Read Time: 10 minutes
SEGDers encompass a global, multidisciplinary community of professionals who plan, design, and build experiences that connect people to place. Our community includes over 2,000 members from 35 countries, and everyone has an SEGD love story. Whether it’s participating in an event that advanced your design perspective, meeting someone who would become a lifelong creative collaborator, or discovering a new project or person that inspired you to learn more about the practice, SEGD has fostered countless connections over the years.
As we lead into our 50th Anniversary, we will be highlighting a range of SEGDers. Each has distinct SEGD experiences, and all are connected in how SEGD has advanced their passions and pursuits. Follow the “SEGD Love Stories” series to hear from people who love SEGD.
Title: Chief Executive Officer
Organization: Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) / https://segd.org/
How did you find your way to your design specialty?
I have always been creative. I was obsessed with Legos as a kid, and would imagine that I was redesigning spaces in my mind. I had an amazing mentor in high school, my art teacher. She was really excited for me to go to Pratt. I wanted to go to RISD. Ultimately, I ended up at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Architecture, rather than art school, for a number of reasons — including that I felt I would actually make a salary as an architect. However, as a new-wave Miami girl, I wasn’t able to land a traditional architecture Co-op. Instead, I found myself in Washington, DC working for a firm that designed museum exhibitions and architectural lighting. I had never heard of that; I didn’t know it existed. It was the perfect profession for me because it melded my passion for art, history and culture with architecture and design. I was very fortunate to have accidentally discovered this field.
After my Co-Op, I landed at the Smithsonian Institution. Then, the person that I worked for at the Smithsonian started her own company and I went to work for her. Ultimately, my mentor introduced me to Patrick Gallagher, who had just begun a big undertaking to renovate the Gems Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. So they say, the rest is history.
My career has progressed thanks to the recommendations of my mentors; someone would recommend me to someone else. Since then, every day in every situation, I’m always looking out for up-and-coming people to give them opportunities because of the opportunities I’ve had. I was also very fortunate to have Leslie Gallery Dilworth (former SEGD CEO) reach out to me to get involved at SEGD when I was an emerging professional. I’ve constantly been fortunate to have mentors who have given me opportunities to grow and to show what I was made of.
How do you remain passionate about design?
I need to be constantly challenged, and I love meeting new people and solving problems. In design, you’re developing tools and finding new ways to apply them. You might see that something worked, or didn’t work, for a client group or audience. You may need to design in a different way or consider a different methodology. Instead of working your whole career to refine how to most efficiently create a gadget, you’re doing the opposite. You’re reverse engineering to determine the best process to create an end product that’s completely unique to a certain scenario. You have to consider… What size is it? What is the budget? What kind of environment is it? What is the building’s architecture? Who is the audience? Do they have artifacts? Do they have a compelling story? That’s what I love. Design is all about problem solving and collaboration. If I’m breathing, I’m collaborating.
How did you first discover SEGD?
Actually, SEGD discovered me. Patrick Gallagher, my former boss, was the SEGD board president and Leslie Gallery Dilworth, then-CEO of SEGD, would often have meetings with Patrick at our office. I got to know Leslie through Patrick. Eventually, she reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be on the board. The opportunity to be on a board at that age, as a young woman, was just great. I never thought I’d be on a board. It was a gift.
When I joined the board, I was the only 3D exhibition designer. In fact, I was the only board member who was not an environmental graphic designer. Initially, I questioned whether I belonged — of course the organization has changed a great deal since then. But when I got over that feeling, I started to meet people. Despite our varying fields of practice, everyone was so warm, gracious and welcoming. I got to meet unbelievable designers who were doing world-class, phenomenal work. It’s funny, when you admire someone’s work so much and then you get to meet them. Now, those people are still my best friends. It was a very exciting time to be involved. I can, without a doubt, say SEGD was really a place that I looked to for inspiration, such as with the Global Design Awards.
