innovation + inspiration

seek knowledge

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Know-it-alls don’t know it all. They’re just more uncomfortable more of the time because they want their peers to believe that they do know it all. They’ve created a self imposed conundrum…they can’t learn new things because they already know it all. So when they don’t know something they must find a way to pretend they do until they learn it, then find a way to learn it without letting on that they’re learning something new. Don’t be that guy.

the advantage of not knowing

The rest of us, who don’t know it all, have a distinct advantage. We get to learn new things out in the open. We get to ask questions, to research, to say ‘I don’t know I’ll get back to you’ when we don’t know, to dive in to new situations un-encumbered with a need to be expert. Not being a know-it-all takes some practice and is a skill in and of itself. And the sooner you get comfortable not knowing, the better off you, your co-workers and your clients will be.

I’ve been an interior designer for over twenty years. Last week I learned what a ferrule is, what a pelmet is, and that in Hawaii the ADA is applied a bit differently from the way it is applied here in California. Those things came to me passively. They were shared with me in the course of doing my job and were not bits of knowledge that I actively sought. But I was comfortable not knowing because I practice not knowing.

I practice not knowing by spending a good deal of time seeking knowledge. Learning new things is my addiction. Here are a few reasons it should be yours as well.


Not knowing keeps you humble. People who are humble are better team players. They are more apt to listen, to open up to new ideas, to allow others to participate and lead. Humility and arrogance don’t make good bedfellows, and arrogance has no place on a team.

success breeds success

Conquer a new subject, learn a new language, become an expert in your office. Becoming good at something new will not only inspire you to tackle new things, it will inspire others around you to do the same. This kind of success is contagious, and also makes you a more valuable employee (or employer!). Have the courage to be a newbie at something, and enjoy the process of becoming expert.

learners are better teachers

Understanding the vagaries of learning will help you to be a better teacher and coach. Every organization values mentoring at some level. If you’ve learned to be comfortable not knowing, your empathy will create a better approach to coaching others in your organization who don’t know. For you to truly become a master, you must become a better teacher.

unexpected by-products

Learning something new often provides unexpected by-products. When I spent a year learning sign language it led me to an understanding of deafspace, the architectural design of spaces for the deaf. This is knowledge that I can now share with my co-workers as we design public space at hotels and resorts around the world.

With the growth of the internet, learning has become so much easier than it was back in the days of the Encyclopedia Britannica (which still lives on my bookshelf). Social media often spurs me to new topics that take me down a rabbit hole (when I should be feeding chickens or cooking dinner). It’s also spurred me to take a class, buy a book, contact an authority, join a group.

When it comes to writing for Parti* Notes, several people have asked me where I get inspiration for my topics. It all comes down to things I’m interested in learning (often about architecture, design and food). I have a few sources that usually spur me to open a dozen tabs in google. Here’s a current list…it’s always growing and changing.

  • Fast Company
  • Mic
  • NYTimes, Washington Post, Reuters, AP, SF Chronicle, New Yorker, local newspapers
  • Dezeen
  • Eater
  • Curbed
  • James Beard
  • DesignBoom
  • Medium
  • Twitter and all the chefs I follow
  • Architectural Record, Architizer, Metropolis

So go, learn, grow, be a newbie. Seek knowledge. Don’t be that guy.

Keep in touch,


haters gonna…

Good design stirs emotion and elicits reaction. Think about how you feel when you walk into a cathedral…is that powerful awe? Or when you visit a library and find yourself whispering. Or you enter a bustling restaurant and you light up, ready to chat up the person on the bar stool next to you. When you hold a well designed tumbler does your whiskey taste better? This is the result of design done well.

But does it work the other way? Does emotion inspire design the way design inspires emotion? Clearly yes. Unfortunately the most prevalent emotions swirling the airwaves right now are hate and anger, but even those seem to spur some pretty interesting design solutions.

when hate inspires a revolution

The Women’s March on Washington spurned marches all over the world. The positivity of these marches was palpable, and the creativity that the divisive and hateful rhetoric in the news inspired was, well….inspiring!

dating for hate

Sunset walks, rainy nights by the fire and sharing a good bottle of wine haven’t found you the person of your dreams. How about finding someone who hates everything you do? On February 8 a new kind of dating app, based on what you both hate, launches. And Hater’s web page cites our new president, slow walkers and paying extra for guac as three possible things to hate. This could be very interesting!

hate is not a dream quencher

According to Budweiser, Adolphus Busch was not met with much love when he first emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1857. But his dream of making beer was stronger than the hatred that met him. Maybe he was just determined enough to show America that he couldn’t be beaten down. Or he had something to prove. Or he just really thought he could make the very best beer. Whatever drove him through the hatred, he definitely found success on the other side.

past hatred re-vamped

Last April, presumably a bit tongue in cheek, Tucker Viemeister created a logo for Trump as nominee that was based on an older symbol of hatred. The last two weeks have not done anything to quell the fear and animosity that our most recent election sparked. It’s chilling to think that this logo may no longer be a joke.

looking at hatred through a new lens

Insitum is a design research and innovation consultancy with offices in Chicago, Mexico, South America and Spain. Their employees in Mexico have been understandably disheartened by the outpouring of hatred from our new president and his constituency, as well as his talk of walls, taxes and immigration bans. So they channeled the hatred they were hearing, and the fear they were feeling, into some productive solutions.

