Thoughts on design-as-lifestyle from Workshop cofounder Jessi Arrington

When you’re a designer, one of the things you can design is your own life, she said.

Jessi Arrington, right, listens to Behance's Matias Corea make his introduction at the Northside Innovation Festival 2014.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

Workshop’s Jessi Arrington, a member of the Dumbo coworking space Studiomates, articulated a vision of design-as-lifestyle during a panel at the Northside Innovation Festival in Williamsburg on Thursday. The panel was called “Design: What now, what next?” It took place in the Wythe Hotel.

Arrington spoke about design as a new sort of career path for the modern jack-of-all-trades. “I feel so fortunate to have chosen to invest myself in an area that allows me to be anything I’d like to be, at a higher level,” she said.

The company she cofounded, Workshop, is now a decade old and has evolved into an experience design company. That is, it gets hired by brands to create real world experiences, for its users, partners or staff. It’s a field Arrington didn’t know existed when she started the company, but now her life is heavily devoted to IRL design. “Now I spend just as much time with a drill or a glue gun or a saw as I do on my keyboard.”

Arrington described designers as people suited to problem solving and working across disciplines. When you’re a designer, one of the things you can design is your own life, she said.

Another panelist, Matias Corea, head designer at Behance, said he’s moving more into the management realm. To stay connected to the hands-on side of his maker roots: he works on motorcycles.

Corea’s fellow panelists were amazed he had time for anything much beyond work, but he said you have to make space in your life. That prompted Arrington’s comment on designing one’s own life. “You get better and better at the thing you choose to seek,” she said.

Another example Arrington gave of life-design concerned employees.

She said she doesn’t like having employees. So once her staff moved on, the company didn’t replace them. Her partners designed their business to work on a partner model, where Arrington brings in contractors on projects as needed. No doubt it helps that she works in a tightly knit coworking community filled with nearly every sort of expertise an agency could ever need.


Arrington also described was what she calls “cameling.” Experience Design work requires such intensive periods of building, construction, hauling and fixing that she disappears from the rest of her life for long periods of time. When she’s working through a big project, she sees no one and does nothing else. So when she has a gap between projects, she “camels.” In other words, she crams in as much rest and social time as she can. She maximizes for recreation, because she knows the time when she’ll disappear is fast approaching.

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