Your past is your future

I began my career as a junior art director in 1994 at a start-up ad firm in Chattanooga, TN. My starting salary was $13K/yr. (That's not a typo.) After four years of learning the ropes I hit a glass ceiling and decided to go out on my own, working two jobs until I could get established: stereo installations by day, design by night! During these few years I helped start The Urban Art Institute, a non-profit art school for teenagers, eventually moving my studio from my home to the school. I also began teaching adjunct at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. In 2001 when UAI fell into funding issues I took the opportunity to merge my studio with one of my clients, a web company called RSOA. I had been contracting for them and they approached me to build a design team for the business. During this period I came across a simple sketch by Charles Eames that changed my life. The drawing showed how he chose the work for the Eames Office, choosing the overlap of client needs, societal needs and his own interests.

In 2002 I left the tech co and co-founded Tricycle, a sustainable design company. Inspired by the sketch, I was on a search for a career with greater meaning and social impact. I had practiced graphic design in its traditional forms for seven years. Increasingly, I found the piecemeal design projects frustrating. I wondered what it would be like to design large scale systems for industry using the same experience and skill set I used for corporate identity design. At the time we were calling it "Big D" design. Today we call this design thinking.

30 employees and three rounds of venture capital later, I’m happy to report it was a good idea. Tricycle created a new category for digital sampling in the commercial carpet sector receiving recognition worldwide for sustainable design. In autumn 2008 I amicably left and moved to Boston to join IDEO and continue my pursuit of cultural, social and business impact through design. Though I don't get to design my own business cards anymore it's absolutely worth the trade. IDEO affords me the opportunity to apply my experience to multiple industries and organizations across the globe, and collaborate with some of the best designers of my lifetime.

The posts on this blog from 2007 share a little insight into my career prior to this move.