I made space for the next generation for design leaders over time, but I always remained connected. We have a tight knit community in this niche field of design. We can cry on peoples’ shoulders and talk about running a business, recruiting staff, the economy, or bids and RFPs. We can laugh over a glass of wine about who won the project, who didn’t. Even though you worked so hard for that project, you still admire the person and firm that won. In our SEGD community, we help each other and remain supportive of one another.
What drew you to your current role at SEGD?
I worked at Gallagher & Associates for over twenty five years. I had so many different types of clients. A short project might be two years and a long project could last for over ten years. I would oversee eight to ten projects of every possible subject matter, some of which I was very involved and others just tangentially. I worked with different client groups, team members, consultants and architects. I loved my job, the people, and the clients every day. When SEGD was looking for a new CEO, I couldn’t think of a better next step in my career. I love the organization passionately, and I’ve been around long enough to know the good, the bad and the ugly of our profession. As a practitioner, I have a lot of empathy for our SEGD members. I feel privileged to take care of members to make sure they’re happy, supported and engaged.
I think of myself as the truffle pig of experience design. I love being out there, finding the next big thing — whether it’s a trend, a technology or a person. I love learning from our international peers because we all have different ways of thinking about design. I’m very passionate about education and building a more equitable future for our practice. As I’ve matured in my career, I have seen a disparity in our field around who gets the funding, whose story is told, who designs those stories, and how do they deliver on their promise to the community. There is not an even distribution of access amongst cultural institutions, across our nation and across the world. When young people are exposed to different cultures at a young age, and they see people that may not look or think like them, it opens their eyes to a world that’s different from what their parents or their teachers taught them. I see how our field has a great impact on society, and I feel that I can make a greater impact outside of my own bubble by being a part of this organization.
What is most exciting to you about SEGD’s 50th Anniversary?
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come together, celebrate the individuals and designs that set a trajectory for new ways of doing and thinking, and forge a vision for our future. It’s time to own our leadership in the experience design field. Because we understand how humans behave in the built environment, our designs make an impact. When I first began with the Smithsonian’s Gems Hall project, they had four or five million visitors a year. By the time of the project’s completion, the number of visitors jumped to approximately nine million visitors a year. We know how to design for varying and complex populations, and that’s something we shouldn’t take lightly.
This anniversary presents an opportunity to document where we are on this path, and also set the bar for the future. We’ve achieved so many great things in the organization, thanks to so many passionate leaders and volunteers over the decades. To continue to move ahead, we’ve embarked on a number of initiatives — from researching and documenting SEGD’s history to helping to champion sustainable design and equity in our field of practice. We aim to build our exposure to students. We also want to increase our connection to mayors, developers and architects to convey the important role that we play in everything from revitalization to education. There’s nothing we don’t touch, and that’s what makes us pretty tremendous.
How do you envision yourself participating in the next 50 years of SEGD?
Kahlil Gibran’s poem On Children describes parents as “the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” In my role at SEGD, I hope to guide the organization in the right direction. I want to make space for great thinkers and upcoming leaders to have a voice, to have a platform, to feel welcomed, to feel mentored, and to have the space to make connections. The more we know, the more we realize the less we know. Our world is changing rapidly — how we think about design, our responsibility to the planet, our responsibility to champion and make space for those who aren’t at the table yet.
Like the field, SEGD has faced disruptions and is at an inflection point. I will do my very best to make the right change, while retaining what makes SEGD a warm, friendly, welcoming, awesome place to participate. But, I also want to create a model that maybe doesn’t exist yet. The 50th Anniversary will incubate these ideas. And then, I will facilitate the new strategic plan, a new website, the documentation of our past, and build inroads for our field as strategic leaders. I want to ensure as a leader that the next generation has space and voice. There is a lot of greatness out there, we just have to give it a place to flourish.
Everything we do should be an opportunity to make an improvement. When people interact with SEGD, by volunteering or participating, I hope something about that experience will make their career better or their day better. I hope it will help them find resources that they can use to strengthen their skill sets. Ultimately, the caliber of everything that we do should be at an elevated level. Elevated doesn’t have to mean fancy or expensive; it can be really rigorous, heartfelt, and considerate of lessons learned. By being accessible, we can leave the world and people better off.