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,

after the election: design


Do you want to talk politics? Me neither. But I do want to talk about what we, as designers and architects, can do as we move forward into this new and shifted world. How will we protect the environment that may not be top of the new administration’s list of priorities? What kinds of projects will we take on pro bono in support of the disenfranchised? How can we create a world that is inclusive when our country is so divided? Closer to home, how do we provide a workplace that is all-embracing, safe and productive?

help people go home

Build houses with Habitat for Humanity. This is one of my favorite organizations to volunteer with. I’ve learned to hang gyp, tape and mud, pull electrical, wire an outlet, paint a wall, wire a switch. Helping build a building has taught me much about what’s behind those lines I draw for a living. Better still this helps people stabilize their lives. Habitat for Humanity is nationwide. Find them here.

design for everyone

We don’t have much choice about ADA. We complain and moan about having to put a ramp in a facility that wouldn’t be used by someone in a wheelchair anyway. It’s time to turn that conversation around. Let’s look for opportunities to use the principles of universal design: design that accommodates the widest range of individuals. We are a diverse population of cultures, abilities, economic levels. Designers and architects can lead the way to design that works for our aging population, the deaf, those without sight, varied cultures as well as varied abilities. When clients complain about spending money on accessibility, show them there’s another way to have that conversation.

fight for good design

There are clients out there (we won’t mention any names) whose taste is…..questionable. When working with those clients you need to stand up for good design. Don’t give in without a fight when they want to build something that offends the sensibility of the neighborhood. Do take the time to work to educate your clients about what design really is: a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints (Wikipedia). Make sure your client’s goals are acceptable to you before accepting a commission. Consider walking away from a project that forces you to short change good taste or appropriate design parameters.

bridge the divide

“After seeing the legibility of the election’s results—and the connected spatial and divided geographies of urban versus rural, the coasts versus middle America, and of white versus black versus latino, and many others, I appreciate the charge to the ‘revolutionary act of knowing others.’ This is a conversation that is needed, and it cannot only happen in the space of the media and social media and politics. It needs to also happen in spaces and places where we all live, work, play, and connect. Our shared nation is as tangible as Main Street and as real as our many different types of homes, workplaces, and public infrastructures and facilities.”—Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission.

Published by fastcodesign.

  • Create a workplace that allows for differing opinions and will support differing points of view.
  • Encourage conversations that lead to understanding that begins in the workplace and extends to the world outside.
  • Organize volunteer opportunities for your employees or give them time to volunteer during work hours.

consider pro bono work where it’s really needed

The new U.S. administration may not support many of the social and environmental organizations historically funded by our government. If there is room in your budget for pro bono work, see if any of these organizations are in need of a new space, a re-organization of existing space, perhaps new furnishings, etc. Do some research and work for the organizations that you believe in.

work locally

“As we consider what the U.S. presidential election means for our nation as a whole, we must not lose sight of the positive influence we as architects and designers can have on our local communities. In fact, it is on the local level where politics and policies tend to have the most direct impact on everyday citizens. So while I recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of the election, I take comfort and pride in knowing that we, as a community of design professionals, will continue to focus on improving our local communities.”—Phil Freelon, architect and design director, Perkins + Will.

Published by fastcodesign.

build with the environment in mind

Encourage your clients to build sustainably: use local products, reduce power needs, use products that are produced sustainably, install low water landscapes, build near transportation, keep building health in mind. Build to LEED standards or Green Globe Standards even if the project won’t be certified. Pay attention and suggest building methods that protect our fragile earth and those of us that plan to live here for a while.

speak up

The AIA came out with a statement after the election that didn’t reflect the feelings and attitudes of its members. The backlash was fast and it was huge, leading to the AIA walking back their original statement. Pay attention to what the professional organizations that you belong to are saying. Do you agree? Use the power of your peers to make a statement, start a trend, open a dialogue, support your beliefs.

any other ideas?

This has been a divisive election and has left many feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, dis-enfranchised. What else can we do to mend?

Keep in touch,


ps….if you haven’t seen the book in the photo, here’s a link. There are multiple sites online where you can also download a pdf, but I recommend buying the book and keeping it somewhere accessible. I keep my copy on my coffee table. And no, those aren’t my fingernails.

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,


designing designers

designing designers

Photo via

There is a lot of information out there about how to do your design job. Whether you design space or tech or brand or something else. But what about how to be a designer?  How do we design ourselves to be the best designers we can be?

