Craig Janssen began his career in audio-video by mixing for jazz and rock festivals in South Africa before transitioning to engineering audio systems into difficult acoustic spaces.
Now, he plies his talents as director of Acoustic Dimensions – an acoustics and performance technology consulting firm that has provided design for a diverse client list, including the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Lincoln Financial Field, the U.S. Census Bureau, New World Symphony and Saddleback Church.
From his work and research in beam theory, Craig holds a patent on Sound Reproduction System Having Enhanced Low Frequency Directional Control Characteristics for technology he developed. He’s also one of the founding members of Mindshift, a consortium exploring the impact of technology and sustainability on the design and construction industry, and now focusing on workplace productivity. In addition, he serves on the board of directors for InfoComm.
I first met Craig more than 15 years ago via telephone, where he was a distant yet compelling voice, clearly breaking down his system designs into understandable concepts that I could translate for editorial purposes to readers around the world.
Our first encounter in person was on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, where he was overseeing a system project, and I’ve always been grateful to Craig for the chance to step up to the iconic “WSM” microphone. (I sure wasn’t going to get there based on musical talent.)
Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch, and he remains one of the most dynamic, interesting people in the A/V systems industry. I recently caught up with Craig for this installment of 8.5 Questions.
1) What motivated you to seek a career in the world of A/V systems?
Craig Janssen: I didn’t actually begin with an intent to be a systems designer. For me it was never about A/V systems, it was about solving problems. My training was in physics, but my passion was in making things better. When I gravitated toward an interest in music and communication, audio became the natural choice to improve how people connect.
After that expansion of technology into acoustics, video and lighting was about gaining knowledge. They were further tools to solve the problem of people connecting and communicating.
2) Which people have most influenced your thinking?
It is a kaleidoscope. I’m an aggregator of influences. I meet people and read – a lot. It all sort of bubbles and percolates until it comes out with clarity. Rex Miller has been a powerful influence. His book, Millennium Matrix, put context to the change we are all experiencing. I’ve since had the opportunity to work with him and he remains one of the most insightful and original thinkers I have ever met.
Stephen Covey’s Speed of Trust. Don Tapscott’s Wikinomics. Otto Scharmer’s Theory U. Vivek Ranadive’s Power to Predict. Ava Abramowitz…all of these people understand whole-systems thinking and have a commitment to improving the broader context. They’ve sharpened my ability to solve problems and have expanded my thinking.
In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the top “megachurches” in the country – all lead by some of the most powerful communicators of our day. Spending time with these visionaries as they’ve developed their churches has really enriched me. In the early days, Saddleback Community Church was one of Acoustic Dimensions’ first projects. Rick Warren had words for the ideas that were driving me. The whole concept of “purpose-driven” aligned powerfully with my wiring for focusing on the mission of the project before discussing solutions.
3) What is your primary goal with every project?
The most important element is to never make it about us. Everything has to focus on understanding the client, their unique DNA and what is important to them as an organization. Only then can we ferret out the real problem to be solved – which may or may not be the problem identified when we are first contacted. Then solve the problem. Follow up to make sure the solution made the difference desired.
4) What technological development of the past 15-20 years has had the most impact on system design?
Without question the advances of digital signal processing have changed the world of A/V design. If I had to pick groundbreaking work it would be from the developers of the MediaMatrix systems, who made DSP accessible to the design community at large.
5) What are the most significant changes in terms of designing systems?
There have been three eras that were significant:
—The shift from discrete components to engineered systems.
—The rise of computer modeling which could take the mathematical calculations and do rapid predictive analysis.
—The rise of digital signal processing and the move to the digital world.
The first shift launched Acoustic Dimensions and allowed us to become a major player in the industry. The second and third changes allowed us the opportunity to dramatically improve the quality of the solutions and implement true engineered solutions.
6) Related, how has the role of system designer changed, and what will be the biggest changes in the next 5-10 years?
The convergence of technologies (A and V with IT) and clients expectations for total solutions has required systems designers to develop far more wide ranging competencies than required in the past. This trend will be exacerbated in the future with the additional requirement for certifications and licenses to work in many markets.
7) What should designers focus on – specifically – to make the shift?
When you consider the rapid changes that have taken place not only in our industry but also our clients’ industries, the most significant proficiency that a competent designer can add to his skillset is the ability to learn and change.
Janssen and Acoustic Dimensions colleague Vance Breshears (center) talking through a design with other members of the team.
When looking at the industry, I am passionate about the dissolving of the silos. It isn’t enough for a designer to lock himself in his office and push out reports. Those days are gone.
We have to be able to lead teams and get decisions made in the context of the whole picture. The only way I know to do that is with a commitment to constant improvement – and that requires the ability for realistic self-assessment, constant personal learning, and a cycle of group learning.
8) What’s the best thing about living in Dallas?
I’m a big fan of Tex-Mex food and here they have some of the best.
8.5) And, have you ever met Walker, Texas Ranger?
Funny you should ask. I was with some friends at a restaurant and he was sitting at a table next to us. (He didn’t invite us to join.)
We also worked on their sound stage acoustics years ago. When I was there for a production meeting, Mr. Norris (because really it doesn’t feel right just to call him Chuck) was standing on the set in the shadows looking appropriately menacing.
Keith Clark is editor in chief of ProSoundWeb and Live Sound International. Find out more about Acoustic Dimensions here.