Interview: Working Late with Samantha Warren

We’ll be welcoming designer Samantha Warren at our next Working Late event on Wednesday, March 11 — and if you aren’t already signed up, there’s still time to grab your ticket from Eventbrite. She’ll be presenting “Mind the Gap: Becoming a better designer by owning your blind spots.” She was kind enough to spend some time answering a few of our questions about her work as she prepares for next week’s talk.

Who are your mentors and what have you learned from them?

I don’t have “mentors” so much as I have a personal board of advisers. OK, that sounds too fancy, but I have a very talented husband who is a designer, and friends and family who are all brilliant and successful across many disciplines. I go to them for a lot. Make friends with those you look up to, because they will help you to be better.

Some things that they have taught me:

  • HTML & CSS
  • To always have a good accountant
  • Use Illustrator symbols for making wireframes faster
  • Never buy cheap tools or desk chairs.

Where do you find your inspiration for design?

Everywhere. History, fashion, culture, environment, books, and art.

I think inspiration is less something you seek and more something you keep yourself open to receiving. It’s all around us, it’s just a matter of taking it and connecting it to something in our everyday work. Art and history are big ones for me. There are so many rich associations and feelings that have already been dug up and explored, and it’s just a matter of reinterpreting them in our everyday work.

San Francisco skyline and building details
Photos courtesy of Samantha Warren

Environments are also really strong inspirations for me, particularly in California where there is so much textural contrast in both rural and urban spaces. Just look at downtown San Francisco, with so many interesting visual juxtapositions you can see just by walking down the street. There are beautifully-worn facades next to new and modern architecture, signage and lettering that run the gamut of all sorts of time periods… all of this nestled in a city that itself is juxtaposed against this fairytale backdrop with the blue-gray bay and mountains in Marin. The geometric lines of the bridges set against the fog and the organic lines of Yerba Buena island… there is just so much to be inspired by.

What was your favorite project to work on and why?

It’s hard to have a favorite design project. Design projects are like children, they are all special for different reasons. But there is one art project that stands out.

Samantha Warren's Rockfish project in Richmond

You know how some cities have community art project? The city votes on a sculpture and local artists all get sponsored to paint versions of a sculpture differently and they are displayed around town. When I was in college I submitted and was selected to paint a rockfish in Richmond, Virginia. My rockfish was a beauty pageant winner and she had a sequined dress and a big pearl necklace. My entire family pitched in to help me with it. It was one of the most fun projects I have ever had the opportunity to work on, but it was a challenge. I had never worked with the fiberglass medium that the fish was made out of, so I had to be flexible and resourceful in order to build up the lady parts that my fish needed to have. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and that made it all the more fun.

What does your daily routine look like?

I’ve tried to develop a more disciplined routine, especially after reading Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit, but then I don’t end up following through. I like to have more of a “framework” for tackling the day:

  • I wake up to my cat meowing in my face and pawing at my ear.
  • Then I enjoy coffee and breakfast with my husband in our SF apartment (which is also my office).
  • At some point I usually scan Twitter for my daily design, animal parody, and world news.
  • I try to do some sort of exercise or go for a walk or jog.
  • I give myself a deadline to be at work by 9am.
Cat and coffee routine

My day is then usually mixed between calls, design, and other work-related activities. I may meet a friend or potential client for lunch or coffee and usually try and take another trip to the park. (I love the parks in San Francisco.)

I also try and make time for at least one day a week at the ceramics studio, and one day a week as an outing for the beach, a museum, or a drive.

In anticipation of your Working Late talk, will you give us a teaser?

“The seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your current piece.”
—”Art & Fear” by David Bayles & Ted Orland

Mind the Gap preview

It should be a treat hearing more from Samantha next Wednesday. If you haven’t signed up already, claim your spot on Eventbrite soon!