Designer Q&A: Shanti Christensen
Palo Alto, CA
What is your earliest creative memory?
I remember making a lot of things as a kid. I can remember making recordings of myself singing opera in some unintelligible language. I used to also choreograph ballet and Japanese classical dances for my parents. The most embarrassing memory was when I was 11 years old and I composed a song on the piano with cheesy lyrics, “Girl you think you’re an angel, but you’re really a devil.” I made the mistake of telling my sixth grade boyfriend, who sang it in the style of a metal ballad.
What is the path that led you to design?
Ever since first grade, I loved entering school poster contests or assigning myself the creative role in group projects until I was a senior in high school. When I was 19, I made a book on the story of my relationship as a gift for my boyfriend. His mother was a graphic designer and she suggested I take some design classes since she saw my creations and thought I’d like it. I took one class and was hooked. I’ve been designing ever since.
Career in a nutshell
I’ve been a designer for the past 20 years, moonlighting as a travel blogger, food editor, cookbook writer, social media manager, and marketer. As a creative, I can’t pick just one role because I’m interested in a lot of things in the context of people and culture. It’s almost as if I’m always involved in a group project and I want to ideate and create all the time.
The key to good design
I believe that good design is good consideration for the people who will use the design. Good design cares about people and creating positive outcomes.
What piece of work are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my ShowShanti.com project where I met people in their homes throughout China and learned how to cook their favorite meals. It resulted in a cookbook full of stories and recipes. I created the brand, the concept, and the experiences, but I didn’t expect to find how much people connected to the project. Seeing how much families in China wanted to connect to the readers of my blog by sharing their recipes and how much the readers felt connected to experiences I shared of the families really warmed my heart. It made me realize I love connecting people to positive experiences. Perhaps that is why I love designing and creating.
Who has been your biggest influence?
I have many people to attribute to my creative journey. My parents are makers. My mom and dad made everything from scratch when it came to food or the furniture in our house. My grandfather, Willam Christensen, founded the San Francisco Ballet and I remember him guiding me to play the piano or dance with feeling. Kathy Schipper, owner of SchipperDesign.com and the mom of my first boyfriend, has always been a supportive mentor throughout my career. And I’ve always loved her aesthetic in everything she created. Jack Orsulak, owner of 2120.io and my first boss out of college, has also been influential in my career, encouraging me to take information and not just make it look pretty, but make it effective and useful. It’s so easy to just take orders from clients and churn out a layout, but everyone wins when the design elevates understanding and makes lives easier.
How would you classify your style?
I think I’m still trying to figure out what my style is. It varies from project to project, given the time and medium. I’d like to think I have a clean style with bright colors, but the client’s needs don’t always need my style.
Who is your favorite designer?
Lin Lin Jacobs. I met her in Shanghai when we both presented at a PechaKucha event. Whether she’s designing streetwear, jewelry, sportswear, or interiors, her work always has an elegant yet playful point of view. Her work is always unapologetic and reflects her sophisticated yet quirky character. And she strives to make this world a better place with each project she participates in. One of my favorite projects of hers was Spoonful of Sugar, where she created jewelry, housewares, and events centered around upcycling and repurposing materials in the wake of global overconsumption. She’s a badass!
What advice would you give to designers who are just starting their career?
Stay open and flexible. Technology changes, but design principles and design thinking are constant. Strengthen the muscles of empathy, thinking critically, and self-awareness. Empathy will guide your creations to be helpful. Thinking critically will keep you out of the black hole of your own perspective and drive you to design with a higher purpose. Self-awareness—what is this?! I believe if we can see ourselves from the perspective of others, we will be open to growing not only as a person, but as a designer. The ability to grow from constructive criticism is invaluable and I wish I had possessed it in college and the earliest part of my career. Thank goodness I have the awareness to grow today.
What would you like to accomplish by the end of your career?
I’d like to be part of a project that connects people to work together towards making more mindful choices in life. Overpopulation and its environmental impact are critical issues in my opinion. My son is going to live through a very challenging period and I’m doing my best to guide him. I’d like to look back on my career knowing that I helped people achieve goals affecting a better future for all.
Where can people learn more about you?