Mookesh Patel: 2014 Urban Legend Award, Design
In honor of the fifth annual Big Brain Awards, New Times is recognizing five Urban Legends, established creative pioneers who have made Phoenix a better, cooler place.
Janessa Hilliard Mookesh Patel, associate professor in the Department of Visual Communication Design at Arizona State University.
When Mookesh Patel was growing up in India, a career in graphic design was unheard of. There were only three choices when it came to work for young men.
"Medicine, medicine, medicine," he says with a laugh.
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Raised by his maternal grandparents, he lived with an uncle who pushed him toward a career as a doctor. After two years in medical school (during which time he says he never cut open any animals for practice, choosing instead to draw the practicals so accurately his teachers didn't discover he wasn't participating until his sophomore year), he had had enough.
"I broke the news at our New Year's party. There was pin-drop silence," he says. "My uncle didn't say anything for about five minutes. At the end of those five minutes he said, 'Do what you want!' and got up and left the table. He was furious."
But Patel took that advice. He boarded a train the following day, headed first for architecture school and, when he realized the admissions deadline passed, then enrolled in the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, Gujarat -- the first of its kind in the country. He graduated in 1975, though he would return as a teacher only a few years later. That position eventually moved him to the United States in the mid-'80s, first to the prestigious Rhode Island Institute of Design for graduate school and then to the Valley for a job at Arizona State University.
His lengthy résumé grew to include consulting for Phoenix Art Museum and his alma maters. His work with both the Metropolitan Boston Transit Authority, as an employed designer for Malcolm Grear Designers, and the government of India for a major traveling exhibition to Russia, "My Land, My People," sparked his interest in visual communication -- a departure from the commercial design, chiefly for area hotels, that made him successful in his first business ventures.
Janessa Hilliard A collection designed for Phoenix Art Museum.
Part of his work with the Phoenix Art Museum consisted of designing collections of books related to exhibits. Book design, from cover to cover, quickly became a passion project. He continues creating for everything from academic papers to anthologies related to the field.