In describing my multi-generation design family this year, I have used the phrase "design DNA" a couple of times. I have used it to try to communicate how comfortable modernism feels to me, and a childhood in which press type and galleys; thank-you notes hand-lettered in Bodoni, Caslon and Helvetica; Wegner chairs and houses made of industrial windows were all just part of the landscape. I like to think it gives me a little sympathy with architects like Eero Saarinen, who seemed to come out of the womb drafting. Or Ray Eames, patron saint of arrangers. For some, design comes naturally.
I was reminded of the casualness with which my family treats design — it is in everything just as a matter of course — when I was at my grandmother's house for Christmas arranging the cookies on a plate. In my family, each member has a signature cookie. My grandmother always makes cinnamon Os for my grandfather (even though he is no longer with us). My uncle makes buckeyes. My mom makes biscotti. I make almond lace. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren make trees and stars and little angels decorated with varying skill. They are piled up in tins and deployed at dessert time.
When I was about seven, someone noticed I was good at arranging the cookies on a plate. It seemed only reasonable to me to separate cinnamon from almond with a wedge of green frosted trees, to create a bulwark of spherical buckeyes between the ladylike sand bakkels and the swirls. Why make brown piles when you could make a wheel of varied texture, color and shape? I guess they knew then that I was going to follow in the family tradition. Whether my medium was sugar, or paper, or concrete, or words, the thought process would be the same. What that also meant, in the way of any family, is that 30 years later arranging the cookies on a plate would still be my job.