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Valle dei Calanchi, Italy

We are so excited and proud to announce the Partners in Design Climate Action Fellowship!

For years, we have been inspired by the work of the Civita Institute—a nonprofit organization that promotes and inspires design excellence through cultural exchange between the United States and Italy—that awarded a fellowship to one of our partners in 2012 at a critical time in her career.

To pay it forward, and following the recent announcement that Italy is set to become the first country to require mandatory 33 hours of climate-related lessons into public school curricula, we decided to sponsor a new fellowship through the Civita institute, to increase awareness of our changing climate and encourage actions that can be taken by architects, planners, designers, artists, writers and other arts professionals to contribute to a more sustainable societal response.

Since the founding of our office, we have made it a point to take on certain projects on a pro bono basis that have the potential to really make a difference in our community. It’s one of the most important reasons why we design—to care for the earth, to foster diversity, humanity, equal rights and access to education—and we relish the opportunity to empower these projects with the best communication powers possible. From our work on anti-bullying, environmental advocacy, global aid, and civil rights projects, we know that powerful design can broadcast a stronger message to help superheroes do their jobs.

If you are interested in exploring a project in climate action, we encourage you to apply! The 2020 application period is now open open. Visit the Civita Institute to learn all the details.

Open Wings Press


Technology, distribution, platforms, and retail have radically transformed the book business recently. There’s almost a sense of scrambling in the air, publishers are being asked to demonstrate their usefulness. With self-publishing a click-away, authors ask publishers, “Do we still need you?” But the self-published are quickly finding out that selling, promoting and establishing credibility is by far more complicated than one click.

In all of this change, there’s been some space made for small publishers. Open Wings Press approached Partners in Design while looking to find their voice in a fast-evolving community. The independent publisher was at a crossroads and had plans for a new logo. PID suggested they consider establishing a brand—a point of view that they could offer to their customers to distinguish their books, mission, and quality. An assurance of what their customers can expect.

Open Wings Press is an emerging publisher whose authors focus on hope and inspiration. Their name was an important first step in their brand. The aspiration of taking flight along with aspects of culture and traditional book forms brought us to the visual of an book signature unfolding into wings. Pictured are pages from the branding guide and a first-edition book run.

In a recent issue of the New Yorker, there is a fascinating article on Andy and Lana Wachowski, the siblings who are best known for writing and directing the “Matrix” trilogy. By all reports, the brother and sister are natural filmmakers who count “2001: A Space Odyssey” as one of their earliest influences. The family was apparently huge movie fans, of all genres, but 12-year old Lana recalls initially hating “2001” and was “perplexed by the mysterious presence of the black monolith.” Her father explained simply, “That’s a symbol”. The author recounts Lana’s reaction: “That simple sentence went into my brain and rearranged things in such an unbelievable way that I don’t think I’ve been the same since…it’s one of the reasons I’m a filmmaker.”

Granted, perhaps not every child will respond to symbols this way, but could a contributing factor be that we also don’t cultivate this type of visual seeing and learning enough? The anecdote resonated with me because this past week I have been struck by the complex overlays of symbol and iconography here in Civita. Admittedly, this is most probably the case in many countries whose historical timeline extends back beyond the 1800s but it feels particularly close to the surface in Civita and very much a part of daily life here.

It seems to me that America has trouble with symbols. Both commercially and on a personal level the relationship is one of ambivalence. In order to be sure they convey their intended meaning, we seem to feel they need amplification (a logo must always have a tagline, and perhaps a second, and a third…) or alternately, we fear they possess an innate power to excite and incite ideas and actions, allowing them to spin out of the sphere of our control.

As any designer knows, the advantage of symbols is that they speak a universal language. I do not need to be conversant in Arabic to understand that the Kaaba represents a significant “concept” to Muslims. I might not be able to fully articulate the subtleties of its meaning but I can understand the power and centricity of it as a symbol in one of the world’s great religions.

The more a symbol is used for a particular purpose, the clearer and more effective its communication will be. Each passing generation, utilizing the same symbol, builds up a clearer, stronger energy from that symbol and its resultant power increases. It is no coincidence that certain of these symbols from ancient civilizations continue to be an integral part our society, even to the point that corporations use them in commercials, movies, and logos.

Symbols can be like road maps, leading, or guiding you, toward a desired goal. Of course, the road is not a real road with dirt and stone; it is the energy we invest in the symbol. By this measure, it would seem to make sense that the most effective symbols are the ones that have lasted through the ages. Obvious examples include the Christian cross, the yin/yang symbol, the pyramid, the ankh, etc.

Once these symbol sets pass into the realm of becoming archetypes — ideas or ways of thinking inherited from all these sources and present in your subconscious — they become the model upon which you pattern your life, sending shorthand messages to your subconscious and conscious minds. They begin to function as a complete set, as iconography—the collective use of symbols and visual images by a certain culture or group designed to encourage certain behaviors or effects.

That is why people often choose to pray in a church setting when they could just as easily do so at home, or feel they can mediate more successfully in a space carefully designed to induce a contemplative state. Iconography can unlock a stream of memories, data, emotions and beliefs, and sometimes it happens whether we want them to or not.

Sharon just finished writing her second book… now on the search for a agent… the majority of the prose was composed in a Seattle baker  poetically called “Fresh Flowers” in the hilltop neighborhood of Phinney Ridge. It’s a stone’s throw from home, so she can be there when their doors open at 6am… to put in her writer’s stint before heading to work. Most writers have their special place. Read the rest of this entry »

”Dodging” is a graphic novel for young readers about twelve-year old aspiring photographer Sam Pearl, who’s just discovered that his father is gay. This time it’s a personal creative process between the partners of our studio, Sharon and Stephen. The project is seeking a progressive publisher… wish us luck. We’re ready to continue with Sam’s story. He has a lot to accomplish by the story’s conclusion and his one-man show. Read the rest of this entry »


This is the first of our “word of the day” series. We won’t post a new one every day, but you get the idea. Give us ideas for new words. Foreign and made-up words count.

flâ-neur (flä-nûr’) n. 1. From the French verb flâner which means to stroll; a term popularized by Charles Baudelaire and other less well-remembered French writers of the 19th century; “A gentleman stroller of city streets.” 2. An aimless wanderer. 3. Someone whose mind and senses are only stimulated by improvised rambles around the world.


Walking on an Olympic mountain trail heading towards the Elwah Valley is a piece of big geological magnitude… not allowing for much notice of the smaller details. The sky finally clearing of clouds, with dramatic views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca emerging… turning vibrant and ultramarine. Just off the trailside, almost not noticing, stood an alpine anthill. Covered in dried heather needles, all gathered from nearby plants and placed meticulously. Read the rest of this entry »


Next time you’re strolling through a concrete and brick air-conditioned mall in a booming community near a major metropolitan city, imagine a stream—older than anything above the ground—flowing under your feet. That’s the story of Hylebos Creek and the West Hylebos Wetlands Park. And the Commons Mall in Federal Way, Washington is only one of several locations where the creek travels underground beneath communities south of Seattle. Ultimately, it empties out into Puget Sound’s Commencement Bay.

It may sound trite and overused, but there is nothing more well-designed, to my mind, than a diverse ecosystem and the West Hylebos Wetlands provides a perfect example of this natural design in action. Read the rest of this entry »

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