Heather Phillips of Fast Company interviewed 3 designers to get their take. Here is a synopsis of their thoughts, along with my own additions, about finding, growing and keeping your best design self present.

find your superpower

What do you bring to the project team? What’s your gift? How do you know?

  • Track your activities
    • Track what you do, when you do it, and how you feel after doing it. The tasks that leave you feeling great and energized are probably the tasks you are really good at.
  • Be clear about where you fall short
    • Don’t hide your flaws and shortcomings….flaunt them. Look for opportunities to work with people who are good at the things you are not so good at. Learn from them.
  • Talk to past clients, peers
    • Ask for a testimonial to use on a website, business card, or just to save for future needs. Other people will be able to highlight strengths that you haven’t thought of. They can define you relative to others they have worked with which will help you understand how you stand out.

create your space/day/team deliberately

Do you thrive in a chaotic environment? Are you at your creative best after lunch? On Tuesday? Is there that one team member who saps your strength? Who feeds your strength? What conditions do you need to be creative and productive?

  • Divide your time between work that feeds you and work that doesn’t
    • Set aside specific times for administrative work if that doesn’t feed your creative self. And make sure that your most creative time of day/week is set aside for creative thinking. Don’t waste it on email.
  • Know yourself and fight for what you need
    • Take time off when you need to attend to family or personal needs or just to regroup. Set a meeting schedule that works with your personality….don’t let meetings interfere with your creative time. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired.
    • Create a workspace that works for you.
  • Be conscious about how team members affect you
    • If you are forced to work with someone who challenges you (and not in a good way), don’t let that define your place on the team. Keep in touch with team members who you work well with to maintain balance.

you are good

When negative thoughts bubble up (and they will), how do you keep them from blocking your creativity? When a project isn’t going how you’d hoped/planned/promised, what is your recourse?

  • This may be ‘imposter syndrome’, your own inner voice telling you that you are a fraud
    • Imposter syndrome burbles to the surface when you are working at the edge of your comfort zone. Embrace the opportunity and dig in…learning fosters creativity.
    • Change your posture. Really. 
  • Check yourself.
    • Are you tired? Hungry? Stressed about something outside of work? If so, fix these things first. Eat, take a walk, meditate, exercise, nap.  You are most creative when your body is functioning at its best.
  • Review a successful project in which you participated.
    • Remind yourself of your contributions….how you helped the project to succeed. What wasn’t working that you were able to correct. Make a list of what you brought to the project.

The more deliberate you can be in designing yourself as a designer, the easier it will be to overcome the obstacles that you will face. You’ve got this.

Did I miss anything? Let me know….

Keep in touch,

There will be obstacles. Design yourself to overcome them Click To Tweet

workspaces are still growing up

living in a gray world

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

office space of the last millenia

When I began my first office job I was relegated to a gray cubicle surrounded by other gray cubicles that were just tall enough so that if I stood I couldn’t quite see over the top. Outside of the gray cubicles the office walls were painted beige, the ceiling was t-bar with drop in fluorescent fixtures and the only adjustment on the chair was the wheels that allowed it to roll from here to there.

If we were late to work, meaning arrival time after 8:05, we signed in. Breaks were at 10 and 3 and lunch was at noon. There was no lounge area, no ping pong table, no nap room. We had a cafeteria. Also beige. In those days we worked quietly, alone, in our cubicles and on average each employee was expected to take up about 400 square feet of space over the course of a day. If we collaborated at all it was very quietly in our own cubicles.

google zurich-camenzind evolution

Google Zurich meeting pods, photo courtesy

office space in this millenia

Then Silicon Valley took off. Laptops were born, wifi became commonplace. Telecommuting became a possibility. And the buzzwords of the day/year/decade became design-thinking and collaboration. No longer were employees expected to work in a vacuum creating whatever it was they were tasked with creating.

