Strong with you… the (design) Force is.

design force

We are not alone.  As designers, we are so fortunate for our resources… our mentors, our fellow designers, our contractors, our installers, our representatives and even our competition.

It is impossible to be experts in every area and we don’t have to be.  We may be the face of the project but we couldn’t succeed without the ‘force’ behind us.  We rely on our relationships, our communities and our resources for project success and those successes are products of all of us.

(Solid) Legs to Stand On

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The relationships we build throughout our design careers are pillars of project navigation.  We are guided by expert sources and we can take pride in the (design) force we have organically created, ‘step by step’ along the way.

We (designers) truly are jacks of all trades (masters of none).  It would be impossible for us to have the answers to everything, but what we do have are the resources to find the (design) solutions we need.

Every project is different and we are constantly learning as we go.  New technologies are available to us daily and we have the ‘tools’ we need at our fingertips.  Resources to provide the research so we move in the right direction for us so that our time is spent where it is most useful – creation.

Design “Favors”

toolA previous Director of Architecture of mine once told me that “You don’t have to know everything, but it is imperative you know how to manage it”.  This has resonated deeply with me throughout my career.  There have been times I have felt out of my comfort zone for sure.  Times that I have come across an issue that I had no historic precedence to use as guidance.  But in times of anxiety, as I searched for solutions, what has provided me comfort is remembering I am not alone.  As we become experienced (project managers), our bandwidth expands.  Our bank of resources grows and relationships deepen.  Trust develops.

One thing that designers get a bad rap for is ego and some of them are certainly deserving of the title.  These ‘design’ narcissists are just assholes and there is no changing their personalities…  They love… Themselves.  It’s true, their end products have given them fame in the industry, and they have made a name for themselves based on good design (or luck, or affiliation) but they really are pricks and they carry that name in the design community too… and some of these assholes are even proud of it –

Our industry is incestuous (as is any industry) and our community “pool” is full of back scratchers, life guards on duty – not just crayons.  Our resources are willing to help.  They should be respected and appreciated for their immense design, product, trade, engineering knowledge (whatever it may be).  They are specialists.  And without them, we (designers) would be drowning.

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One of the best things about a career in design truly is this community… I have never met more beautiful people (with the exception of the assholes).  Not only are they full of creativity and design intellect, but they are also gracious, humble and kind.  They teach me every day… and boy do I have a lot to learn.  They make me proud.  Proud of my roots, proud of my passage, proud of my product and proud of my wings.

So, to the #STRONG, as you continue to design your master plans, be as humble as your force… for they are a force to be reckoned with… and I am eager to continue to reckon with them…

and I.AM. (forever) grateful to them for making me believe in (the opposite):

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The (design) Palate?


As designers, we have a distinct palate for design just like master chefs do for food…

We discussed early on that  safe design is ensured via strong concept, but where does palette play a role in this?

Palette vs. Palate

No, I’m not talking about astute taste buds here, though there was many a restaurant design whose concept has insinuated both palate, palette and (per the above concept) sex appeal… For this discussion though, let us focus on color… palette.

Color palette can be defined as the range of colors used by an artist (designer in this ‘sense’) to harmonize space and enhance the overarching concept.  In design, color is generally a secondary exploration along with pattern, texture, scale (etc).  Color does have meaning.  Color should have intent.  And color even (and perhaps most importantly) has psychological implications.

Color by Feng Shui

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In Las Vegas Casino design, we would often bring a feng shui consultant on board.  (For Suzie), feng shui is the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and orientation of space and elements so that maximum harmony is achieved.  The relationship between the flow of chi, the environment, and the end user is scientifically established.  Proper and intentional orientation is believed to bring good fortune and to eliminate bad luck.

Luck be a Lady (tonight?)

