The Blind Designer, Inc.
Intro: Looking for success in the most unlikely places, Eric Brun-Sanglard used specific tools and descriptive methods to provide a unique story of turning one of the biggest challenges that can come our way, into possibly one of the biggest triumphs.
The Story: Prior to losing my sight I had a successful career in advertising for fashion, perfume and cosmetics, where I designed and coordinated ad campaigns for some of the biggest names in the business. After losing my sight I did what all people in my shoes do who want to keep their dream alive—I found an organization for the blind (for me, The Braille Institute in Los Angeles) and began my journey back to independence by taking basic braille and mobility classes, which also helped in preparing me for getting a guide dog.
Later, knowing I wanted to stay creative and artistic, I developed my sense of touch and hearing by taking sculpture and piano. I also took art history classes in order to better understand how to visualize architecture and artwork. This helped me improve my sense of touch so I could learn how to objectively feel sculptures and other objects, and also taught me how to explain to my friends, and later on my assistants, how to describe spaces and artwork.
When I became totally blind in November 1995, I was in the middle of remodeling my home in the Hollywood Hills and felt I had no choice but to finish designing it. Being blind was still new to me and as I thought about what to do, I quickly realized that I was able to perfectly visualize what needed to be done and started exploring new ways to convey my design thoughts. I knew my home and what I wanted to do with it; I just needed to figure out the best way to communicate with my contractor and his subcontractors.
Using what I had learned through sculpture and art classes, I used wires to show the iron fabricator what design I wanted my gate to have, drew on the walls to show where to put windows and their dimensions, and going to lumber stores to feel moldings for size and styles became an excellent solution. I started feeling everything—faucets, sinks, appliances, cabinets and door handles—asking friends to describe to me colors, patterns and details that I could not feel. It became obvious to me that I could finish my home project as long as I was able to convey the information to my sighted contractors in this way. It felt like collecting pieces of a puzzle and putting them together in order to "see" the entire image.
However, since I was no longer working, I had to sell my expensive home, and instead bought two smaller houses. One house was in very bad shape but with lots of potential and in a good location. This house was classic Hollywood Spanish, a style I was very acquainted with as I grew up on the Mediterranean Sea. I decided to remodel it, and with the help of my sighted partner, we started our new project. He would supervise and coordinate the construction while I would come up with design ideas to improve the floor plan and flow of the home, create a new kitchen and new bathrooms.
The project was challenging, as I had to find new ways to work on blueprints. To feel and understand the home's layout better, I had a draftsperson draw the existing floor plan. My partner found a heat sensitive machine which used thermal paper so that we could photocopy blueprints and drawings and put them through the machine. The heat would raise the lines, allowing me to feel the designs and details. I know this is unconventional, but to "feel space," I used my body. I found out that my arm length equaled my height—6 feet—so I always used my body to understand the space around me, such as from the distance between a central island and the kitchen cabinets to the height necessary for a window or shelves. Being sensitive to feeling the sunlight and air flow, I would ask my partner to describe the views in order to decide where to put new openings. And, through touch, I selected materials from tiles to hardwood floors.
To choose a color palette I would describe the colors of articles I remembered from when I could see, such as clothes, or other familiar objects. Eventually I used a method that I had learned during my advertising days. Having to check on the quality of printing for some of the ads I designed that appeared in major magazines such as Vogue, Glamour, Cosmopolitan and many others, I would work alongside the technician readjusting the colors until they were accurate. This was most important for advertised products such as lipsticks. I learned that every color could be made with the CMYK combination: C = Cyan, which stood for blue; M = Magenta for red; Y = Yellow; and K stood for Black.
By giving the accurate percentage of each color mixed together, I would be able to indicate the specific color I was visualizing using in my designs. This is how I would start out indicating colors. Then, by using a "Pantone" book—where one could look and find the exact percentage of colors mixed—I could match the color to paint manufacturers color chips. At first it took time and was somewhat frustrating, but with patience and help I was able to come up with layouts and designs that reflected my vision.
On my partner and I went, buying, remodeling and reselling several homes with great success until we finally started our own high-end design and construction company. Our previously remodeled homes worked as our portfolio that brought us new clients. Eventually the press took note of us and I got my first story in the Los Angeles Times. This story was followed by more stories, TV interviews and radio talk show appearances.
Having my own construction company allowed me to educate myself on every aspect of building a home and the codes involved from foundation to framing, electrical, plumbing and finish carpentry. I spent time with every subcontractor, asking them questions on every aspect of their job, just as if I was going to do it myself. It also allowed me to feel my way through the process of their jobs. I find having this extensive construction knowledge essential, as it allows me to take into consideration the difficulties and costs involved in the execution of my designs. As of today, however, I am out of the partnership and on my own. About five years ago I started my own company, The Blind Designer, Inc., and focus strictly on design. I still spend many hours on construction sites, though, and learn something new all the time.
I truly enjoy the teamwork it takes to do my job and all the different aspects of it, from designing to material research and selection, working side by side with contractors and subcontractors, and in the end, to see the final project come together. Each job is different and brings a new challenge to resolve with favorable outcomes.
I try to constantly educate myself with new trends in the home design industry by visiting showrooms, feeling furniture, materials, hardware and accessories. I also visit open houses and interesting design spaces to check out what other designers are doing. To get the most out of these frequent "field trips," my assistant or friends, who understand what to do or how to describe a space, color or texture to me, accompany me through new spaces and surroundings.
By now I have been able to develop a huge array of tools and techniques, but I still rely on some of the more "crude" methods I first came up with. Here are some of the products that help me do my job and my web site, The Blind Designer, Inc., explains my methods in greater detail.
PIAF by Quantum Technology (this is the machine which makes raised line drawings)
Speaking Tape Measure
JAWS voice reading software for my PC
Code Factory: speaking software on my mobile phone
Pantone Book for the breakdown of color
I am constantly looking at new technologies, such as the one manufactured by Code Factory that recognizes and describes colors and patterns, and would be happy to share my findings with others. Also, somehow in the midst of things, I have been fortunate enough to publish my memoirs, which will first be published in French and will be on bookshelves in September. The English version will come out in the U.S. in January 2010.
The Contact: Eric Brun-Sanglard