By 2014, employees in the US were allotted about 190 square feet. Offices don’t look anything like that first office I worked in and employees aren’t relegated to their own cubicles to spend their eight hours. Amenities can include things like:

  • flexible spaces for work and meeting/collaboration
  • casual lounge spaces with living room furniture, bean bag chairs, hanging chairs, hammocks
  • water features both inside and outside
  • nap rooms and nap pods
  • healthy vending machines
  • gardens
  • whiteboards everywhere to aid collaboration
  • food….lots of food
  • coffee….possibly surpassing the food
  • party rooms, slides, fire poles, ping pong, billiards, foosball and arcades
  • exercise rooms, swimming pools and spa areas
  • pet friendly spaces
  • color everywhere….is that an amenity?

office space that really works

It’s a whole new world out there. And yet, have we achieved the ideal? Are all of these amenities giving employees what they need to do their best work happily and creatively? An Oxford Economics’ survey executed at the end of 2015 says no, we’re not there yet. According to respondents, what employees are missing is quiet.

photo courtesy

photo courtesy

Fast Company put together a list of how we designers can work with employers to remedy the noise complaints and keep some of the other amenities that employees enjoy. Some of the suggestions are well worth considering.

  • Address adjacencies…keep quiet spaces near other quiet spaces.
  • Designate spaces for concentration…spaces can be visually connected and still be separated by doors that close.
  • Offer choice…provide enough differentiation in space that employees can relocate to whatever space fits their current need.
  • Include phone booths/rooms…give loud talkers a place to talk.
  • Provide movable partitions…movable acoustical partitions allow employees to create quiet spaces.

We’re getting there. Office space is certainly more inviting, and a lot more interesting, than it was once upon a time. But it’s not time to get complacent yet designers. We still have work to do.

Keep in touch,

dear design school grad, redux


la quinta plan

Congratulations graduate!

You designed your way out of college with all of those sleepless nights and huge pots of coffee. I bet you know every show on television after midnight. Now that you’re ready to create the next greatest building interior, here are a few tips from the trenches (well at least the trench that I work from).

If design doesn’t feed your soul, don’t do it.

I was a senior in business marketing when I switched to design. Business school did not inspire me and someone suggested interior design. First I laughed (right, pick pillow and curtain colors for a living?) Then I started talking to professionals in the field. What I heard sparked a fire in me that I couldn’t articulate and hadn’t felt before. So based on my gut reaction, I added another two years to my college career and made the switch. I still can’t articulate the feeling, but I do know that if I am not creating, drawing and solving problems that create better lives for my clients, I don’t breathe as well.

If design itself doesn’t feed your soul you still have options: sales, facilities, move coordination. Find your niche.

There are no shortcuts.

When you graduate you won’t be designing the next cover project for Interior Design Magazine. You will be creating presentation boards, putting documents together that show other people’s designs to their best effect, putting together finish schedules, specifying furnishings that someone else chose, cleaning up the conference room. Your job is basically to make other people’s jobs easier. This is the path.

  • Study hard
  • Learn the amazing computer programs that are available to you and offer these skills every chance you get
  • When you finish a task ask for another
  • Expect to work long hours when a deadline is approaching and don’t make plans the evening before a presentation….you will have to cancel

I began my career in small design firms so that I was exposed to the full breadth of design projects. My projects weren’t spectacular (small office spaces, very basic tenant improvement work), but I learned how to run a project from start to finish. If you choose to begin your career for one of the larger firms, you may work on more prestigious projects, but you will do a smaller piece of them. You know your personality, so move in the direction that best fits who you are. And whatever you do, do it well. The devil truly is in the details…mess up the details and the senior designers in your firm won’t want you on their projects.

You are a problem solver first….never forget that.

Pretty isn’t the highest priority. Your first job is to solve your client’s problem, and before you can do that you must understand what the problem is. Research your client’s business, ask questions about your client’s lifestyle. Understand your client’s family, customers, employee needs…whatever is appropriate to this project. Determine the best way to make this project function so that your client’s life is better as a result. This is how you solve their problem. Then make it pretty or hip or cool or dark…aesthetics are important, just not the first order of business. A project that looks good but doesn’t work well is a failure and you won’t get hired again.

Learn all you can before you begin and then learn some more.

There are certificate programs and short degree courses. Take the long course. Design is not just color theory and lighting science, it is a way of looking at the world. The only way to get there is to take the long course…and understand that there is no end. In order to create successful design you will need to understand the world as it grows and changes. Keep reading, talk to experts in other fields, pick the brains of the contractors and fabricators you work with, travel, take pictures. The world is an exciting place and everything you learn will make you a better designer. Get accredited and certified in whatever areas you have interest. That alphabet soup behind your name helps to tell your story.

Pretty pictures aren’t built projects.

