Let’s Embrace Human-Centered Design Thinking​

Richard Farson, PhD, psychologist and author of The Power of Design, perhaps overstates his case when he writes, “Design, the creation of form, has the power to transform culture, ignite education, foster community and even broker peace.” Wow! I think that the most powerful design fields are Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Interior Design because people experience life (and space) in 3 dimensions. It’s hard to avoid feeling the results of any particular design, whether those feelings are intended or not intended by the designers. So if a space/design engenders a reaction, a feeling, then as designers, let’s make that feeling the intended one. We all have heard the term “unintended consequences” as it is used in reference to our behaviors. Let’s think about the consequences of our design decisions and strive to achieve the intended ones. If we want to “broker peace,” architecture may not be the first tool that we think of; but if we want to foster community, architecture really matters. Lofty goals can be achieved if we embrace them. Let’s consider the effects of our design choices on the people who will use the spaces we create. Jon Kolko wrote in the Harvard Business Review on the evolution of design thinking: “Design is empathetic, and thus implicitly drives a more thoughtful, human approach to business.” If designers can remember that they are working to enhance the lives of people, not just to have fancy photographs in design magazines, then the full power of design can be implemented for “good.” Maybe we can avoid the unintended consequences of our design actions and achieve our intentions – enhancing the human experience. Human-centered design thinking means thinking about people first. Asking questions about the needs of the people and the goals of the community is the first step of design thinking. Human-centered design thinking could make the world a better place for people who work, play, age, live and learn. If you have a project that could use better, human-centered thinking and project pre-planning, call us. Let’s embrace the power of design!​

Tyrian Purple

If you think purple is a mixed-up color today, you may be surprised to know that it has a mixed-up history as well, one as rich as its hue. In today’s world, colors and pigments are so readily available, through paints and computer graphics, that we often don’t realize that color has an extensive history, dating back to cave paintings which were made from grinding up available materials, such as dirt, stones, plants, and even insects, into different pigments. The color palette was extremely limited in that day – they definitely did not have access to purple! In fact, according to the book “The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair, purple was not accessible for a very long time, and even when it was (around the fifteenth century B.C.), it was so rare and difficult to make that only the powerful and wealthy were able to access it. The earliest evidence of purple dye comes from the Phoenicians in Tyre (today’s Lebanon). “Phoencia” literally means “purple country,” and it was named so because the hue “Tyrian Purple” gave the region fame and fortune through the trade of this dye. The dye was produced using a very timely, costly and pretty gross process involving two varieties of shellfish native to the Mediterranean, Thais haemastoma and Murex brandaris. Phoenicians would crack open the shells of these crustaceans and locate a specific gland called the hypobranchial gland, which when squeezed would produce a single drop of clear, garlic-smelling liquid. Within minutes, the sunlight would turn this liquid into a deep purple-red, the best hue being obtained from mixing the gland fluids of both types of shellfish and was dubbed “Tyrian Purple”. This fluid combination was then placed in large vats of stale urine (for the ammonia) and fermented for 10 days before cloth was even added. Afterward, although the cloth was a beautiful Tyrian purple, it allegedly kept its smell of rotting shellfish, garlic, and urine. That’s real commitment to the color purple! The poor shellfish though…since each one contained a single drop, it took approximately 250,000 to make one ounce of dye. Because of this labor-intensive process, Tyrian purple dye was incredibly expensive, and was therefore only affordable to royalty. Soon it became law that only royalty was allowed to wear it. Around 47 B.C when Julius Caesar was in power, he introduced a new toga in his favorite color, Tyrian purple, and declared that only he was allowed to wear the color. His rule was so severe that anyone caught wearing the color could face death. A bit farther east, Byzantine queens would give birth in royal birthing chambers completely decked in Tyrian purple, so that it would be the first color that new princes would see, and they would therefore be “born into the purple,” sealing their right to rule. Today, we realize that even though “violet” is the shortest spectral wavelength that humans can see, there are hundreds of variations of the color through advanced technology. Suddenly everyone has access to purple, so it has become just a color like any of the other thousands. Even Tyrian purple now has many different interpretations – we’ve rounded up some of our favorite Tyrian purple hues from Benjamin Moore, Sherwin Williams and PPG so that you too can feel like royalty in your home or office! Purple isn’t the only color with a rich history! Want to learn more about the history of other colors? Check out “The Secret Lives of Color” to learn more! Please call Leslie Saul & Associates if you want to add a little color into your life.​

