A Cleveland boomerang, Ryan Gerber wasted no time immersing himself in the arts when he returned to his hometown. Gerber is the founder of RGI International, a company that fuses creative design with placemaking, harnessing the psychology of why we do the things we do and using it to transform spaces. RGI is responsible for the beloved — and returning — larger-than-life Angry Birds Cornhole game and this year, RGI designed the glowing Brite Beacons that will light up Ohio City on the night of the festival. We talk to Gerber about RGI’s approach to changing landscapes, the idea of “Behavioral Impact Through Design”, and their work with Brite over the years.
Learn more about RGI International on their official website. // Interview by Nikki Delamotte
“People change, it’s part of human nature, so when you can stay on top of what makes people tick you always have fresh inspiration.” – Ryan Gerber, RGI International Founder and Principal Designer
You created a Brite favorite, the Angry Birds cornhole game. Have you always had an interest in buildings games? What made you want to or gave you the idea to bring that to life?
Who doesn’t like a life size slingshot? Actually, we created this as a promotional sponsorship item for Med City News’s Annual Cornhole Tournament.
Can you tell us a little more about the Brite Beacons — how you came up with the concept and how they were built?
Our master craftsman, Don Gerber, designed and built the beacons. He grew up in Ohio City and has been an active tradesman in Cleveland since the early sixties. As a kid, he would wheel his wagon from home at 30th and Monroe over to the Westsid eMarket, where he’d collect discarded wooden fruit boxes to use as material in his construction projects. Don is very excited to see his old neighborhood come alive and thrilled to be involved with Brite. He sketched the beacon design during a conversation about their functional needs—that they would need to be lightweight, durable, easy to store, very bright, and full of personality. Don built the beacons in our shop using PVC pipe and frosted polypropylene sheet.
What are your favorite materials to work with? Or particular design concepts you really love working on?
One fun challenge we always love to take on is a project involving culturally responsive design. If you think about Angry Birds Cornhole, it’s a hybrid of two cultural phenomena that we’re deeply immersed in here in Ohio City. But when we design an environment for use in a culture we’re not readily familiar with, we have to do ethnographic research to inform the design. We review literature and conduct interviews and observations, then pull all those insights together at the creative table. When the environment we design comes out seamless with the culture it was intended for it always feels like a major accomplishment.
When you’re looking for inspiration, what do you continuously come back to — whether other artists, rituals, styles or techniques?
We always come back to research about how people behave and what motivates people. People change, it’s part of human nature, so when you can stay on top of what makes people tick you always have fresh inspiration.
RGI’s concept revolves around the idea of “Behavioral Impact Through Design”. In your experience, how does the interaction of art play a role in RGI and running a business as whole?
Art is an expression of one’s self. Our time is focused on making connections between our customers and their customers. We enjoy being involved with the group at Brite because it gives us an opportunity to be artful.
A big part of Brite Winter is transforming spaces. How does that idea take shape in your day-to-day work and designs?
Spaces have a big impact on people’s happiness, their connection to one another, their creativity — the list goes on and on. We recently observed in our own facility that there were some aspects of our creative space that could be turned up a little to enhance creativity and the flow of ideas. So we moved the set-up around a little, added some physical elements that would help our designers share ideas and sketch together in a way that they really needed. It’s the same thing we do for our clients and a lot like what Brite does for Clevelanders — respond to the winter gap in happiness and community experience by drastically changing the landscape!
You were a practicing designer in San Francisco and moved back to Cleveland in 2003. What’s been your experience as a business owner and artist back in Cleveland?
There is a great deal of old school trades people and creative people in the area! I hope many of their skills are passed down.
Brite Winter takes place every winter. What’s your favorite thing about the winter season?
The Brite Winter Festival is brilliant! It’s important to get outside as much as possible and enjoy winter activities. Live music, outdoor activities, and bonfires are a great way to get outside and have fun.