Choosing Your Path
Put another way, design thinking is about designing the design
process. Ultimately, all designers must find their own paths in doing
so and, further illustrating the human element in design, those
creative directions will vary greatly.
Los Angeles architect Dan Brunn, for example, has charted an
unconventional path in developing his unique design process, with
arresting—and, at times, quirky—results. While most designers
show clients a menu of options before developing a final design,
Brunn does all the iterative work behind the scenes and then goes
all-in on a single design solution that is presented to the client.
“It’s a different type of design thinking than you find at a lot of other
offices,” he acknowledges. “We listen and attune ourselves to what
the client wants and then answer back in a really strong statement.
Then, we marry ourselves to one solution and present that to the
client with full passion, really believing it and being able to answer to
why.” Brunn insists this is not an ego-driven impulse, but an effort
to demand clarity from himself as a designer and to ensure that he
is wholly committed to understanding and honoring a client’s needs.
He calls his process, simply, “empathetic design.” It seems like a
risky approach, but in 13 years of professional practice, he’s never
had a design rejected by a client.
In addition to conventional architectural projects, Brunn designs
interior furnishings, where empathy for the user is, of course,
critical. A bathroom ensemble with a tub that actually corresponds
to human proportions (including for tall people like him) is one of
which he’s most proud. “We think about the choreography of the
space and then the forms are born out of that. “It all comes down
to the human body and a response to that,” he says. “That’s our
Brunn’s recent design for the interior of a Los Angeles coffee shop
epitomizes the bold and playful style at the heart of his work, as well
as the practice of clearly defining a client’s desires and intervening
with a creative solution. Visitors to Coffee for Sasquatch (the owner
is a very tall person) are greeted by a large and cartoonish snow-beast image that is formed by the negative space carved out of
a living green wall. Other visual motifs in the mostly snow-white
space include wisps of foliage, curling mist, and tree branches “as
though you’re seeing sasquatch through the forest,” says Brunn.
“It’s an Alice in Wonderland kind of a feeling.”
But, this is only one aspect of the user experience at Coffee for Sasquatch.
Brunn lived in Italy for a time, where coffee shop culture is quite different.
“In Milan when you get a coffee, it’s kind of like getting a drink at a bar,”
he says, adding it’s very social; everyone stands along a tall, long counter
and chats with the barista and each other. Italian coffee shops feel very
small compared to American ones, and short on places to sit, but the close
quarters are part of what encourages interaction with other people and with
the design of the space as well. Brunn’s design attempts to bridge the two
cultures. The bar is extra-long, with part of it at standing height and a part
where it steps down into an integrated bench. This was Brunn’s answer to his
client’s top priority: “What she really wanted was a community space.”
“We think about the choreography
of the space and then the forms
are born out of that. It all comes
down to the human body
and a response to that. That’s our
—DAN BRUNN, DAN BRUNN ARCHITECTURE
Negative space, positive results:
Architect Dan Brunn imagined
a playful and impactful entry
for Coffee for Sasquatch in
(Image: Brandon Shigeta)