Design Maven

Sky is the limit for technology professor John Belt, Buckminster Fuller expert“I tell my students, ‘I can't teach you to be designers. I can teach you about design,’” says John Belt, associate professor in the technology department and president of Synergetics Collaborative. He packs his studio with an array of artifacts — old phone booths, tea services, church pews — challenging students not to see objects but patterns.

You’re known as a disciple of the late R. Buckminster Fuller.
The central take for me is his educational philosophy and his design principles. Fuller was about designing a living space and doing more with less, with maximum efficiency. He wanted to design artifacts that would solve problems.

How does that play out in a classroom?
I don’t have a textbook. Required reading is about issues — environmental issues, human issues. What problems can you solve? How far into the universe can you reflect yourself, now that you’ve had a little time on the planet? I'm trying to get them to take charge of their education.

What achievement are you most proud of?
Seeing graduates in design-related, key positions in business and industry, or artisans with their own studios or businesses, do well in leadership roles. They take great pride in their education at Oswego. Decades ago, I made a determination that how I worked had to have long-range impact and that, in order to do that, I had to maintain contact with as many graduates as possible. That’s very rewarding. One is a designer for Apple, and his only education is Oswego. His last project was the iPad. He works with Jonathan Ive and Steve Jobs. Another who studied with me revamped a model design workshop, which is state of the art among East Coast industrial model builders. Another is vice president of General Electric’s Automotive Transportation.

It seems Fuller’s and your approach is new again, with talk of sustainability.
The problems really haven't changed. We’re more aware of them now. The critical path to the solution of these is, “Everything comes from everything, everything is made from everything, and everything can be turned into everything” — that's a Leonardo quote. People say they “throw stuff away.” There is no “away.”

Photo: Belt atop a geodesic dome on campus

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