Life's Influence on Design

February 26, 2019 Design , Life , Places , Travel , Inspiration

Contrary to what some might think, design isn’t just something I just sit at my desk and do. Design is a thoughtfully-planned process that is impacted by a lot of things—the research I have conducted, the projects I have worked on in the past, and all of my previous experiences. The places I have traveled to and all the things I have read, seen, felt or touched like the incredible sites of Iceland, the warm light of a sunset on the beach, the taste of a friend’s cooking, the songs I listen to (and sing to) while driving, the smell of the candles I burn while I’m working, and the feel of the paper on which my favorite magazine is printed all leave impressions that influence my work.

A collection of experiences

Fortunately I have had the opportunity to experience a lot of things in my lifetime, from my childhood to now. Lucky for me, my parents are both incredibly talented. My dad actually built the house we grew up in, and he loved to work with wood. We had all sorts of tools and scraps of wood in the basement, so when I was young, I used our jigsaw to make myself a dollhouse. My mom was very artistic and also used to knit, crochet, sew, upholster furniture—you name it—so we always had scraps of fabric, yarn and lots of other materials around. I used that to make all of the furnishings for that dollhouse and for countless other projects as well. So as much as genetics probably had something to do with my artistic background, my parents’ interests, the materials at my disposal, my inability to sit idle, and my curiosity for the world around me helped cultivate my love for making things.

That curiosity has also sparked my interest in the details of ordinary life and fueled my desire to figure out how things work both of which have made me very good at problem-solving. Taking the take the time to observe details which might otherwise be overlooked is key to solving problems and to collecting references for future projects (personal or professional). During most of our travels—much to the dismay of my son and husband—I am usually lagging behind because I have stopped to take pictures of a sign, number, stone carving, plant, flower, or some other small detail of our day that just happens to catch my eye. My Instagram account details a lot of those moments.

Taking the time to travel

Working independently has also afforded me the great fortune to travel fairly extensively. When I first met my husband, he worked for TGIFriday’s and oversaw their franchise restaurants in the Middle East and South Africa. “They had Fridays there??” you ask. They did, and I met him when he was on travel ban because the U.S. embassies in South Africa had just been bombed. This was pre-911 and just a sign of how much terrorism would impact our world. But before 2001, thanks to my laptop (which allowed me to work from the road), TGIFridays, and lots of frequent flyer miles, we traveled all over the globe—Prague, Paris, Oslo, Aruba, Hong Kong, the UK, Ireland, and the U.S.

Most of our travel these days has been in the U.S. We are on a journey to see all of the major league baseball stadiums before my son graduates high school. Each of these trips involve more than baseball. We also visit places around the stadiums that we might not take the time to go to otherwise, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in Chicago, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, and Tallesin West in Arizona. While FLW was a brilliant architect, his creations spanned the gamut of design from building and furniture to toys and graphics.

During or trip to Detroit we  toured “The Big House,” the University of Michigan’s legendary football stadium. And in St. Louis, we discovered the City Museum—a giant playground for kids and adults that was one of the most unique places I have ever seen. It was a high rise with all sorts of exhibits, tunnels and slides—including a 12-story spiral slide from the top to the bottom. My favorite parts were the vintage poster exhibit and the metal type, logos, and graphics that covered the walls of the food court!

On our way from Arlington to Houston in Texas, we stopped off in Waco to see Magnolia Market at the Silos, the incredible creation of Chip and Joanna Gaines. Talk about design impact—they have shaped an entire lifestyle market segment and influenced interior design and architecture across the country.

Our 2018 trip included a two-week drive down the Pacific Coast highway—something I would highly recommend as a bucket list item. It is absolutely stunning! And if you have ever watched the Pixar movie Cars—something I did several times with my son when he was little—you will recognize the real-world inspiration for Lightening McQueen’s California excursion. In addition to visiting the state’s five ballparks and the standard tourist sites, we kayaked with sea lions, hiked in Muir Woods, played golf at Torrey Pines, and visited the most gorgeous college campus I have ever seen (and we have seen a few) at Stanford. I also watched as my boys drove away in a Ferrari (pretty darn fast!) through the streets of LA. And we had lunch with Kit Hinrichs at the Presidio Club in San Francisco. Kit's work has been one of the biggest influences on my design work since I was in College. A decade ago, when he was still a partner with Pentagram, we met at a workshop he conducted at the Type Directors Club in New York City (of which I have been a member since 1990), and we have kept in touch ever since. That workshop was definitely one of my favorite all-time experiences!!

A love for reading

Reading about others’ experiences is another one of my influences. My bookshelves are full of biographies of interesting people from Ronald Regan, Lance Armstrong and Steve Jobs to Jacqueline Novogratz, Stuart Scott, and the “Central Park Jogger”—once ordinary people who have gone on to do extraordinary things—many of whom have changed our world. Books on social interaction, experiments, and research, like those by Malcom Gladwell also fascinate me.


So, as you will read in the posts of this blog, they are not only about the field in which I work, but also about the things that I have the good fortune to experience—the things that influence my design work and my thoughts on the world around me.