A Profile of Sara Little Turnbull
Article by: Veronique Vienne
Pages 100-105


Veronique Vienne exalts the life of Sara Little Turnbull, “a practicing designer, a strategic planner, a teacher, a cultural anthropologist, a problem-solver,”[1] in this article outlining her life and contributions to the design world.

Lifetime Achievement

Turnbull began her design career working for House Beautiful, but was pushed to pursue freelance design for various clients such as Lever Brothers and Corning Glass after her sister was diagnosed with cancer and medical bills needed to be paid. She was well received (and well compensated) in the design world, since “she is one of the few designers who does not intimidate [the CEOs in this country]”[2] . She is responsible for the design innovations of notable corporations like Ford Motors, Neiman Marcus, and Revlon. Now in her eighties, Turnbull remains determined to stay relevant to the design world, but has a full time teaching schedule molding the minds of future CEOs.

Vienne discusses what has made Turnbull so successful in the design community, referencing her as a “woman of formidable intellectual stature”[3] who, very early in her career, “was showing an uncanny ability for defining the next societal trend”[4] . Her tenacity, her focus on her work, and her restless mind have worked in her favor throughout her career. But what truly sets Turnbull apart is her humility. She says, “I am scrupulous about not taking credit for any idea. An original concept may be mine, but the result is only as good as its final implementation”[5] . She refuses to publish her archives of magazine and newspaper clippings that fuel her design work, but rather invites her students and clients to study her files right there with her.

Vienne also outlines some of Turnbull’s most memorable design achievements, from reinventing a cake mix for chefs in London to designing bedroom furnishings that help patients with cognitive disabilities regain control of their lives. Turnbull’s life has been nothing short of incredible, and Vienne makes it clear that her contributions to the design world have left, and will continue to leave, a lasting impact on the community.


As an article about the life of a successful designer, this chapter's value lies in its presentation of an example for aspiring designers to follow. Sara Turnbull is presented as an exemplary designer whose many projects, successes, and philosophies should be emulated by those seeking to enter the design industry today. Her refusal to take credit for her ideas and encouragement of others to study her work and the sources that inspire it echo the tenets of the open source movement discussed in another chapter of the book; by making this information readily available to others, she encourages them to use her ideas and creations as inspiration for the development of new designs.


  • Heller, Steven (2003). "Human Values In Commerce", Steven Heller and Veronique Vienne, Citizen Designer.

  1. ^ Heller 2003, p. 100
  2. ^ Heller 2003, p. 103
  3. ^ Heller 2003, p. 100
  4. ^ Heller 2003, p. 102
  5. ^ Heller 2003, p. 103