Part of every design job includes an understanding of the local jurisdiction’s rules, operating procedures and building codes. You learned some of this in school….learn more. Anyone can draw pretty pictures (well almost anyone), but can these pretty pictures be built? Learn how to research this information and the senior designers in your firm will be begging to have you on their teams. Even if this never becomes your area of expertise, know enough to ask appropriate questions as a design begins to gel. It seems to get more difficult all the time to navigate the myriad rules and regulations that sometimes feel like roadblocks, so get used to finding ways around. I learned early on (thanks to my friend Ed), that the best way to complete a project successfully is to meet with building officials before design has even begun. Explain the project goals and ask for guidance to avoid potential bumps in the road.

Welcome to the world of design! I hope it fills your soul and makes you as happy as it makes me.

Keep in touch,
NCIDQ (this means I’ve studied and passed the national interior design certification exam)
LEED AP ID+C (this means I’ve studied and passed the LEED exam for interior design and construction, a green building certification)
CID (this means I’m a certified interior designer in the state of California and can sign my own drawings)

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,

my favorite restaurant design competition winner is….

…not from the US. As a matter of fact, there was only one US winner this year in the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards 2015. Parq Restaurant, San Diego, won in the ‘colour’ (it’s a competition out of the UK) category. More on our one winner later.


In the meantime, let’s look at who else short listed. And if you play the bi-coastal best restaurant game, notice that there are 3 entries short-listed from New York and 3 entries short listed from California. And there are 4 entries that are located inside hotels….nice to see this trend continuing. And yes, I know I included a potty shot below. The whole of Mourad is beautiful, but the bathrooms have me swooning. Something else I noticed across the board….a lot of gold. Does this mean we are coming to the end of the reclaimed-from-an-old-barn look? Can we (hopefully) continue to use sustainable materials without having them look like we pulled them out of the basement?  Oh lordy, one can only hope.

lordy people we can be sustainable and still see an end to the reclaimed-from-an-old-barn look Click To Tweet

Short List

all photos courtesy Restaurant and Bar Design Awards and the design teams involved: Studio Munge, Meyer Davis Studio, Dawson Design Associates, Lundberg Design, nemaworkshop, Emporium Design, hOmE Studio and Bluarch.

The winner is…

And our one and only US winner is Parq Restaurant and Nightclub in the GasLamp District of San Diego. Congratulations to Davis Ink on their win! It is definitely a colour-ful space!

all photos courtesy Restaurant and Bar Design Awards and Davis Ink.

Enjoy the pretty pictures. I certainly do!

Keep in touch,

stop focusing on the pain

picjumbo.com_Antique-Residence (2000x1333)

don’t assume

My client said something remarkable to me yesterday. We were standing at the counter of her building department waiting our turn to speak with the head of building to determine if he would grant her a retro permit. (Retro permits have become a regular part of my business lately, but that’s another story.) She looked at me and said that she was happy to be where she was, doing what she was doing. Who says those words when they are standing where we were standing? Most people would rather be anywhere else!

This lovely woman is at the back end of a difficult divorce, she’s selling the home she raised her son in, she’s dealing with some serious health issues, and she was out in the world taking care of business. Just like regular folk. She felt normal rather than sad or sick or hopeless. Pulling permits was outside of her wheel house, so she had hired me to do the drawings and lead the charge through a process that is unfamiliar to her. So, in her mind, she was able to get out and ‘be normal’ because of me. For her this was a great success.

it’s not about eliminating the pain

If you read most marketing rags, you will come across ‘pain points’ over and over. You will be told to look for pain points in your clients, or potential clients. Figure out your clients’ pain points, offer them a solution to alleviate the pain, and you will gain yourself a client for life. Looking for pain to serve your bottom line seems awfully opportunistic at the least, and draconian at its worst. And a bit off the mark if you ask me.

Rilke said ‘let everything happen to you: beauty and terror’.

You need more than a pain point to serve your clients well. To serve your clients you need a deeper understanding of their needs, an empathic view of the resolution they are looking for. Don’t assume clients necessarily want us to eliminate the pain, or solve the pain, or make it disappear. Sometimes they need us to teach them to deal with the pain, guide them through the pain, or accompany them on their journey.

To serve your clients you need empathic view of the resolution they are looking for. #partinotes Click To Tweet

see the need

As we go about the business of making a living, we are also in business to provide something to our community, our world, that is useful. Something that makes lives more easeful perhaps, rather than painless. It wasn’t pain that my client hired me to resolve for her. She hired me to guide her, to help her to achieve success over a hurdle that she didn’t know how to conquer on her own. And in so doing, she felt empowered. Her empowerment has gained me a devoted client, not my ability to pull a permit.

fill the need

In addressing any client, we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side. Then we can step in and be of service. That is where our story needs to begin.