3da699a24971fd28b2caa5184b470a84Since Las Vegas is a city of chance (and hopefully luck) and so many high rollers are of Chinese decent, it was imperative to have high-profile casino and game room layouts, concepts and FFE selections reviewed by a feng shui specialist.  Though I learned quickly about favorable orientation, each time I selected a new material finish and presented it, I would find something ‘unacceptable’… some materiality that carried ‘bad omen’.  For example, in one of the high roller table game suites, a custom light fixture had been designed that contained facets of antique mirror.  This was unacceptable to our specialist because the glass was believed to house improper spirits that could not escape the room due to the unclarity of the reflective surface.  The antique-ness is also believed to cause the feeling of distortion or disorientation and to the gamer looking for luck, this created unease immediately.

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Back to palette… in this same project, a custom carpet had been proposed that had hues of blue.  In feng shui, blue is representational of water.  The same unease that presented itself in the antique mirror arose in blue flooring (any blue flooring).  This idea of ‘walking on water’ was not admirable in the Eastern culture.  Again, it manifested feelings of nervousness, unease and even fears of sinking or drowning.  Needless to say… it was eliminated (and never presented for this application again!).

Seeing the Full Spectrum


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These examples are extreme and specific.  They were not taken lightly in casino floor design because the industry relies on their high rollers for extreme gaming revenue; however, color palette and theory is just as important in other realms of hospitality, health care and education design for impact both psychological and by affiliation.



The amazing freedom that comes with hospitality design is that the end user groups’ (the tourists) only expectation is to be WOWED.  It doesn’t (really) matter if the color palette in their hotel room or dinner venue is their preference or if they would ever put it in their homes.  And really, they shouldn’t desire to.  They are on vacation, escaping their realities, escaping normalcy.  They “allow,” expect and accept experiences that they never would warrant entering through their own front doors.  So, designing typical guest rooms?  5-Star Restaurants? Nightclubs?  With intent, the sky’s the limit.  Too pink?  Sorry gentlemen… luck be a lady? (maybe you’ll have some)… after all, it’s only for a few nights (at least that’s what she said).

Health Care

Health care design is about as specific as it gets.  Materials with anti-microbial properties, ease of cleanability and high PSI ratings are imperative and priority.  After all, the focus is patient care and that means designing for (the unspoken) body fluid and function that will inevitably ‘happen’ in the space.  So where does color fit in?  Colors in hospitals are often soft and muted, and most commonly in hues of pale green.  This is intentional.  Not only are pastel tones calming for care facilities, but these greenish color ranges actually make a sickly (greenish) patient look less sickly (green).  Against pale tones, patients look less pale…  There is significant perceived psychological impact that they look better than they feel and their psyche is intended to embrace that.  Mind over matter, with intent!


As children enter pre-school and early education environments, they are often surrounded by colors in the primary spectrum.  These colors are early learning devises and identifiers.  They help to serve as introduction to color affiliation and understanding.

As children advance in school (at least by junior high), color selection in educational facilities is generally mandated by maintenance and often established by athletics – hooray for my nemesis – school colors (I just got sickly green)!  Go (AWAY) Big Blue – your logo should be reserved for the basketball court.

Color On… Point.


What I want to point out here is that (as a general rule), color is not a concept.  There is often confusion (and disagreement) here and it has been a very frustrating struggle for me with other ‘designers’ in my past.  Color is an additive, a supplement, a trend.  Color is not an idea.  Color supports an idea.  So, Please (designers) PLEASE don’t mistake it for one… and if you do… we never met, seriously, get the f*ck out of my herd.

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Cannonball… (by design)

When we (designers) tell people what we do for a living, the response generally is that they think it is SO glamorous.  There is no ‘common’ understanding of what it (design practice) actually entails.  To those we are designing for, it is seemingly luxurious.  OK, it is true, end products are… ostensibly.  But “getting there” is no easy feat.