Purple – more than a mixed-up color​

Every little kid knows that red + blue = purple. One of my granddaughters’ favorite books is “Mix it Up! by Herve Tullet. This interactive book is all about how paint colors mix to make other colors. If you have read my other blog posts, you might think that almost every post is about mixing it up. I think that life (and construction projects) is not a straight line, yet sometimes it is the detours and mix- ups that make life worth living (and projects more successful), but I digress. Let’s agree that purple is a mixed-up color. I was driving back to my office last week, when I heard the NPR article about how Iowa is a “purple” state, but that both the legislature and the governor’s office are all Republican for the first time in a long time. The democrat running for Governor could win and bring Iowa back to its “purple” status. I come from what used to be an extremely “red” state, Ohio, with the exception of Cleveland, that has always been “blue”. Now Cincinnati, my home town, has become “blue” as well. Ohio is now a “purple” state. Perhaps I’ve always been a little “purple”. My logo was designed 25 years ago. As you probably know, it is a purple square with an orange dot. The color of the square is purple, but it really is closer to navy blue than it is to proper purple. I suppose my “blue” roots must be showing. When I got married, I told the women in the wedding party that they could wear any style dress as long as it was in any shade of purple that pleased them. It was so much fun to see what people chose. My husband’s grandmother chose a pale mauve, almost pink, and my sister chose a deep eggplant color – and we had every color in between. We bought the men purple ties. The cake was decorated in purple pansies. It all worked so well together (and so do my husband and I: we are about to celebrate 40 years of purple wedded bliss)! In design, I often use purple as a neutral. Whether it is a pale grey with a purple cast (Benjamin Moore’s Misty Memories 2118-60), a medium purply-gray (Benjamin Moore’s Sea Life 2118-40), or a deep purple that is almost black (Benjamin Moore’s Toucan Black 2115-20), these “purples” are so much more interesting than their counterparts of grey or black, yet they still function well as neutral “colors” that work well with any accent color in a project’s palette. At one point, a long-term client said that they always searched for the “purple” on each project. I confess, I do love purple! You too may learn to love purple. Whether you identify as “purple”, “blue” or “red”, let us know if we can help you with your next design project, no matter your color persuasion! After all, don’t we all just want to get along?​

What is all the fuss about blue light?​

You have probably heard about the dangers of blue light (the light emanating from your smart phone or tablet). Some say it causes an increase in cancer rates, some say it causes insomnia, and now, who knew, the blue light from LED lights as well as from technology can damage your skin. Never fear, the global cosmetics industry is coming to the rescue! The May 14, 2018 issue of C & EN (Chemical & Engineering News) has a very interesting article, “Fighting Modern Stresses: Personal Care Formulators look for ways to safeguard skin from blue light and other perceived environmental assaults,” by Marc S. Reich. In the article, Karl Lintner, former CEO of Sederma, who now leads consulting firm KAL’ideés in Paris, was quoted as saying, “yes, we want to protect skin, but to single out one wavelength of light or another seems arbitrary and too simple.” The demand for protection from blue spectrum light may be fueled by fears and innuendos, but research has not actually proven the fears justified. Mr. Lintner continued, “we create a story and then sell it. That’s cosmetics. It’s all about business, and it’s all fun. As long as you don’t cheat and don’t lead consumers into danger by saying things that are absurd [wrong!], you are all right.” The cosmetics industry may seem like a superficial endeavor to begin with, but if an industry leader admits that it’s all for fun, while selling their overpriced products as if they are a result of scientific breakthroughs, they are producing skepticism more than fun. Mr. Lintner also said, “we do need science to tell a story, but cosmetics are all about the guilty pleasure of splurging on something that smells and feels good.” They know that the industry success is based on what smells and feels good to gullible humans, it is not really based on science. There is some scientific evidence that blue light does have an effect on our circadian rhythm. If you are interested in avoiding the sleep deprivation that may be caused by blue light, you may want to check out Rhode Island based Lighting Science, whose scientists come mostly from NASA. These scientists worked on helping astronauts sleep on the space shuttle, despite the short time span sunrise/sunset cycles. They recommend utilizing a warm color light for 2 hours before your bedtime to get your body ready for sleep, and they sell a bedside lamp that can do just that. In our industry of architecture and design, we often talk about “smoke and mirrors.” We refer to making a space look great on a small budget – we are not referring to deception, but rather to our creativity. Like the cosmetics industry, we are providing spaces that “feel good,” but it is so much more. We believe that pre-project planning defines the right project for the client – the right scope of work, the right budget, the right schedule, the right quality level, and the right impact on the community and the planet. Our designs are not based on whims, trends or on pie-in-the-sky wishes. If our client and site research are done well and our group consensus building/visioning session are successful, our projects will be successful. And that feels good. If you want help with you next architecture or interior design project, please call us. We’ll have fun together – even without cosmetics!​