...we need to look beyond the pain and understand where they want to be on the other side. #partinotes Click To Tweet

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design isn’t pretty…sometimes it’s angry


Every so often I become the angry designer. Especially when I hear things like ‘I know what I want it to look like….I can design it myself’. Or ‘it doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be good’. One local restaurateur, whose restaurants I no longer frequent, had the incredible lack of class to tell me that all west coast designers are unimaginative and their restaurant designs all look the same. And he and I have never worked together, so I know first hand that he hasn’t experienced ‘all west coast designers’. Beside which what we do is only minimally about what it looks like. Can you hear me growling?

Steve Jobs said it best.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

You don’t need me, or someone like me, to make your restaurant pretty or your website flashy. You don’t need us to use the ‘in’ colors or the latest coolest fonts. You don’t need us to tell you how to be hip and trendy and current.

Design Solves Problems

You need a designer to help you create business solutions so that your business can fly. You need us to have the knowledge to put all of the pieces of your business puzzle together and tell your business story, allowing you to do what you do best: run your amazing business!

Designers know that if you are designing a restaurant you need to consider equipment, acoustics, lighting, style of service, furnishings, ventilation, codes, budget and so much more. We bring expertise in all of these areas and we have relationships with the people who will do much of this work….we don’t just show up at the end and make it pretty!

And designers know that if you are designing a website you need to consider hosts and domains and content management systems and landing pages, CTAs and KPIs and CSS. This knowledge is what we bring. And if we’re talking about a designer who also creates content (like yours truly), we also bring an innate ability to listen and synthesize and build the story of your business. We don’t just make your site flashy!

You don't need me to make it pretty. You need me to make it work. #partinotes Click To Tweet

You Can Do It Yourself

But if you do, understand what you are taking on. Your business needs to work well and look good. So when you are done, and you need to hire a designer to fix what isn’t working, please have the courtesy to treat us with respect. We studied for years before we took our first jobs, and the knowledge that we have amassed to help you build your business was hard won. So next time you are in conversation with a designer, please don’t mention pretty. We are so much more than that.

you are good at things


Do what you are good at

My daughter gave me a book by this name. It’s one of those gifts that is kind of a joke, but not really. You are good at things. And those are the things you need to do often and do out loud. Don’t do the other things. For instance, if you are great at grilling steaks, don’t open a sushi restaurant. If you love working with people, don’t become a researcher. If you like to sell real estate, don’t get a job at the amusement park.

Do what you are good at your way

It’s more subtle than these obvious examples though. Most of us choose a job that fulfills us in some way. It’s also important to think about how we do those jobs. What are you particularly good at? Are you a great listener, a persuasive talker, a fearless risk taker? These traits are the things that will help you shape the way you do your job successfully.

What is your way?

When I experienced a recent, (momentary dramatic pause) and tragic, web crash a few weeks ago, I took it as a sign that it was time to start from scratch. My website never really looked or felt like me. It talked about what I do, but not about how I do it. So I bought a new framework and spent a lot of time mulling. I wanted my website to be spiffy, of course, but I also wanted to communicate something about me to you. I wanted to communicate something that would matter to you, because you matter to me. There was a great deal of mulling.

Your clients know

Then I remembered something that Tara Gentile said in a recent online course she taught: ask your clients. So I did. I asked a recent client for a testimonial… know, a couple of sentences. She gave me 5 paragraphs! And those 5 paragraphs told me what I needed to know. I shaped my message, my entire website, around her experience of working with me. If you aren’t sure how you are making connections with your clients, ask them. Then build that message into your bigger message. What your clients get from you is exactly what you are selling, whether you are aware of it or not.

Figure out how you are good at what you do and build your business around this knowledge. That is the way to serve your clients.

Join my mailing list to get more tips on how to tell your own unique business story. And I’ll spice it up with some cocktail banter about architecture, design and food.



an abundance of tufting

My favorite design contest, Restaurant and Bar Design Awards is gearing up with entries due before April 19. Out of only 37 entries to date here are the 5 from the US. I’m seeing a lot of tufting and nailheads this year. And an abundance of wood finishes. Check these out and get your entry in if you’ve got one this year…let’s show the world how brilliant we US designers are!

