Annabelle Schneider is an interior designer and design manager living in New York from Bern, Switzerland. She recently completed a Masters degree from Parsons The New School of Design. Annabelle describes the challenges, opportunities and inspiration of being a designer in New York where she has found her “place”.
You relocated to New York from Bern, Switzerland to focus on interior design. Tell me about this journey and how New York has changed you and/or inspires you as a designer?
Fascination with design, architecture, music and people brought me to New York. The first internship I did with a NY based interior design agency in 2005 caused a stir in my soul.
In comparison, Switzerland is easier to oversee, slower paced, yet more precise and caring in the long-run. New York offers the organized mess I need to further evolve. Everything is here including the contradictions — a river of accents, a multitude of colors, different scents from block to block..compact challenges and inspirations that push one further. The city and I, we are dynamic, we are progressive. New York allows me to be open, holistic, and to discover opportunities.
How is design thinking different in New York versus Switzerland?
In Switzerland, design thinking is more focused. Larger Swiss institutions embed strategic design thinking processes in terms of human-centered design into their company structures. The level of innovative output is high, but compared to New York it takes longer to be realized. If one wants to compete in New York, fast idea realization is key. Competitive in nature, New York forces us to test and try new approaches, ideas, and people tell you quickly if it’s a hit or miss. Upbeat, open-minded, yet very serious; in New York, if something is successful, the world might be following.
What are your challenges and opportunities of being a foreigner in New York?
I never feel like a foreigner. New York is a compact bubble of an atypical American city. You can feel at home in this city within the first 5 minutes. New York lives and breathes from diversity and change, thus might be one of the most open-minded and respectful places on earth; a place that gives people the liberty of being how they want to be. I admire the expressive, authentic nature, and I love the fact that we see it everyday; people use the streets as their own runway.
You have also practiced Design Management. Describe what you did in this area and how you may merge interior design with design management.
I practiced Design Management in international brand communications of high-end consumer goods, ranging from furniture to sanitary ware; always thinking of how and why people live the way they do. As a design manager I am a generalist in human-centered design. As an interior designer I specialize in the experience within a space. Blending design management with interior design results in user experience design and how people live and work in their environments.
This practice also involves branding. Today, “debranding” comes into play. People tend to buy less but not necessarily spend less. Investing in quality and transparency, process and environmental criteria becomes key. Consumption was a way of life; the future says non-consumption. From branded products to branded, communal places where the owner of a company acts as an advocate for his carefully selected, yet limited product portfolio. Instead of brands we are talking to real people, real products, toned down in packaging and interiors that encompass a compelling, accessible message.
You recently completed a graduate degree in interior design. Describe the influence of the program.
A very practice oriented program that establishes my architectural skills of designing actual spaces that are meant to express brand values and that give people experiences. I am thrilled to translate my conceptual work into three dimensional scales. Being able to sketch, render and design construction documents completes my profile. Being able to study again is a refreshing privilege that allows me to innovate or fail without immediate consequences. Test, try and learn in such a dynamic, fresh context of international designers and professors who enter with most diverse backgrounds adds up to the fact that we’re already in midst of bustling New York City where inspirations are endless.
What’s “at your table”? Tell me about your work space.
When I was a child, the floor was my stage. I drew, wrote and learned on the floor. The table was there, yet untouched. The floor offered me comfort and space to create an organized mess. Today, unless I am rendering at a desktop, I meet others out and about; usually at a coffee place. The Nomadic behavior of our society did not leave me untouched—I am flexible and fluid to wherever “feels” right for the task at hand.
The environment adapts to my tasks, not the other way around. The objects in my bag are “my table”—phone, laptop, earphones, a pen and paper for sketching — that’s my world.
What is your day like? Who else do you collaborate with?
Hybrid and always changing. I may be on site, in classroom, in a coffee place, or in an office. I collaborate with colleagues, students, teachers and clients on the international scale. My day is well organized but there are long hours; working on a project past midnight does not feel like work, as I’m passionate about it.
What do you strive to do in the next year?
I strive to tell stories in spaces by matching messages of brands to the platform. Debranded, less icons, less gimmicks. Being transparent and an “activist” will be the success of a brand in the long-run. This is the time of modern Nomads—free thinkers, the Millennials. Anything is possible at any time. Facts and transparency are needed to experience “real” space.
What do you love most about your work?
I love to activate an environment. I love the fact that I am able to imagine in 3D and can show others what I am seeing. I strive to find new ways of creating exciting moments in the narrative journey of a space by interrupting the expected setting.