“Meh” And the Happiness Curve​

In life, we experience highs, lows, and lots of time that is just “meh.” It’s not the most exciting nor the most devastating. It’s just life. My mother once told me that you don’t want to be very interesting to your doctor, that it is much better to be boring when it comes to your health. The Real Estate analogy would be to not be very interesting to your building envelope specialist, that it is much better to not have any unexplained water infiltration. So maybe “meh” is okay. Think about the stock market – it’s current state of volatility has many people anxious. Our current US President Donald J. Trump seems to abhor the “meh” and to thrive in the volatility of highs and lows. This volatility has caused most Americans and most citizens of the world to be anxious most of the time about world politics. We look forward to a quiet week at some point in the future. We look forward to “meh”. Design and construction projects (and probably other projects, like software development) follow a volatile path that we call the “happiness curve”. It starts with a super high after we have completed the design that fulfills our clients’ wants and needs, and falls when the pricing comes in. The curve moves higher once construction starts, but then drops to its lowest low, just before completion, when it seems like the construction is never ending. The curve comes back up at the end when our clients can truly enjoy what we, collectively, have created. Sometimes the long and winding road can lead to a place that is just right. With LS&A as your guide throughout you will know what to expect, so that those highs and lows will be less scary. If you want a copy of our “happiness curve,” please email us at koko@lesliesaul.com and we’ll send it to you. We have put together a set of project planning tools that can help you plan for what’s important at the beginning of every design and construction project. Email us with details of your project and we’ll share the tools that we think might be helpful to you.​


I’m a curious person by nature. Curious people, by definition, like to learn new things. According to the astronaut/scientist and MIT professor Jeff Hoffman who was interviewed on today’s WGBH Curiosity Desk article, human beings are natural explorers – from the time we are able to crawl, we seek out new places and new experiences. Perhaps our desire to learn and experience new things pushes us to renovate our offices, retail stores, restaurants, homes, and learning spaces. As architects and interior designers, we appreciate this human desire for the new and for change. It keeps us in business! But more than that, it keeps us learning (and not just for the continuing ed credits that enable us to keep our professional licenses). There is so much to learn. I have been working in this field since 1978, a mere forty years. Obviously, the world has changed so much over the past forty years – and not just technologically. We have learned to adapt quickly to change. We embrace change, while never losing the good ideas, things or styles of the past. Our ability to synthesize, adapt, improve, mash-up and be inspired by others past and present has kept us in a state of constant exploration, discovery and learning, a place in which I am not only comfortable, but also in which I am energized. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also may have saved lives, as scientists make new discoveries – in the lab and in outer space. In our humble role as architect and interior designer, we have learned to be a better guide for our clients, as we lead their journey of renewal of their built environment. We may not save lives – but we certainly can make life a bit better. Are you curious? Please email us with topics that interest you, and we’ll do our best to satisfy your curiosity.​  