Hootan & Associates Design Studio (Southern CA) created Bosscat Kitchen and Libations featuring whiskey and southern style cooking in Newport Beach, CA.

Heitler Houstoun Architects (NYC) created Gypsy Kitchen featuring Spanish cuisine with a dose of Moroccan influence in Atlanta, GA.

AvroKO (NYC) created Momotaro featuring a collision of Japanese cuisine and mid century American style in Chicago, IL.

CCS Architecture (SF and NYC) created TAP (415), an upscale burger bar with a wall of, you guessed it, taps for beer wine and cocktails in San Francisco’s Westfield Mall.

And finally, another entry from Heitler Houstoun Architects (NYC). The Southern Gentleman is a gastropub that features a modern take on southern hospitality in Atlanta, GA.

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netflix does design(er movies)


In the past I have done my fair share of entertainment listing. Foodie film lists, obsessive indulgence in the cinematographically superior Breaking Bad (here and here and here), what’s available at this or that film festival. But for this list I take zero credit…and I’m honestly sharing this as much as a bookmark for myself as for the good of my ever so loyal readers (you). Mark Wilson over at Fast Company put together this list of twenty-two movies for designers and lovers of the visual….and they are all available streaming on Netflix! If you are that one person on this planet that is not a Netflix user, bless you. Some of these are available, in toto, on YouTube as well.

And yes, a couple of them I’ve mentioned before. For good reason.

1&2: Objectified/Urbanized

3: Design is One: Lella & Massimo Vignelli

4: Gucci: The Director

5: Once Upon a Time in the West

6: Leviathan

7: Indie Game: The Movie

8: Bill Cunningham New York

9: Cutie and the Boxer

10: Detropia

11: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

12: The Grandmaster

13: Exit Through the Gift Shop

14: The Waiting Room

15: Metropolis

16: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

17: The City Dark

18: Melancholia

19: Pina

20: Drew: The Man Behind the Poster

21: Life in a Day

22: Snowpiercer

So get on it…add these to your queue and stop watching those silly reality shows.

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design and life


I’ve read several articles lately about designing happiness in life. I’m not a believer in the abject pursuit of happiness, feeling rather that happiness is a byproduct of a life lived well and right and within the definition of one’s own integrity. So it was all just a lot of fluff until last weekend when I attended the wedding of my two very close friends E and D, the god fathers of my children. D is an art director, so design is at the core of his work life. And like every designer I know, including myself, design does define him. He lives and breathes design, which is not to say he lives and breathes his work. But the way designers approach work is not a whole lot different from how we approach life: deliberately, with creativity and always with an eye to a bigger picture. E, on the other hand, is not a designer and lives his life by and for the relationships he creates. He travels extensively, meeting people everywhere and doing the unimaginable in this day and age…he keeps in touch by talking to them. On the phone. All of them. E has more adopted families than anyone I’ve ever known and a circle of loving friends that is a tribute to his goodness.

D designed the weekend around E’s love of relationship, and we all learned something and I daresay we all left Los Angeles better and happier for the experience. They threw all of the cards up in the air, de-constructed the typical wedding, and re-constructed it to fit who they are. Much like Ayse Birsel advocates in her classes at The School of Visual Arts in New York.

Most of us were not seated with the people we arrived with*. A little uncomfortable at first, but these are exactly the situations that D and E like to put themselves in, creating opportunity for new experiences and new relationships. And by the end of the weekend we were all sitting down, by choice, with people we’d never met. I sat next to E’s high school biology teacher from South Africa. Really. Do you even remember the name of your high school biology teacher? My husband sat next to three of E’s South African friends from university. By design, E makes space for happiness in his life by shaping it with travel and exposing himself to new people and circumstances. D designed the wedding around the people that both he and E have grown to love, at the same time building the weekend in such a way that we got to experience E’s way of living.

wedding balloon

So, my suggestion if there is an area of your life or work that doesn’t make you smile, throw those cards up in the air and redesign that piece of your world. If you need another set of eyes on your unhappiness, see what Sylvia ‘Pillow’ Neretti might be able to offer. Her idea of cardboard boxes and dividers as design/psych tools might help you move in the right direction. It’s all about disruption….remember that word?

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  • here’s the text of the note we each found at our table…’You might notice that some of you are not sitting next to the person you arrived with. This is intentional. D and E rarely spend time together when they attend parties. They socialize with others on their own and, on the way home, have a lot to talk about because they’ve had different experiences talking to different people.

