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Remembering Sara 'Little' Turnbull: Innovator and Design Inspiration

Updated: 5 days ago


Sara 'Little' Turnbull (from Wikipedia)

Sara Little Turnbull, a pioneer in design thought and innovation, left an indelible mark on the world through her groundbreaking work and visionary approach to design. Born in 1917, Turnbull's journey through the world of design would ultimately reshape industries and influence countless creators for generations to come.


Sara Little’s journey into the realm of design originated from her childhood curiosity nurtured by her family's deep appreciation for art and creativity. Growing up in New York City, she was exposed to many cultural influences that would later shape her distinctive design sensibilities.


After studying design at the Parsons School of Design and the New School for Social Research, Sara followed a career that would last decades and exceed conventional boundaries. Her early career saw her working with renowned designers such as Raymond Loewy, where she honed her skills and developed a keen understanding of the intersection between design, technology, and human behavior.


Sara's innovative contributions reached the realm of household products and consumer goods. Through her visionary approach and keen understanding of various materials enabled her to address pressing challenges in areas of healthcare, nutrition, and environmental sustainability.


One notable example of Sara's ingenuity is her role in the development of disposable medical and antipollution masks made from non-woven materials leveraging her expertise in materials and manufacturing processes, she recognized the potential for non-woven fibers to provide an effective barrier against airborne contaminants. By forming the non-woven material into an anatomical shape, inserting a small metal clip to secure it to the nose bridge, and adding an elastic band, it became a mask. This new innovation not only revolutionized personal protective equipment but also played a crucial role in safeguarding public health during times of crisis.


Beyond her contributions to the world of consumer products, Turnbull's influence extended far and wide. Her advocacy for design thinking as a strategic tool for innovation resonated across industries, inspiring countless designers, entrepreneurs, and business leaders to adopt a more human-centered approach to problem-solving.


In recognition of her enduring impact on the world of design, the Sara Little Center for Design Research was established at the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington and later relocated to Seattle, Washington. The center serves as a center point for creative exploration and scholarly inquiry, honoring Sara’s legacy by encouraging dialogue and collaboration among designers, scholars, and the wider community.


After graduating from Portland State University, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with Sara as assistant to the curator, Sara Little Turnbul. I researched and cataloged her vast collection which connected me deeper to my Japanese heritage.  She traveled the world researching and working for large corporations and I learned more about design and function.   Sara introduced me to her fascinating world of possibilities and I am forever grateful.


Though Sara Little Turnbull passed away in 2015, her spirit lives on through the countless lives she touched and the transformative ideas she championed. As we continue to navigate an ever-evolving landscape of challenges and opportunities, her legacy serves as a guiding light, reminding us of the power of creativity, empathy, and innovation to shape a better world.


In celebrating Turnbull's life and work, we not only pay homage to a true visionary but also reaffirm our commitment to harnessing the transformative potential of design to create a brighter, more inclusive future for all.


LOOK: I am honored to be interviewed and be a part of King5's article!


Read more HERE!


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