinions about colors and textures. He said that wood is a great material if you are making a tree, but it doesn’t belong on the inside of an automobile. Same thing about the color green. Makes for great grass, but don’t paint a product that color.
I was thinking about another memory from ACCD. One day Ted brought in a sample of his design and illustration work, I assume for a product design client. It was a gorgeous chalk rendering of a plastic… port-a-potty. In my world high-end design only included cool stuff like sports cars. That was an eye-opener to me. That so much thought and expertise went into designing and improving the more mundane things in life. That every project was worthy of the best you can give it.
I remember in class one day he saw some airplane cartoons I had done, and told me I wouldn’t graduate unless I gave him a portfolio of the cartoons. That made a big impression on me, that he would take the time and the interest to want to keep some of my work. A designer’s world is one where nothing is ever good enough, but those simple drawings were something that your dad thought was good enough. It meant a great deal of encouragement to a struggling student. Recently, Heidi contacted me and returned the portfolio that her dad had kept all of those years.
There is an excellent photo essay about visiting Ted at his home on the Gurney Journey blog entitled Ted Younkin in Perspective.