‘During dinner, you are seated between two people we think you will find interesting. Strike up a conversation. You may find that you have more in common with them than you think! After dinner, you’re free to move next to your date or move to other tables.’

so you want to build a restaurant…..

photo courtesy ed schipul, creative commons license in place

photo courtesy ed schipul, creative commons license in place

My father in law, a retired engineer, is very involved with his community’s activities and so was asking me questions about the process of building a new clubhouse and restaurant on their golf course. He’s truly one of the brightest people I know, and answering his questions about the process of building, especially where food service is involved, tells me that if he knows this little a lot of people could benefit from a bit more understanding. So I put together a list, then I added to it and expanded a bit, and probably told him way more than he and his cohorts in this project wanted to know.

If you’re embarking on a building project, especially if it involves food service, you may be interested. Here’s what I told Bob….

Dear Bob… For a $5.5 mil/12,000sf project I’m sure you want this done right. That’s not a very fat budget (although it sure sounds like a lot of money!), so you’ll need a team that can work efficiently together. They should all be involved at the very beginning in order to fold the various disciplines’ work product in without having to make major changes due to surprises. Surprises always add to the budget (ie: the lighting designer didn’t realize a duct would be required RIGHT THERE, the mechanical engineer didn’t know you were using THAT very hot piece of equipment, you want to remote the motors WHERE?). The architect can coordinate most of the disciplines. You should have an owner’s representative as well who works with the architect to manage the project (not a committee if it can be avoided….that will add time to every decision which ends up messing up your schedule and usually even affects budget). Also, who will run the facility? Ideally a representative for the food service operator will be involved from the beginning of the project as well. They will be able to shed light on operational needs that the owner may not have in mind.

Here’s a list of the people you will need involved in your project

  • Owner’s representative
  • Operator/operator’s representative
  • Architect who has done food service projects
  • Interior Designer who has done food service projects (may be employed by the architect or work as a consultant to the architect)
  • Lighting Designer (can  be coordinated by Interior Designer)
  • Kitchen Designer
  • Acoustical Engineer if necessary (work with architect and interior designer to determine if this is needed based on your program)
  • AV Designer (this is becoming more and more a specialty)
  • Engineers: electrical, mechanical, plumbing (great if they are LEED accredited as this is where you’ll need super efficiency) and they must be versed in food service projects
  • Structural engineer will be needed and should also be involved early. You don’t want to find out down the road that a structural column is required in a terribly inconvenient location
  • Since this is a ground up project, you may need additional engineering. Your architect can help you to determine additional needs

Your architect/design team can bring consultants. We’ve all worked with many consultants and will have opinions on who is easy to work with, efficient, knows their stuff, can creatively solve complex problems. Food service projects are always complex since there are so many moving parts and so many regulatory agencies to deal with: building department, planning department, health department, sanitation, etc.


Your architect/design team can also help you to create a budget. There are essentially 5 pieces to a food service project budget: FFE (furnishings, decorative light fixtures, etc), KE (kitchen and bar equipment), fees (architect/designer, consultants, permitting, etc), owner (POS system, art, signage, accessories, landscaping, table top, etc), GC. In order to stay on budget everything needs to be taken into account from the beginning.

Hiring a GC

Something that always comes up is how to select a general contractor. There are basically 2 methods: bid or relationship. Many people choose to bid  (in my opinion mistakenly) which means that a very complete set of drawings needs to be put together at the beginning of the process, several contractors bid the project, and one is selected. This leads to contractors trying to outbid one another by guessing and can lead to much higher costs (change orders) and difficult relationships. My recommendation is always to interview several contractors (your architect/design team can make recommendations based on the type of project and will even aid you in interviewing) then choose the contractor that you feel most aligns with your needs and communicates with you well. Then you can use your contractor to price the project at various intervals allowing the clubhouse to be designed and built within budget and hopefully avoiding change orders.

I hope this helps. I know it’s a bit more than you asked for, but figured you’d rather have too much info than too little. Let me know if you have questions or want any more info.

Same to you out there in the blogosphere…if you have questions, send them. Your project may be smaller than Bob’s (most are), and may not require the same list of consultants. But you will require someone to corral the project, not just make it pretty. That can and should be your design/architect team.

And if you have anything you’d like to add I’d like to hear that too. This business has a never ending learning curve.

Keep in touch,