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“Putting the ease in place”

by Will Kotheimer

I met Hannah Sellers through the


head of the architectural science depart-
ment in the School of Architecture and
Manufacturing Science at Western Ken-
tucky University. My blog is about the
interconnections in the fields of design,
specifically user-centered design and the
creative processes designers undertake in
their fields. For this blog series, entitled
“Designers in Process,” I introduce the
reader to someone who is studying in a
field of design or technology and try to
showcase the detailed thinking involved
in the creative process. Ms. Sellers is a
student majoring in Architecture and
also getting a minor in interior design,
and she is someone like me, who places
value on the design process from a
user-centered approach. But what you
will notice if you meet her, is that she is
someone who despite her incredible workload, puts you at ease; and this trait could also be said to be true
throughout her philosophy of design.

Novel Approaches: A great example of the creative process she might undertake is represented by when
she was asked to design a hypothetical solution to a new building for the school of Architecture (when she
was in Studio II). Since, for her, the design process needs to begin with an inspiration, and she couldn’t find
any similar types of schools, she chose a novel approach and started folding paper:

I took a piece of paper and I didn’t wrip it but I cut it then I started folding things and what I came up
with, that gave me the whole idea of the project and where I wanted to go with it.

This perhaps origami inspired approach is just one of many ways Ms. Sellers has gone about design-
ing things. Another way is by incorporating many design concepts into her model, such as mixing different
themes even from different centuries. In this way, she overcomes design problems by doing something differ-
ent each time, perhaps something that has not been done before:

I like to mix traditional with eclectic, I like to mix modern with colonial – you know I don’t like just
one particular style, and my process involves more than one style typically. And when I look for inspi-
rations I don’t technically go for buildings or architecture. . . I’ll look at storefronts of clothing compa
nies, and the displays that clothing companies come up with can also lead to an inspiration for a
design that I’ll do for a project.

Inspirations: The storefronts idea was particularly interesting for me, as I wondered how a store-front
could inspire an architectural design. But as she explained, it isn’t the store-front per se, but the inspiration.
One inspirational store that inspired her and informed her work in a current project for Interior Design was
the store Anthropologie, done by EOA architects out of New York. As she explained, it’s the ability of the
store to fashion object metaphors out of random odds and ends that gives her a sense of how they create:
“Like, I saw this one display where they took cotton balls and made this huge cloud, then they had these blue
forks dropping down from it as the rain. So when I looked at their store front I saw all these different aspects
and how they took one thing and make it something else. So I don’t necessarily use what they have used, but
I take a material and turn it into something else like they have. . .” she said.
The look and feel of Anthropologie gave Hannah a sense of creating something for her interior design
project that could inspire people. As she explains here, in this case it was toward the “industrial” :

For this project, we were to come up with a word, a word that would describe our design, and mine
was “industrial,” because I love all the raw bare materials of a building. I like exposed framing,
exposed steel. And what I used, this plays in part with Anthropologie the displays and stuff, I took a
laboratory sink, a laboratory faucet, stuff that scientists would use and put it in this house, because its
still a raw material its industrial, its still different, and its something that you would never ever think
of using. So that’s an example of how I would put what Anthropologie did into my own design.

Besides drawings, her sketchbook is littered with cutouts of dancers, thoughts on inspirations, and other
artifacts of a creative mind. So it seems that it’s not on the architecture itself she always focuses but its affect
on the user, and that which inspires her to break out of the fold of other architects and find other inspira-
tions for her designs: “I typically don’t look to people for inspiration, I typically look for items and things, and
like I said, store displays, for inspiration.”

Creativity within Limits: Though there is much room for creativity, as she explains, designers almost
always work within limits; sometimes that limit is strictly financial, but more than likely it also concerns
codes and guidelines which engineers have decided people should follow. Some are also corporate guide-
lines, things such as “green design,” i.e. making a building have a manageable heat and air bill, and other
factors will come into play as well, such as what the building will be used for, mercantile, office, or residen-
tial. Those realities “fill the box” -- as she put it. But there was also room for play, to work with what goes on
outside it.
Hannah’s investment with design exists within this “play arena,” for while adhering to the building codes and
color palettes that are standard for everyone in her field, she delves deeper, into the realm of psychology of
buildings, how buildings make you feel inside of them.
Empathy in Design: To round out her toolkit of design inspirations, Ms. Sellers looks to many fields,
such as fashion, store-front design, interior design, art, as well as psychology and ethnographic research:

I took an anthropology class and that has been a big influence on me as a person in how I design,
because there was this term we used – ethnographic research, and it meant living with the people like
the people, for a certain amount of time. So I just fell in love with that idea, so when I design some
thing that people have to live with for a long time, I put myself into the worker’s or the person’s shoes
who will have to live in it, and I try to see what they would want to see in the building.

As I asked question after question, it seemed she was very excited to talk about her design process, but she
also always came back to the people who would inhabit the buildings. She seemed to care about the people.
Which is refreshing, since you would think by looking at many buildings around campus (and in general), that
the architects didn’t think much about what the people might feel in them. “A lot of people don’t like work
and I would want to design the building so they feel comfortable in their working environment,” she said.

Final Thoughts: As stated previously, her inspiration comes from others who have made it a point to con-
form the building to the people’s needs, and she credits designers such as EOA architects for this:

[T]hey design, with the people, like the people, so if they have a design in Arizona, it’s going to be
designed like the surroundings of that city, and what that city encompasses and what those people are
like. So you wouldn’t take a building in Arizona and place it in Kentucky.”

Though Ms. Sellers definitely has interest in studying architecture and interior design, its neat to find that
she sees that the beauty of architecture can often be linked to the feel and atmosphere of the locale and the
effect it has on the inhabitants of the building, whether they work there, or will just be stopping in. It’s also
refreshing to find someone who cares more about making people comfortable in their spaces. Ms. Sellers has
the foundations for a great future in front of her, and desires to inspire others through her work.