8440231786_f7fbd0018d_bI often asked myself when I was designing for hotel resorts in Las Vegas, “Where do I go from here”?  In the resort industry, I was (knowingly) fortunate for padded budgets, custom demands and exposure to the most exquisite finish materials available domestically and internationally.  So HOW, just how would I leave Las Vegas?  Afterall, no bigger (design) splash could be made than the cannonballs (that were expected) I executed there!  Right…?

Warning – No Lifeguard On Duty

life gard
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When I made the switch from hospitality design to education, I quickly learned – I myself had to become educated!  The design principles remained the same; however, expectations were ‘different’.

Higher Education design is less about the size of the splash and more about the ripples…  End users aren’t consumed with ROI like hospitality.  They are more interested in function and frankly the placement of their pencil drawers.  They should be (to some extent) as these end user groups are focused on the investment in the minds of the future.  Their ‘ROI’ is long-term – graduating capable adults who will be active working contributors to society.

My challenge in this new role has been educating the end user to understand function does not equal design sacrifice.  They are entitled to both.  Higher ed ‘historically’ has the impression that ‘stark’ and mundane equals ‘cheap’.  It has taken time (and project turnovers on campus) to provide new ‘historical’ precedence… to help end users (and even my bosses) realize that ugly and thoughtless design costs the same as aesthetically pleasing intentional specifications that tell a story… their story.

It has been so frustrating to me coming from the aesthetic demands of the hospitality sector to see that the end user in the higher education realm doesn’t realize their ‘functional’ environments can be more than a 30/30 off white box (these are PhD’s correct?).  But, why would they?  They are researching the mating habits of moths or the interaction of children with ‘real’ objects or the assumed date of the next economic downturn.  More important than the creation of the built environment?  No, equality relevant  (though I loathe moths).  What I realized though was that they weren’t being listened to.  They had no design guidance.  They had no idea that pattern and interest has the same price tag as solid and lifeless.  They had no lifeguard… yet here I was (am) – on duty.

You Have to Learn to Float to Avoid Sinking

2Baby steps (for both myself and the end users)…  Before you jump off the deep end, you (end users) need to understand that someone is there extending their arms – me (you, designers).  This is our job.  This is our obligation.  This is our duty.  This is our (design) value.

Our purpose is to guide users through the process.  We are obligated to assist them in establishing intent.  We need to unearth their purpose for the function of their spaces so that there are no surprises at occupancy.  We need to ask questions and we need to learn what questions to ask.  We need to become experts at gathering information in scope discussions so that everyone that leaves the following design reviews can buy in to the architectural interpretation.  We need to gain trust… trust via baby steps.

With Trust, Comes Freedom

1Once your end user realizes you are working for them, you gain (design) leverage.  They will let go.  They will trust you to make decisions they are unable to visualize based on your (design) credibility.  Based on your interpretation of their information – the feasibility of their needs on paper.  They gain trust via the reasons you have drawn out that they are unable to have something they requested.  They will buy in on code issues and requirements when you can walk them through the space limitations.

Once they can see that hey – this gal (or guy) may actually know what she is talking about, they will begin to trust and most importantly, they will give you artistic freedom.  Freedom to make decisions that they can’t fully visualize (without them).

Slippery when “Wet”

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This process can be exhausting.  There are days I wake up and wonder what I continue to fight for (especially if a 30/30 off-white box is globally ‘acceptable’).  But the truth is, I am fighting for the splash.  I (we, designers) make a difference.  If money is being spent on new facilities or existing renovations we need to make it count.  Sure (higher ed) your research equipment needs to be upgraded, but guess what, so does your learning environment.  I will get your equipment integrated (coordinated with HVAC, electrical, clearance requirements etc) I promise.  Trust me.  But I will also change the way students feel in the space.  And I promise, the psychological impact that will have will be equally comparable to the equipment upgrades in the data output.

So, (designers).  Continue to fight.  Have comfort in knowing You’re on Duty.  Gain Trust and Trust Yourself.  And in moments of (design) weakness, get out of the water for a minute and…