Create jobs in Mexico and South America so migrants would fly back home. Or presumably stay there in the first place.

Create a neutral zone in the middle of both countries and develop prisons to keep the bad guys (dudes and hombres) from the U.S. and Mexico. {editor’s thought: does this align the US with North Korea and Mexico with South Korea?}

Design a program to employ US citizens in Mexico. Because honestly, if he builds the wall, many may want to be on the south side of it.

In an effort to keep things positive, I’m looking for the good that has come from this election and our new administration. If nothing else, there are many who were complacent who no longer are. Engagement in our democracy is what will keep it alive and functioning. And I daresay that we all know that now!

Keep in touch,

who needs a mentor?


I need a mentor. So do you. You may be at the very beginning of your career or even still in school…a time when mentors are a common topic. For those of us who have been doing what we do for a while, mentoring may not seem like such an obvious need. It is.

consider these 3 reasons to seek out your own mentor

  • Careers are not static

In this age of technological leaps we don’t begin a career and continue on a single path through retirement. ‘Lifelong learner’ has become a catch phrase on every resume and in every job interview. Over the course of your career you will need to learn new skills. Mentors can guide you to find the training you need, suggest skills to pursue and even teach some of those skills.

When I was a young designer, CAD was just entering the workplace. To stay relevant I’ve spent hundreds of hours learning to use the newer technologies that allow me to continue to do my job. My mentors along the way have both taught me the skills I need and directed me to find the training they couldn’t teach.

  • You are making a career shift

You’ve been in the trenches for years and you want to change directions and go into management. You’ve got great design skills but marketing taps talent and connections that you haven’t had an opportunity to use. Commercial office space designs fill your portfolio….now you want to change directions and do some retail design (or residential, or hospitality, or health care…). Or maybe you’ve been doing this a long time and now you want to teach.

Finding a mentor that understands the direction you want to go, someone who has even traveled that path is invaluable. They’ve been where you are and can help you to see your options for change.

  • You are bored

A mentor will challenge and inspire you. Perhaps you’re bored because you’ve been doing the same thing the same way for years or decades. Maybe it’s time to tap a new source of business. Or augment your business with a new set of skills. A mentor will see you and your process through a lens different from the lens you use. Just as designers use the critiques of others to solidify design solutions, we can all benefit from the critiques of outsiders to refine and sharpen the direction of our careers.

finding a mentor

So now that you’ve decided that a mentor is worth seeking, where should you look and how should you approach? There are programs that work like dating sites. You can cast a wide net using social media. Networking events might be an option. But the bottom line is that a mentor/mentee relationship is just like any other relationship. It requires give and take, a personal connection and that magical chemistry. So I’d skip those first three suggestions.

  • Forget the term ‘mentor’

…this is a relationship. Giving it a title is uncomfortable. The most useful mentor relationships build on themselves, so very likely you already know several people who might mentor you. Don’t formalize a request (‘will you be my mentor?’), instead ask a question. Ask for a specific piece of advice. If this relationship is to evolve into a mentoring relationship, this will be the beginning. If not, you will know to look elsewhere.

When I first began writing a few years ago, I reached out to a friend who is a journalist. I asked if we could get together because I had questions about how to charge for my writing. She offered me her ‘friends and family rate’ to answer my questions. Clearly she was not interested in mentoring. I continued my quest.

  • Look to people who respect you

One great way to begin an effective mentoring relationship is to find someone to whom you’ve already proven yourself. Someone who knows your work and your abilities. This individual will already be in your court and may have the time and inclination to help you build skills, change direction, or otherwise grow as a professional.

  • Do you need to build skills?

If you’ve been living and working in the same geographical area for some time, there are people already in your circle of acquaintances who can help. Don’t let age or title narrow the pool. If you are looking for specific computer skills, perhaps someone younger would be an appropriate mentor.

My son has a friend who is a wizard at PhotoShop. While he can’t give me career advice, he can help me boost my skills. And while he is helping me learn PhotoShop I can help him explore career options.

  • Do you need perspective?

If what you’re looking for is perspective and direction, you may need to reach out to someone who’s been working in your field longer. A superior in your current position might be an option, or perhaps someone you know outside your firm.

One of my early mentors worked for an architectural firm and served as architect of record on several projects that we did together. He eventually convinced me to leave my job and come to work at his firm. When I needed help or advice, he was always my first stop.

  • Don’t be shy

Talk about what you want to do and where you hope to go with it. Talk about it at networking events. Talk about it at parties. Reach out to friends you haven’t seen in a while, and those you saw last week, and mention your plans. You have a much bigger circle of contacts than you realize. Let them be part of your path…many people enjoy being a helpmate.

I was at a party last night talking with a woman I’ve known socially for a decade. She dabbles in art but we have no common business connections. I mentioned that I am going to start teaching design and she offered to connect me with her cousin who has been teaching design for several years. Here’s a connection, and possibly a mentor, that I never would have known about if not for a casual mention in a social setting.

