I grew up in the 90’s in a small suburb near Albany, NY. The Hamlet of Latham was a solid place, and while beauty could be found, I wouldn’t say that Latham was beautiful. When I was 13 we moved down to Long Island. Home of strip malls, a unique flavor of social tensions, but for this story - most importantly, Tower Records. As a baby gay in the late 1990’s the magazine section of Tower Records opened the door to design for me.
Glamorous European fashion magazines hiding amongst architecture magazines featuring photoessays on Japanese architecture and all sorts of feminist propaganda. My eyes and spirit delighted in the San Serif fonts, modern stucco homes in far away places, and the faces of angsty androgynous teen models.
My penchant for highly styled images only grew when my dad, a welder, baker, artist and reiki healer exposed me to Chuck Close. His work was on display at MOMA. And I remember feeling so at home in the gallery space that I almost cried. I was a teenager, filled with emotions - but also a clarity that there was something I loved about the curation of a space. The intent in all of the things I found beautiful allowed me to fill my life with thoughtfully designed objects, spaces and experiences.
Early in my career I fell in love with designing fundraising events - I cherished my role as architect of an inspirational experience. For me, it was as much about the emotional arc of the program as it was about the color of the napkins or the height of the flower arrangements.
From events, my work evolved to building employee wellness initiatives and determining the brand treatment for a social enterprise start-up - I’ve always been fascinated by the intersection - or opportunities for intersection between design (the purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object) and social impact.
My interest in this space blossomed upon discovering the work of IDEO and the amazing offerings available for free from IDEO U. Training that allowed me to develop a more effective process for clarifying the global governance structure and board operation systems for a 50 year old market based environmental organization. And ultimately led me to try out life as a management consultant for the design and transformation firm SYPartners. The space was phenomenal, the people brilliant and the work wonderfully creative - but I longed for the meaning that I found when I was working in the social impact sector.
Design to me is about clarifying and deeply understanding who you want to serve, engaging them in a process to reveal what they need, and designing solutions to meet those needs. Solutions that are emotionally compelling, psychologically satisfying and aesthetically riveting.
And I believe that good design - whether cities, buildings or organizations - accelerates growth in the broadest sense. And that if we can apply good - or even great - design in the social sector, we can manifest a world that is much more equitable, just and sustainable.
That’s the job of design strategist - to design for good. For the best. For all of us.