Sara Tononi: How I fell in love with environmental design

This week, we profile Sara Tononi, one of BrandCulture’s most versatile designers. Curious about most fields of design from digital to UI, UX and motion graphics, Sara grew up in a medieval village in the north of Italy and joined our studio in 2016.

She has been passionate about design from the moment she sat down to eat a bowl of her mum’s minestrone soup. It’s not her favourite dish, so she began deconstructing the ingredients to make a new composition on her plate. Then, from the corner of her eye she noticed a label on her water bottle and wondered: ‘How good would it be to be able to design things myself?’

The fact Sara even remembers this moment speaks volumes of her meticulous eye for detail, which makes her such a gifted designer. The rest is history – she decided to study graphic design and photography at high school, because in Italy, you can choose between highly specialised schools.

After eight years in Milan, where she completed a Bachelor degree in Graphic Design and Art Direction, Sara spent a gap year in Australia. Happily, she fell in love with Sydney and decided to stay.

When did you first become interested in wayfinding and environmental design?

When I was writing my thesis, I had to think about how I could contribute to solving a design problem. It made me remember the experience of being a kid in hospital – I was only there for two weeks, but I still remember it was a cold and unfriendly place. When I was 20, I found myself back in hospital when the doctor sent me for some tests. I got lost in the corridors wearing pyjamas and slippers, and thought, ‘Maybe this is the problem I could solve, maybe I can improve the emotional experience of being lost in different environments’.

So I started to research, and that’s when I became interested in these fields of design. I’m interested in the psychology of navigation, and how people feel when they’re in new places. I fell in love with this field of design and thought, ‘This is what I want to do’.

What led you to your current role at BrandCulture?

After I moved to Sydney, I began researching Australia’s top environmental design studios. I loved the work BrandCulture were doing and realised it would be a good place to learn more about this field of design.

What are your passions outside of work?

Technology is one of my strengths and something I’m very interested in, I am always experimenting and teaching myself new technologies. Actually, I taught myself to use a computer when I was 11.

I’m quite lucky because I started at BrandCulture just as they were starting to use Pam Wayfinding, which is software for designers and project managers involved in designing wayfinding systems. I’m experiencing a new approach to wayfinding, which suits me a lot.

Italy is famous for its design culture. Do you think growing up in Italy still influences you as a designer today?

I was born in a little medieval village called Badalucco of around 1,000 people. It’s very quiet, people love nature and enjoy the simple things. And of course I also lived in Milan for eight years, which gave me a lot of influences.

But I think every experience shapes us as designers, including our cultural background, but also the experiences we have everyday, and our perceptions of the world. So I think I bring a global perspective as well as an Australian sensibility to my designs.