  • Reach out to strangers

While reaching out to strangers goes against everything I’ve already said, sometimes it is appropriate. If you are changing careers or looking for a career shift, you may need to look outside your circle of acquaintances. While I don’t suggest putting a request out on social media, I have been known to offer to buy lunch for someone who worked in a business that I found interesting. Answering ads for jobs is another way of meeting people in the business you hope to enter. Just be sure that you have enough to offer for this to be worthwhile. Be clear about what you have to offer and where you are still building skills and knowledge. Attend professional development meetings, seminars, conferences, classes. Reach out to the people you meet.

  • Give back
    • This has two components:
      • Offer what you can to your mentor. Buy lunch, proof a website, offer design advice, write a letter… Don’t let this be a one-way relationship or it won’t last and it won’t be fruitful. No matter where you are in your career, you have much to offer.
      • Mentor someone else.

Good luck on your quest! And if you need a mentor in my business, I might be a good place to start!

Keep in touch,


real food, whole food, what’s food?


My dad was a dairy farmer. He raised cows that ate grass, provided cow patties to fertilize the garden and were milked by hand. My grandmother made cheese from the milk, butter from the cream and grew her veggies in the garden. So I grew up understanding the basics of where my food came from. Food seemed pretty simple.

With the rise of industrial farming and mechanization and a need for greater yields with less oversight, GMOs were born. In theory, genetically modified organisms could be a good thing. GMOs could potentially grow in climates that haven’t typically supported them or zones where they are not native. Unfortunately it is pesticide companies that have taken up the GMO challenge and created plants that are toxic to pests. And potentially toxic to the rest of us. This may be unproven….but just in case I’m feeding my family organic.

There is another food path on the horizon. As we’ve been told, it requires much more resource to raise an animal than it does to raise a plant. A LOT more resource. So if we choose not to go the GMO route, or at least not the pesticide sponsored GMO route, we may need more options. How do we feed the world without destroying our planet?

There are some really brilliant food eating scientists and engineers out there trying to figure this out.

  • Hampton Creek is making food products typically derived from animals and creating them with plants. Starting with mayonnaise. Their belief is that food should be easy, delicious, affordable and good for our bodies and our world.
  • Beyond Meat has created a burger that tastes like meat, bleeds like meat, has 20g of protein just like a burger, but is made from plants. Apparently this is NOT a veggie patty as we know veggie patties. The vision at Beyond Meat is to ‘perfectly’ replace animal protein with plant protein for the mass market.
  • Perfect Day is creating dairy without cows. Or goats or sheep or nuts or hemp. Milk and cheese with all the taste and nutrients, none of the lactose, and without animals (except the human form).
  • SuperMeat is an Israeli bio-tech start-up that is building a machine to grow meat. So you can get your non-gmo, antibiotic free chicken from a machine at the back of the market or restaurant or your own kitchen without even killing a chicken. Kind of like cloning a chicken breast without cloning the rest of the chicken.

So I wonder what the issues will be with this newer version of scientifically developed foodstuffs? Will technology be our answer to feeding the world and saving the planet?

{This post is dedicated to my daughter who is studying Biological and Agricultural Engineering at UC Davis. She wants to save the world….and I think she can.}


the best ideas


The last brainstorming session I led was a complete failure. It was a few years ago, before I’d read all of the articles telling me how useless brainstorming really is. As a writer, I’m a big fan of the ‘free write’, where you pick up a pen and a piece of paper and sit quietly writing whatever comes to mind. This is a great way to clear out the cobwebs and get to a place where your writing starts to come together and head in a cohesive direction. I saw brainstorming as the same concept but used collectively. Not so much. Every idea that anyone threw out was immediately beaten to a bloody pulp before another idea was suggested. All of the beating made many in the group fearful of throwing out any ideas at all. We got nowhere.

brainstorming=the loudest person wins, everyone loses

Now I know….brainstorming doesn’t work. But we creatives still need ideas. And group think by its very nature will generate more ideas, and a wider diversity of ideas, than can any one of us sitting alone. There are a couple of methods that have been developed in the last few years that seem to yield better results.

ask questions

Frame-storming (coined by Tina Seelig at Stanford and used by Matthew May in his book ‘Winning the Brain Game’) turns brainstorming on its head. Rather than generating ideas, a problem is set forth and participants generate questions. Hal Gregersen of MIT calls this question-storming and the Right Question Institute calls it QFT (question formulation technique). This method seems to engage more participants and incur less judgment, thereby allowing more ideas. The QFT method follows five steps.

  1. Design a ‘question-focus’: this is best presented as a statement of the problem being addressed.
  2. Generate questions: in small groups assign one person to write, all others throw out questions for a designated time period. No discussion or debate is allowed.
  3. Improve questions: groups work on questions, refining some and expanding others.
  4. Prioritize questions: each group selects its favorite questions, shares them with the larger group and everyone votes on the best questions, those that provide new avenues into the problem.
  5. Define next steps: create an action plan on whatever question(s) rise to the top.


Dr. Tony McCaffrey developed a technique he calls brain-swarming. A problem or goal is written at the top of a white board, available resources are written at the bottom. Individuals use sticky notes to write down ideas for tackling the problem. Discussion and refinement occurs as the board is filled in.

Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren, professors at the Kellogg School, have developed a process they call brain-writing (the phrase was originally coined by UT Arlington professor Paul Paulus). With brain-writing, ideation occurs first and individually. Once ideas are written down (or in Nordgren’s case they can be recorded on an app he developed called Candor), they are brought to the group and discussed.

Both methods of write first/talk later have proven to yield more potential solutions from a larger percentage of participants. Everyone has an opportunity to participate equally.

in the context of design

So let’s say you’re in a design charrette, what might these techniques look like? Pretend the goal is to design a SLO food restaurant in New Orleans.


Questions like ‘what is available locally in NOLA?’, ‘who would buy SLO food….locals or tourists?’, ‘is there a history of SLO food in NOLA?’, ‘what about local traditions?’, etc. might shape the discussion.


The top of the white board would say ‘SLO food restaurant in NOLA’, the bottom might list available SLO foods, budget, existing conditions, available fabricators, time constraints, etc.


We all come at design differently, so the brain-write approach would allow each participant to address the problem/goal from their comfort zone. If it were me, I’d begin with the dictionary and move to online research into place. Someone else might begin with images.

Next time I’m called on to lead a brainstorming session, I’ll try one of these methods instead. Sounds like a lot more fun than beating mostly bad ideas to a bloody pulp.

Keep in touch,



is it right?

all photos/video courtesy donate to their kickstarter here.

all photos/video courtesy Donate to their kickstarter here.

Do we, each of us, have a right to shelter and food?

A friend of mine uses a Martin Luther King quote as part of his email signature. It seems especially poignant right now as we weather a social climate that is exceedingly animus.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to social ills that include race relations, economic challenges and religious non-understanding, there are those among us that need help with the basic human needs of shelter and food. As a society are we obligated to provide these basic human needs?

Marcin Jakubowski thinks that making home and hearth more affordable, and less resource intense, is not only do-able but right. He is working on an open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible. Along with a host of consultants on everything from energy to compliance to architecture, he calls his endeavor the Open Building Institute. He knows it can work because he has done it. And he believes that you can do it too.

kickstarter link
The idea is that each one of us, either with friends or hired help, can build a home. The Open Building Institute will provide the knowledge: a library of modules and instructions, building materials production facility, training, even a certified builder if you so desire. You begin with what you can afford…could be a tiny starter module with a kitchen, bathroom and loft. As you can afford you add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing food and fish, maybe a separate bedroom, perhaps another bathroom and a library or office. The home is made from CEB (compressed earth blocks) from on site soil, uses solar panels for energy, hydronic in-floor heating. The home operates off the grid and grows as finances and needs change. No mortgage (unless you mortgage the land), no power bills, lower grocery bills.

I’m 100% in favor. Yes, I do believe that we all have a right to shelter and food. And we also have a responsibility to work toward that end. If you want to support the Open Building Institutes Kickstarter you can be part of this solution. Donate $20 and get a book laying out the OBI method. Donate $500 and you can participate in a 5 day build and learn all the nuts and bolts of this system.

In case you were wondering, I have no connection to Marcin Jakubowski or Open Building Institute. This project was forwarded to me by a mutual friend, Nat Turner, who you may remember hearing about in Parti* Notes.

Keep in touch,

dear favorite client


You hired an interior designer for a reason. Your local building department said you needed one. The health department suggested that a designer could get your restaurant open more efficiently than you could. Maybe you wanted to streamline your office space. Or you’re one of those really wise people who knows your own limitations and architecture falls outside of your skill set.

You’re a left-brainer who thinks in spreadsheets and actuarial tables. What can you expect from a creative? What do they do exactly? And how?

there isn’t just one design process

Well dear left-brained client, we’re all different. We all do things differently. We approach projects differently and access solutions differently. We each have a creative process that is, at least in some way, unique to only us.


My process always begins with words. Lots of questions which always lead to more questions. Then I sit down and begin looking up definitions of the words that were answers to the questions. The dictionary is my first resource when I begin a project. And words guide my creative process until the project is complete.


Marcio Kogan, a Brazilian architect, sees his projects as movies. He walks through a scene in his head, creating his building as he does. Clearly he has a sense of humor…once the project is built he often creates a film starring the now real project.


David Darling and Joshua Aidlin camp out on the site of their future project. They feel living and sleeping at the site allows them to ‘extract a building’ from the location rather than adding a building.

playing with clay

Anna Heringer calls part of her process ‘claystorming’….conceiving her ideas by shaping hunks of clay. Like grown-up play doh.


Niroko Kusunoki of the Paris based architecture firm Moreau Kusunoki creates intricate pen and ink cartoon style drawings, complete with thought bubbles, to place buildings in their surroundings and refine how they work.

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

Some designers begin with sketches, some with 3D renderings, some with photos, some with movies or music or art. Many with a combination of inspiring sources. We use whatever creative avenue works for us, then almost magically –and often in the shower, or upon waking in the morning, or while walking the dog—we are able to peel back the layers of the problem and reveal the solution.

embrace the process…and your designer

So get to know your designer before you hire your designer. This is a personal relationship as much as it is a business relationship. You may not understand how your designer thinks, but you need to appreciate how he or she gets from where you are to where you want to be. And you must trust your designer to know and follow their own process.

