Why Travel Makes Me a Better Designer

By Christie Coxley - President, APLDWA

Travel is an intensely personal experience. When I travel, I quickly see that different cultures tend to solve problems in different ways, and many appreciate forms of aesthetics that are vastly different than mine. Cars, toilets, door handles and locks, advertisements, interior decorations, power outlets. No matter where you go in the world, the execution of these common designs will, many times, be fundamentally different from place to place.

I encounter solutions to problems that I had never previously known to exist, aesthetic trends or fixations that I was never previously aware of, and even correlations between the popularity of certain dog breeds and certain parts of the world. All of these realizations are the product of my travels. For me whether it's a quick weekend dash to the San Juans, or a long-planned, cross-it-off-my-bucket-list journey, I now expect that I will leave that place with an altered perspective on design and aesthetics.

As I continue to collect these experiences, I have come to notice that they change the ways that I think about design. I approach problems through a different lens and am open to previously foreign styles of solutions. But this isn't just a feeling, and it also isn't unique. I am experiencing a well-researched psychological shift that occurs when one spends a certain amount of time outside of their usual spheres of influence. Psychological studies show that an individual's level of creativity (and the open-mindedness that facilitates it) can be directly influenced by the amount of traveling that they do.

It's the permeating way that new experiences shape who we are as humans and as designers that travel facilitates. Travel offers a rich cultural exchange and cross contamination of ideas to connect us with diversity. Being in a new place is like being a blank canvas for experience--and having an open mind usually leads to generating the best ideas and executing the freshest designs. Thinking on our feet by taking ourselves out of our comfort zones gives us new insights.

I'll answer the question that our esteemed colleague, Heidi Fehr Hower, asked at the end of her excellent article on Inspiration and Vision "This fall as the daylight grows shorter you might consider asking yourself, 'Where do I find inspiration?'" by sharing a few inspiring moments from my recent time in Japan.

The always incredibly valuable concept of 'the borrowed view' Photo courtesy Christie Coxley

Becoming the 'lesson' of an elementary school English class Photo courtesy Michelle Winship

The sound principals of color and repetition...all 2,000 of them Photo courtesy Christie Coxley

Impromptu comparing of notes with a fellow artist Photo courtesy Michelle Winship

Mindfulness and attention to detail even in the plating of a bar snack [these little guys were super yummy!] Photo courtesy Christie Coxley

Celebration of all things 'kawaii' [cute culture or adorableness] Photo courtesy Christie Coxley

Fashion lesson from a vintage kimono maven who was something back in the day...and still is Photo courtesy Michelle Winship