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5 Life Lessons With Fiona Nixon - Principal At HASSELL International Design Studio

Budding design gurus, this is some of the finest advice you could ever hear.



With a career that spans over 25 years, you could say that Fiona Nixon knows a thing or two about design. Citing her inspiration as 'architecture that is evocative to all who encounter it,' Fiona's impressive portfolio boasts projects including the Lalu Hotel at Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan, Beachside Leighton Condominium in Perth, DBS headquarters in Singapore and the Du Shu Hu Academy in Suzhou, China.


Having spent her career running her own design studios across the world, Fiona has recently taken over as Principal at HASSELL International, based in Singapore but assisting globally. With a belief that really good design needs to be affective as well as effective, here are the five rules this design guru lives by. 


Just say yes: Regardless of your industry, volunteering helps build your profile and expertise. In architecture and design, signing up for competitions and juries, serving on committees, writing reviews and teaching are all activities that accelerate your ascent. 


Start small to go big: Take risks and follow your entrepreneurial instincts. Proving that you can run a business, win awards, and most importantly, win work, will jump you up the hierarchy when you move to a larger company.


Don’t be a chameleon: Have a distinctive view and vision. Covet clashing. If you’re blending into the background, then move. Stand up, find a fresh context, a new company, even a new country. 


Stop talking, start listening. Keep an open mind, learn and adapt. Welcome ideas from across the team, your collaborators, clients and consultants. The designer’s skill is in finding patterns in apparent randomness, in reconciling disparate ideas. Spinning tenuous threads into a tight narrative.


Don’t lose touch with artistry: Architects must carve out time for design. Technical knowledge is a given and teachable; mastery takes way longer than our mandated seven years of training. Experimentation, elaboration and editing are key. Embrace specialisation, and focus on your profession’s unique skill set. For an architect, this is being able to imagine and manipulate space, manage experience and emotion, and magic new environments from nothing!



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