The perfect client, from our perspective, is the one who not only respects our creative process but embraces it. With every project we begin it is our hope that you will be our new favorite client.

Keep in touch,

what you do matters

Sometimes you get the shell of a popcorn kernel stuck in your tooth and it hurts a little but mostly just annoys you until you can take a moment to floss it away. I have one of those kernels stuck in my brain. Recently I had a conversation with someone in my life who tends to lean toward the ignorant. I’d say to the right, but it isn’t so much to the right as it is to the empty and meaningless arguments of certain so-called ‘news’ programs.

This current annoying kernel involves personal responsibility. He believes that it doesn’t matter what he does, what any one of us does, as none of us has any effect on the bigger picture or the world at large. So when he tosses his old batteries and fluorescent lamps into the landfill it’s okay. And if he chooses not to do his part to reduce, re-use and recycle, that’s okay too. Someone else will fix it.

People that choose to believe they play no part in the good and bad around them are frustrating to say the least. Lucky for the rest of us there are plenty of good people doing good things for the good of all. When I think about the people who are doing their part to better their own corner or maybe even the whole world, it’s like mental floss to that annoying little kernel.

Our School at Blair Grocery

We are headed back to New Orleans to introduce our music loving son to the city. And to the fighting spirit that infuses so many of its people. People like Nat Turner, a transplant from New York, who has been working nearly a decade to create a self sufficient food, learning and youth empowerment community in the lower ninth ward. Whatever you may think about the lower ninth ward and whether or not it should be re-built, there are people who live there, people without much money, who need to eat. And people whose children need to learn. Nat Turner has fought the system and even his own staff to turn what was once a grocery store under water into a place to feed the body, nourish the soul and teach the heart. And squeeze some math, english and social studies in along the way.

food security

But this is really only the beginning. Modeling food security is at least one of Turner’s end games. We are a country rich in resources but very poor at sharing them equally, or sometimes even at all. At OSBG, Turner is not gardening for fun or to teach his students to plant their own little back garden. He is teaching them to garden for production, to sell what they grow and to live on what they sell. One of the teachings he shared with me several years ago was that you can make a better living selling tomatoes than selling crack. Once you add together the cost of attorneys, downtime while you’re in jail, and whatever cost is involved in purchasing drugs to sell, tomatoes are a more lucrative product. So teaching kids to grow tomatoes creates a better opportunity than what the guy down the street might be offering. If this can work in the lower ninth, it could work somewhere else.

changing the world

Recently, filmmaker Ian Midgley introduced Turner and OSBG to a man, Dr. Marcin Jakubowski, who makes large equipment and shares his designs online. For free. OSBG could use some farm equipment. Jakubowski needed some help pushing his ideas forward and out into the world. The duo could be a powerful force. So Midgley made a movie about the two of them called Reversing the Mississippi. As the movie trailer says…‘If one person can make a difference, can two people change the world?

what you do matters

Every one of us creates an impact…like a pebble dropped into a pond. The ripples are strongest closest to where the pebble falls, but they extend far beyond. To believe otherwise is just plain laziness. I may not be able to single handedly fix the whole world, but I can make my little piece of it a little better. So can you.

Next month I’ll be digging in the dirt at Our School at Blair Grocery with Turner, my son and my husband. They always need extra hands on the ground. Drop in if you’re in the neighborhood…but call first!

Keep in touch,


tap tap tap


The psychologists say that we learn more taking notes by hand than we do taking notes on a laptop. Writing by hand allows us to not only store information, but more importantly to internalize the information. I know that when I need to learn something I write it down. Typically I never need to look at that note again as the act of writing itself has imprinted the information somewhere accessible in my brain. So there is some sort of problem solving that occurs between the pen, the hand and the brain.

Same with any other type of journaling, whether with words or pictures or both. Taking pen to paper (or pencil if that’s your thing like it is my friend Jane’s) is a great way to clear cobwebs, to answer questions and to ask the questions, to doodle a new idea with no pressure, and sometimes to just daydream while some other part of your brain is solving a life changing problem. Sketchbooks and notebooks and journals take us places that computers can’t. And it’s not necessarily about being able to draw…it’s about being able to think without thinking.

Notebooks are a place to think without thinking. Click To Tweet

Here are a few places to check out other people’s notebooks and maybe inspire you to get back to your own.

Austin Kleon: This isn’t his actual journal, it’s a journal he created to be his favorite journal. It’s pretty cool…I bought one when I heard him speak a couple of months ago. Click here to see how people use this journal.

Co.Design: Here’s a great story with pictures of the sketchbooks of 16 current designers.

Lynda Barry: Ms Barry is a cartoonist, so her Syllabus is full of drawings. And a whole lot of words.

Brain Pickings: Maria Popova put together a compilation of sketchbooks of all kinds of creators from architects to street artists.

Now I’m off to my own journal….have a great weekend and keep in touch,

multipotentialite…it’s a thing and I am one


full grown

Let’s say you’re at a cocktail party and the guy in last year’s suit marches over, sticks his hand out and says “Hi, I’m David. I’m an attorney. What do you do?” If you’re like me you stand there looking baffled. David the Attorney probably is not terribly impressed and he walks away looking for someone with a single noun descriptor that he can relate to.

