Linda and Ted Johnson Found the Digital Design Consortium

October 19, 2001

A Leap of Faith

In 1976, in a moment of youthful confidence, architecture major Ted Johnson jumped out of Linda Gerth's dorm window to avoid discovery. One broken ankle and twenty-five years later, Ted and Linda, both U of M alumni, are taking another leap of faith by investing in the University's new Digital Design Consortium.

When Ted's ankle took a turn, so did his career plans. Forced to quit his part-time job at UPS while his ankle healed, he took a job at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. There he discovered an aptitude for computers and met Paul Brainerd, who was later credited with inventing "desktop publishing." Ted changed his major to computer science and continued his work on news layout systems in Minneapolis and Boston.

Ted and Linda, who met at the U, married in 1980. Ever the risk-takers, in 1985, they made a big move: Linda walked away from a promising banking career, and Ted joined Brainerd's Seattle-based Aldus Corp., where he was charged with bringing PageMaker software to the personal computer. By 1990 the Johnsons were ready for another challenge. Linda, Ted and a handful of Aldus colleagues launched a business-drawing software venture, Visio. In 2000, Visio Corp. was acquired by Microsoft, where Ted is now vice president of the Business Tools Division.

You could say the University was the jumping-off point for the Johnsons' leap into software development. They are now returning the favor as founding benefactors of the new Digital Design Consortium. The consortium seeks to create tools to help designers translate images in the mind's eye to multi-dimensional "napkin sketches," which serve as a point of discussion and facilitate creative, effective design. "Our dream for the Digital Design Consortium," explains Ted, "is to pioneer technologies and techniques that will enable digital tools to play a larger role in up-front design process, and, ultimately, to improve the quality of our built environment."

Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, explains, "Linda and Ted Johnson's gift will link the fields of design and digital technology." U faculty are already researching computer graphics, scientific visualization, 3D representation, computer-aided geometric modeling and design, architectural drawing, and the relationship among human behavior, perception and design. As H. Ted Davis, dean of the Institute of Technology explains, "No other university has as much potential as Minnesota does to expand research in this area."

from Campaign Legacy, Winter 2002


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