Return to site home page


Forward Thinking in Action

To me, the movers and shakers of the design world are those who have taken the field to places we've never seen before. Here's a small celebration of some of my favorites.

By Felice Silverman, IIDA

To me, the movers and shakers of the design world are those who have taken the field to places we've never seen before. Here's a small celebration of some of my favorites.

Innovation and inspiration are part and parcel of what it means to be an interior designer—we seek both wherever we can find it. The good news is that it’s out there in abundance and easy to find when we keep our eyes and perceptions wide open. The bigger challenge for designers, however, isn’t to be inspired, but to inspire. This is our calling, and when we rise to the occasion, we can use design not only to change the lives around us, but to cause a shift in ways of thinking that can ripple for generations to come.

There are those who bring new and important ideas to design, and when we first see their ideas in action, we immediately know that nothing will be the same again. That feeling has something to do with our innate responsiveness to change; there’s a resonance that travels through the design community when something new comes along, revitalizing us all. It may not even be a design idea itself, but a new way of using design to better the community that captures the imagination of the design-aware public. In my time as a designer, I have been inspired by a number of revolutionary thinkers and organizations whom I think are worth celebrating, and who might provide inspiration to others.

Organizations that provide design services on behalf of social causes, either through pro bono work or the coordibation of community projects, are particularly notable. MASS Design Group, for example, has received much attention and many accolades for its problem-solving approach, which uses design and architecture to develop healthcare and other projects in recovery regions like Rwanda and Haiti. The organization is based here in Boston, but sets up teams on the ground in the areas it serves, working with the local community, whom they train and hire as builders.

On the domestic front, as we saw in this publication a couple of months ago (“Pro Pro Bono,” September 2013), Public Architecture has made an impact through the establishment of a program that creates partnerships between design firms and groups in need of design services. Again, the benefits are multiple—first and foremost, the nonprofit enhances the community through its work, but it also raises awareness about the importance of design through these projects. That is a never-to-be-underestimated dividend as we work to spread the word about the possibilities and benefits of design.

When it comes to individual design talents, Janine Benyus is a great example of a designer who provokes me to think in ways I otherwise might not have. Her work in the field of biomimicry, which involves the studying and mimicking of nature in an effort to arrive at truly sustainable design solutions, has captured the imagination of designers and the public alike. Benyus seeks to create products and processes that suggest ways of living in greater harmony with the natural world around us, such as solar cells inspired by the humble leaf. What’s encouraging is that her ideas have pollinated and taken root, first with a PBS-broadcast film based on her work called Second Nature: The Biomimicry Evolution, and now with educational seminars taking place from San Diego to Montreal. (Learn more about these opportunities at PageBreak

Designer Pernilla Ohrstedt has similarly made an impact with her highly experimental use of space and materials in architecture, installations and products, inspiring me and many others to think about design in new and unpredictable ways. The Beatbox, her interactive project commissioned by the Coca-Cola Company for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, integrated a playful, crystalline-like form made of inflated ETFE cushions with interactive audio and light technology to create a kinetic and fun space that connected young people to the spirit of the Games. The interactive element of the installation was particularly stimulating to designers like myself, as it triggered ideas for incorporating similar—albeit more practical—applications in interior projects, perhaps involving lighting or televisions with cycles of programmed “ambient” content.

Lastly, I feel it behooves me to note some of the institutions that have consistently dedicated themselves to carrying design out of our often-insular community and to the public at large. Perhaps most notable is the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, which was honored with the IIDA Star Award this year for its considerable contributions to the promotion of design since its inception more than 100 years ago.

Closer to home for me is Design Museum Boston, a particularly fascinating entity in that it has no fixed address. Instead, the museum creates its exhibitions and educational opportunities where design is happening, so that the surroundings reinforce the concepts being presented. A recent exhibit in Terminal E of Logan Airport illustrated how design shapes the travel experience, providing a little distraction and insight for those waiting to begin their own travel experience.

The museum also actively interacts with the city through initiatives like its Street Seats program, which invited interior designers, architects and industrial designers from around the world to redesign the humble park bench for Boston’s Innovation District. The competition yielded a field of 17 highly imaginative design solutions, the winner being the “Bowspirit” design from a team at the Georgia Institute of Technology consisting of Rui Chen, Christa Lee, Sanchit Mittal and Wendell Wilson. (A look at the full field of entries can be had at

Events like this serve to heighten awareness of design in the Boston area for residents and visitors alike. When people happen upon one of these stylized benches—as commonplace an object as you’ll find in a public area—it forces them to think of something they thought they knew in a new and stimulating way.

That’s precisely what we look for in the spirit of innovation. It’s not about the shock of the new (although that’s certainly part of it), but the ability of a designer to take an idea, however familiar, in a new direction that suggests an undiscovered way of looking at the world. Perhaps the only thing more exciting than seeing groundbreaking design is knowing that each of us has the power to create it. What will you do with yours?


IIDA President Felice L. Silverman, IIDA is president and a principal at Silverman Trykowski Associates Inc. in Boston. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at