Meanwhile, if you’re like me, you are still trying to figure out what exactly you do. I don’t have a noun. I don’t even have a paragraph. Forget the elevator speech, I have a full on rival to 24 hours of happy. With less dancing (except when I’m making dinner). And according to Emilie Wapnick this is just fine.

She calls me a multipotentialite. And I’m thinking that most people who live and breathe the creative are very much the same. At various times of a day, week, life…I am a mother, an interior designer, a garden designer, a therapist, a permit puller, a graphic artist, a jewelry designer, a writer, a cook. And I’m sure I’m not done yet. So when I find someone extraordinary who mixes and morphs and doesn’t live by a single noun, I feel validated.

You and me, who can’t pick a single noun/profession/dream, we are more interesting for the lack of a narrow definition and dare I say more valuable.

Gavin Munro may not know the word multipotentialite, but I think he probably is one. He grows chairs. He started a company called Full Grown. But his chairs aren’t art, or trees, or furniture they are art and trees and furniture. So he is a horticulturalist, an artist, a manufacturer, a furniture designer, a carpenter, a world saving environmentalist. And a really patient man.

full grown

photos courtesy

It’s people like Gavin who are helping to move our world forward. People who don’t focus so intently on one thing that they lose sight of the bigger picture and what’s happening around them. IDEO knows this….they gather people from several disciplines to solve a single problem. And many creative firms are now following suit. For you and me and Gavin who can’t settle on a single noun to identify ourselves, we should fit right in, don’t you think?

Keep dreaming, keep doing and keep in touch,

it’s about the process

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

I was on vacation last week and spent a lot of time watching ghost crabs. They work very hard digging holes just above the shoreline. If you sit quietly you’ll see that some of them are very neat about their digging….pushing up big claws full of sand and tossing it clear of the hole they are digging. Some of them are not so efficient and drop the sand just outside the hole until it begins to tumble back in. Apparently this is the difference between youth and elder, and even between male and female. In every case, eventually a wave washes in, the hole is covered, and the whole process begins again. Seems like futility is built into the process.

On the topic of process vs. product, many a quote has been written. The brainiest among us usually lean toward process being more important than product. Journey being more important than destination. Ralph Waldo Emerson is attributed with the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination”. I have a favorite twist…”It’s not the journey or the destination, it’s the seatmate.”

Regardless of your take on journeys, destinations and partners, there is a lot of process involved. Surfers paddle for hours to ride waves for a few seconds. Designers spend 5% of our time on big design concepts and 95% of our time on execution. Dinner takes hours to prepare, and my children are excusing themselves within 10 minutes of arriving at the table.

So what’s my point? If it’s not about measuring the value of process over product, journey over destination, or even who is along for the ride, what is it about? It’s about being present for and enjoying the process. No matter what you do for fun or for a living, there is process involved. And parts of the process may seem futile or unnecessary or downright painful. But if 95% of everything is process, then we best find a way to enjoy it. Even the parts we don’t really like. If you have children you might remember when they were young and you spent your days wiping noses, quieting tantrums, changing diapers. Now that they’re teens (okay, speaking personally) it’s a whole new set of issues that fill my journey from morning till night. And I know that one day I will look back on this time with the same sweet melancholy that I do on the toddler years.

My point being, enjoy it while it’s happening.

Find patience when the process seems futile and the sand keeps falling back into the hole. Find comfort in the act of chopping onions even though no one will notice that there are onions in the chili. Find joy in the strength gained by paddling out. Find clarity in the conversations with clients who need help understanding.

It's really all about being in the process, being on the journey, not just napping until you arrive. Click To Tweet

Can I help you on your journey to a better website, a smoother permit process, a fabulous restaurant design?

Keep in touch,


design a new year

cocktail party

If you’re a freelancer like me, every day is a new start. We are continually beginning again. There is no pipeline feeding us work and inspiration. As a result we are constantly engaged in engaging ourselves, looking for pathways that both inspire as a designer and help to pay the mortgage. Are you looking for something to put the designerly spark back in your step? Maybe a new revenue stream or source of inspiration? You’re a designer….design a new year! Here are three ideas that work:

go to cocktail parties

Seriously. I am not a big fan of the networking events where you stick your hand out and offer a business card. But give me a social occasion and I’m golden. While you’re together mention what you do for a living. Talk about projects you’ve worked on, people you’ve worked with. Designers don’t just work design, we live design. And it’s an exciting world, especially for those who don’t inhabit it.

  • Attend neighborhood socials
  • Go to your kids’ school events, dinners, fundraisers
  • Accept invitations to a friend’s house for dinner, especially if there will be people attending that you haven’t met
  • Throw a party and invite the neighbors

I’ve been re-designing my house since we moved in 17 years ago. And the neighbors have been watching the transformation. They’ve all been over for a party or coffee and have seen what I’ve been up to first hand. So when the realtor next door needed help with drawings and a permit before selling her client’s home, my neighbor called me to see if this was in my wheelhouse. A few months later I’ve now helped not only the realtor next door but others as well. Retro permits are now a whole new revenue stream for me.

learn a new skill

You are undoubtedly great at what you do. And you’ll be great at what you don’t yet do. Learning a new skill will create potential opportunities, and it will ignite pathways in your brain. That excitement is what feeds designers. And if you are a multipotentialite like me, learning new skills is probably how you breathe.