“What do you expect?”​

I observed these words on a church message board in Belmont, MA. It made me think about expectations in general.Over the years, I have found that my expectations for some things are quite high, while my expectations for most things (behavior of others) have dropped, perhaps to avoid being disappointed constantly. In our professional life, we have found that setting realistic expectations for our clients makes for happier clients and more successful project outcomes. We try not to promise that which is almost impossible to achieve, while trying to achieve the impossible (think schedule, budget).I’ve been fascinated by the New Yorker article (February 26, 2018 issue) by Ian Parker, “Stairmaster,” about the artist Thomas Heatherwick’s stair sculpture or “folly” at the new Hudson Yards Development for the RE Developer Stephen Ross, of The Related Group. The Vessel, as it is called, now exceeds a cost of $150 million. As a .6% proportion of the $25 billion project, perhaps not completely crazy, if it succeeds in making the development a destination for tourists and tenants. But…it seems like an almost impossible expectation for 154 stairs to nowhere to achieve. It reminds me of the musical “A Fiddler on the Roof,” where Tevya imagines what it would be like to be a wealthy man. “I’d build a big tall house with rooms by the dozen right in the center of the town…there would be one long staircase just going up, and one even longer coming down, and one more leading nowhere, just for show.” (I guess there are no new ideas).Apparently Heatherwick believes that one should make one’s efforts evident. He is king of the opposite of most architects, who value and honor simple solutions. Most Architects expect that good design should “feel” effortless.” Bjarke Ingels, who has collaborated with Heatherwick on several projects, said of Heatherwick, “sometimes things are done for the sake of showing that you’re putting more effort into it…making the effort evident sometimes makes him stumble onto things that are really quite brilliant.” Heatherwick creates a kind of Rube Goldberg machine that is wonderful, over-thought, and super cool. Perhaps Heatherwick’s approach ends up more complicated, but more serendipitous than the efficient and perhaps more obvious approach of most of us. In any case, nothing about the design process is really obvious to the novice. Whether the design process is simplified (see our 1, 2, 3 approach here) or overcomplicated, like Heatherwick’s, the important part of setting expectations is to explain the process that the client will actually experience.Recently, I wrote a very detailed description of what we expected the client to do. It was amazingly well received. It turns out that expectations go in both directions – what do clients expect their designers/architects to do for them (and what is realistic to expect)? What do designers/architects expect their clients to do (besides pay their bills)? What do you expect?​

Calculations in Honor of our 25th Anniversary​

I like anniversaries. As I was cleaning a frying pan the other night, I noticed a 60 on the bottom of the pan. I remembered that it was a special edition to celebrate 60 years of ScanPan in Denmark. But isn’t 60 or 25 just a number that marks time? Is longevity itself an accomplishment worth celebrating? That made me think about the calculations we make about time. In a typical 24 hour day, in America we are expected to sleep for 8 hours, work for 8 hours, leaving about a third of our day for everything else. When you take out commuting and eating, most of us are lucky if we get 4 hours a day available for fun-like tonight. In the US, we are not expected to work weekends, so our actual work time (40 hours) as a percentage of our entire breathing week (168 hours) is only about 25%. I know that many of you in this room would be thrilled if you could keep your work time down to 40 hours, but bear with me. Now in my 63 years of life on this earth, more than 25 years of them have been at LS&A, or 39.6%. I calculated the number of years spent by Suma and Monique at LS&A as a percentage of their younger-than- me lives, and weirdly, they also have spent 39.6% of their lives at LS&A. That seems like a lot of time, right? However, if we use the calculation that only 25% of each week is spent working, that means that only 9.9% of our time on this planet has been spent working together at LS&A. That means that all of our wonderful work was done in less than 10% of our lives. Now that’s amazing! Aren’t you impressed? Here’s another statistic: about 2/3 of the LS&A projects ever done have been touched by either Suma or Monique. Statistically speaking, there would not be much to LS&A without Suma and Monique. And certainly our successful projects are directly due to their efforts. But wait, there’s more! You know that there really wouldn’t be an LS&A if it weren’t for ALL of you here today (and for many who were unable to attend): Our clients, consultants, and the collaborative architects, designers, contractors, builders, artisans, artists, suppliers and other industry professionals. I want to make it official: YOU ARE NOW FRIENDS AND FAMILY! But of course you already knew that. I also want to give a special shout-out to our families, who have lived through the ups and downs of the practice over the past 25 years-make that almost 40 years, Steven…yes, you get credit, too! Luckily, we have so many of our friends and family here today. That means that there is one more calculation to make, and it’s an easy one to do: 100% of you have made all the difference. Thank You! We have the carriage house until 9, so please continue to eat, drink and be merry. Take a stab at coloring an elevation and post them on the brown paper. Go outside and play ping pong. Try your skills in the horse stalls. Watch the slide show. Meet a new person. There’s no such thing as too much happiness. Thank you again for coming and for your contributions to LS&A and to our clients – and especially to our slide show! Enjoy!!​