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. ~Socrates

So choose something that you don’t know how to do. Look for skills that inspire you, not that will necessarily lead to a specific revenue stream. Find something that engages you and makes you smile. Maybe it’s a new musical instrument or a new technical skill. Be serious about it…take a class, sign up for a series of webinars, buy a book of lessons. Don’t just do it when you have a free moment. Set aside an hour or two every week and put it on your calendar. Make it real.

Last year I worked on web design skills: CSS, HTML, PHP. I wanted to re-build my own website, and being a designer I wanted it done my way. In my case this led to several clients who needed help developing their online presence either via a website, newsletter or both. This year I’m working on Photoshop and SketchUp, two programs that I know and use, but not proficiently. They both feed a creativity that inspires me. Who knows where they will lead?


You know a lot. Because you already know these things, they may seem mundane and uninteresting. They aren’t either. The things you know are interesting to the right audience, in the right environment. And teaching is not only a great way to learn and grow your own knowledge, it is also an opportunity to make an impression. In a room full of people, the name of the person leading the conversation is more likely to be remembered than the other 100 names.

Sit down with pen and paper and make a list of things that you know. Next to that list make a list of who might benefit from each of your pools of knowledge. Then start making contact.

  • Give a talk at a local school

This is excellent practice and carries very little risk. It can be a career day at the local middle school or your college alma mater.

  • Be the expert on a panel or at a business organization’s monthly meeting

Talk to people in another field about your business and what you can do for their business.

  • Be the speaker at your design organization’s event

Talk about the niche you work in, share your methods and your process, create a conversation with your audience. Use the opportunity to share what you know and gain some new knowledge.

  • Share a skill or specific knowledge in a video

Then post it on your website, your facebook page, LinkedIn, your twitter account. Link it at the bottom of your email. Create short bites that potential customers and clients can watch in less than 5 minutes.

Let me know what works for you. Do you have other ideas about how freelancers can keep the spark alive? If so, let me hear them! I hope you’re off to a great 2016…design it your way.

Keep in touch,

teaching vs. giving

I know....could I be any more literal? But it's such a pretty picture...

I know….could I be any more literal? but it’s such a pretty picture…

Before we say good-bye to 2015, here’s a final share. But really it’s not me sharing, it’s them. Delancey Street Foundation and Tender Greens both work to teach people who need support to find it within. They teach people in need the skills to take their lives in new directions.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. ~Maimonides

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Delancey Street Foundation: I worked around the corner from the Delancey Street Foundation when it was being constructed on San Francisco’s waterfront. It was one of the early developments in the South Beach area and a lot nicer looking than much of what was going up at that time. I wanted to move in. They told me I’d have to go to jail first. Dang. Delancey Street began in 1971 in an apartment run by an ex-felon and served as the beginning of what would become a much larger community of people who had messed up and didn’t want to anymore. Delancey Street provides business training in a myriad of businesses: Christmas tree lots, moving companies, restaurant, catering, advertising, transit, printing and more to ex-cons, prostitutes, drug addicts and others who have hit rock bottom. Through training and community they are able to re-build their lives. According to some this is the most effective rehabilitation program in the world. Based in San Francisco, Delancey Street now also has locations in New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Los Angeles and soon Massachusetts. Run by the amazing Mimi Silbert, who has been involved from the beginning, Delancey Street continues to change the lives of so many by teaching.

tender greens

photo courtesy tenders greens

Tender Greens: Based out of LA, Tender Greens has a number of restaurant locations throughout California. They focus on local, sustainable products from farms with whom they’ve built strong relationships, and they serve food that is simple and healthful. In addition to their restaurants, Tender Greens began a program in 2009 called the Sustainable Life Project which aids (mostly) kids aging out of the foster care system. When foster kids turn 18, the foster system no longer supports them (although some states, including California, have programs that some kids can apply to which extend their support another two years) and they are left to find their way on their own. As a parent I am aware of how much support my own kids need as they approach and pass this age. At this point, the support net for these foster kids is minimal at best and many end up struggling to survive. Tender Greens provides a 6 month internship and teaches them about work ethic, food, cooking, managing a budget and other life skills. Once the internship is over, the kids have an opportunity to apply for a job at Tender Greens or receive support to find work elsewhere. The statistics on foster kids who ‘age-out’ are dismal. Tender Greens is changing the statistics, one child at a time.

On a personal note, if you have an organization that would like to begin a program like Tender Greens’, call me. I’d like to help.

So that’s it folks….2015 is a wrap.

I hope you find ways to see the good and be the good through the holidays and in 2016 Click To Tweet

Keep in touch,

food tv


Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, the Galloping Gourmet and Martin Yan, those are the chefs I grew up with, the chefs who taught me what I enjoy in a cooking show. Current food television offers a much wider variety than days past, much of which makes me want to run screaming from the room. Kind of the way you’d run from the kitchen of a crazy chef. I’ve worked with chefs who rip phones off walls and throw pots. I don’t want to hang out with them in person or through the TV screen. So if you do enjoy that style of food drama, you should probably click away right now.