In Honor of Earth Day: Sustainable Restorations​

At first glance, the communities of Loreto Bay, located in Baja, Mexico, and The Providence Riverwalk, in Rhode Island, USA might not seem to have much in common. In fact, both areas were once a pile of concrete and asphalt, offering little commercial or cultural value to their communities.​

Why Your Word Choices Matter: Vocabulary 3​

Disruption and Transformation  It seems that almost every start-up wants to disrupt something, to follow the footsteps of Amazon who disrupted and almost destroyed the traditional bookstore method of buying books. Surprisingly the local bookstore is making a bit of revival, because it turns out that buying a book involves more than reading reviews and downloading content. People love browsing, talking to salespeople who are passionate readers, buying a cup of coffee and sitting in the cozy warmth of a bookstore. That doesn’t mean that the people who love bookstores don’t also love Amazon. They do. Both options fill a need. But Jeff Bezos didn’t stop at disrupting the bookselling industry, he has gone on to disrupt the entire retail industry. I get it, investors want to invest in the next Amazon. Everyone wants to be a gazillionaire. Now, let’s look at Apple. Apple did not invent the personal computer, nor the idea of a portable phone. Apple didn’t disrupt the computer industry, Apple transformed the industry’s emphasis from engineering better products to designing better looking and easier to use products. Apple was not a disrupter as much as a transformer – and they became the most profitable public company in the world. So why are start-ups so interested in disruption? Disruption has a destructive connotation, while transformation has a positive connotation of building on the existing and adding value. Transformation also connotes innovation, a word also over-used these days, but I digress. How do these words disruption and transformation relate to architecture and interiors? In our work, we specialize in transforming existing spaces to make them work better, look better and feel better. Our goal is to minimize disruption since most of our projects are constructed (and demo’ed) while they are occupied. That could be the reason I really don’t like the word and meaning of disruption. Since I began my professional life there have been many innovations for renovation projects, to make them less disruptive, including zip walls and sticky mats that contain dust, and sticky plastic and paper rolls that protect floor finishes. Construction and reconstruction have also become less disruptive due to better project management tools, that allow contractors to predict when particularly noisy or dusty work will happen. As we all know, better communication and setting expectations will make for better projects. The successful transformation of the spaces we design makes for a work life filled with joy and gratification. Several of our most recent projects have been large: in size, in the number of people who have had input along the way, and in complexity. [Note: renovations are, in general, more complex than new construction]. Four projects finishing up this spring had their first meetings as long ago as 2014! The design process can be quick and it can be slow, due to many factors. We think disruption is easy, but it may be necessary on the road to transformation. Let’s improve the way things are, let’s re-use what we can re-use, let’s throw away less, and let’s make the world a better place for people who work, play, age, live and learn. If you have a space that could use a little or big transformation, give us a call!​


Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

Cambridge Office:
1972 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02140
Office: 617.234.5300

Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc.

architecture and interiors

architecture and interiors