If you do enjoy a good cooking show, or entertaining romps through neighborhood restaurants, or info about where food comes from, then stick around. Now that it’s raining in California, and I’ve binge-watched all my current dramas through, it’s time to catch up on food. Check out my list…and send me yours too. Hopefully it will rain for a very long time and I’ll binge-watch my entire list while the drops are still falling, then move on to yours!

restaurant shows

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having: Phil Rosenthal is funny. He’s a writer, an actor (well, he was), a producer and the creator of the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond. And he apparently loves food. So he travels the world with his friends (some of whom you’ll know) and he eats food. He’s done shows in Tokyo, Italy, Paris, Hong Kong, Barcelona and Los Angeles. He will take you to amazing places to eat good food. And you’ll even learn a bit about cooking.

Check, Please! Bay Area: 3 regular joes and a host anonymously visit 3 of their favorite restaurants then discuss their experiences. Very homey and a great way to stay in touch with the Bay Area food scene.

cooking shows

The Mind of a Chef: How do great chefs think? And what do they cook? Crawl right into their creative brains and learn what real chef-ing is about (and no one in this series will refer to themselves as a ‘celebrity chef’, but they are all the best of the best). David Chang, Sean Brock, April Bloomfield, Magnus Nilsson, Ed Lee, Gabrielle Hamilton and David Kinch. Brilliance in the kitchen.

Julia Child: PBS release has released a selection of episodes from various Julia Child’s series. It’s a potpourri of Julia and a lovely way to spend an afternoon! Learn, cook, then see if you can do the voice. ‘Chello….Ihhhhh’m Jhooolia Chaaaiild….’

Good Eats: cooking with Alton Brown, well kind of. Alton Brown isn’t a chef. He’s kind of a geekyscientist who applies his mad science to food. And teaches us how to cook things in a really nerdy but effective way.

more food

Food Forward: Food rebels in the 21st century and beyond. I can’t possibly say it better than they do…‘Food Forward goes way beyond celebrity chefs, cooking competitions, and recipes to reveal the compelling stories and inspired solutions envisioned by food rebels across America who are striving to create a more just, sustainable and delicious alternative to what we eat and how we produce it. Created by a veteran documentary film making team led by Greg Roden, Food Forward explores new ideas of food in America as told by the people who are living them. Each episode will focus on a different theme–school lunch reform, urban agriculture, sustainable fishing, grass-fed beef, soil science–and spotlight the real people who are creating viable alternatives to how we grow food and feed ourselves.’

Enjoy our rainy weather and happy watching…

Keep in touch,


tires, runways and cutting edge food

michelin poster

Confession: I watch Project Runway. And I spend a huge percentage of our income on food. I did not grow up this way.

My parents took us out to eat occasionally. A typical night out was Denny’s or Bob’s Big Boy. And a really nice night out was the local family run Italian joint, Paesano’s, in what was then the outskirts of Cupertino. Apple computer was run out of a garage and I spent my summers in the apricot orchard down the street. The Michelin Man* was the funny looking cartoon character that sold tires. And my clothes came from Mervyn’s.

Then I went to design school and began working in restaurants to pay the bills…the beginning of both my aesthetic and culinary education. I soon left the South Bay in search of better aesthetics and better food. Now I only return under duress, or when someone in my husband’s family has a birthday.

Cutting Edge Creativity


Recently, as much as I shun reality TV (aside from the PBS cooking shows which don’t count), my daughter hooked me on Project Runway. And I realize that the reason I enjoy it is the same reason that I enjoy the occasional night out in a really nice restaurant: it’s the cutting edge creativity. Food is food, and clothes are clothes. The raw materials don’t change all that much. But when a true craftsperson works magic with those raw materials, they feed my creative soul. when a true craftsperson works magic with raw materials, they feed my creative soul Click To Tweet

Cutting Edge Food

mind of a chef

As a working creative, stoking my fire is a necessity (that’s what I tell Steve when I’m trying to sell an expensive night out), so lists of really good restaurants psyche me. And Michelin just released their 2016 guide. Manresa earned three stars, which means a trip down to the South Bay for something other than a family celebration, right? And after reading up on David Kinch, I’m kicking myself for waiting this long. I’m guessing a reservation is a few months out so I have time to check out his cookbook and maybe even catch a few episodes of the PBS series The Mind of a Chef featuring Chef Kinch. So much to do!

Living on the Edge

And while I’m making plans to feed my creative soul, I’ll work on convincing Steve that we should start ticking off all of the Michelin one star restaurants. I don’t think once a month, okay once every two months, is completely unreasonable. I’ll keep you posted…

Keep in touch

*About the Michelin Man….I finally took the time to research why the tire guy and the fancy restaurant guidebook have the same name. It seems the Michelin brothers who sold tires in the late 1800s in France decided to put together a guidebook for those few people who owned cars. It gave those early adopters ideas about places to drive so that they could wear out their tires, thus building business for the Michelin family. Who knew? Brilliant business men.