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Design of the Times

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The Sunday Series is published weekly to share inspiring stories about our creative partners.

Denise Korn shares thoughts on 35 years of leading through a changing world alongside impassioned and visionary clients.

As Creative Director with the Lifestyle Brand Studio at Gensler, Korn is responsible for creating brand strategy and design for hospitality, real-estate, lifestyle and culture.

In this 9th edition of the Sunday Series, she discusses Design Of The Times, beginning with how she started in the industry to today.

Denise Korn for 5th Street East

Togetherness January 2020

Behind-the-scenes at a lifestyle shoot for The Colonnade Hotel, Boston, Massachusetts.

Art Directed by Denise Korn (3d, top right). Branding by Gensler Lifestyle Brand. Photography by Conor Doherty. Production by 5th Street East.

Design Over Time

Fueled and inspired by Gensler’s vision to Create a Better World Through the Power of Design, Denise Korn is optimistic and forward-thinking, as always, on design’s ability to reflect and encourage new perspectives and solutions.

Nimble and Responsive

“Branding mandates an informed, nimble and responsive approach to finding solutions and strategies for clients.”

Denise Korn, Gensler

Denise Korn

Denise Korn, holding a coffee cup (symbolism not lost on The Sunday Series ☕️), at home at Nine Zero Boston Hotel, one of the firm’s recent hospitality brand projects.

Human-centered Design

Human-centered design is needed now more than ever to help realize a vision and path forward for hotels, developments and cultural experiences…think dining, retail, theater, ballet.

Explains Korn, “We help owners, developers and cultural leaders, those who have a real passion and vision, craft a strategy and holistic understanding to think big about what’s possible and map this against ROI.”

“Pretty much anything in the lifestyle sphere,” says Korn. “We also work very closely with our interior design and architecture colleagues on environmental graphic design, signage and branding for placemaking.”

A Narrative & Visual Experience

Branding Creates Environments that Connect People to a Place on an Emotional Level

The Mayflower Hotel.

Lifestyle shoot Art Directed by Denise Korn. Branding previously done by Korn Design. Photography by Conor Doherty. Production by 5th Street East.

1. Background

A graduate of Cornell University’s school of Architecture, Art and Planning, Korn majored in photography and minored in English. She credits her career to storytelling and serendipity.

Korn’s first job out of college was for The New York Times. 

She basically sat on a bench outside the famed offices in Times Square, Manhattan until the person in charge of hiring free lance designers gave in and gave her a job. It was the late 80’s and a pivotal time at the NYT. “Right when the paper was converting from linotype to MacIntosh computers.”

Korn designed maps and info graphics by hand for the daily paper, chronicling everything from the War in Afghanistan to the Clean Water Supply Act in India, and cut her teeth at photo editing for editorial in the special magazines sections. She created graphics and imagery to support story, a foundation for her work today.

“I learned true storytelling at The New York Times, and it’s never stopped.”

An image of the cut paper piece I made for the AIGA 100 Years of Design – I chose 2003, the year that I founded Youth Design.” – Denise Korn

2. Boston

Post NYT and after a two year stint in Australia, Korn and her now husband Ari Nachmanoff relocated to Boston.

“During the pit of the early 90’s recession, I hung a shingle and started Korn Design.

She landed Korn Design’s first big client, Celebrity Series, one of Boston’s most preeminent performing arts presenters. Always a lover of culture, and dance in particular, Korn went deep into the city’s arts and culture scene. She continues to work deeply in the cultural sphere today.

Boston Ballet Branding led by Denise Korn. Project done previously by Korn Design.

“As a business owner and employer of talent, I noticed a huge disparity in who was applying for design positions. I was mentoring a lot of young designers through my work and serving on the Board of AIGA Boston and the Creative Economy Council, but there were very few urban kids pursuing design.”

In 2003, Korn founded Youth Design, a mentorship program for urban high school students to gain access to careers in the design profession.

Korn considers Youth Design one of the most important and empowering initiatives of her career.

Denise Korn founded Youth Design in 2003, a mentorship program for urban high school students to gain access to careers in the design profession.

3. The Next Chapter 

After twenty-five years of leading Korn Design, her brand strategy and design firm in Boston’s Southend, Korn made the move to join Gensler in 2018. She is excited by the intelligence, compassion and global reach of the Gensler culture, especially in these times of not knowing. 

“Gensler’s diverse resources provide experience points of view from different cultures and people, informing our work in new ways and in real-time.”

Comfortable with the Unknown

“I’ve always been comfortable with the unknown, so while there is a cloak of uncertainty right now, information is flowing, coming from more places, faster. We will embrace the new information, learn from it, and do our best to solve for the new problems before us.”

Korn adds, “From homelessness to fresh food delivery to sustainability, we are addressing some of the most audacious issues of our time through the lens of design.”

Signature Property Video for Four Seasons Private Residences One Dalton Street Boston. Art Directed by Denise Korn. Production by 5th Street East.

4. Today

Korn recognizes spaces and environments will look and feel different post Covid, as life-altering epochs in the past have shown.

“It’s a completely different dynamic now. We are talking about the care of humanity here through the lens of hospitality and community. This new world is upside down and sideways, but we can solve from the heart, and let human-centered design guide us.” 

Optimistic and hopeful, Korn observes behavior is changing. A new solidarity has emerged in knowing that we are all in this together.

“I have a friend who has lived in the Australian bush for years, miles away from anyone. Her neighbors now come over everyday to check on her. That’s never happened!”

The braintrust is alive and energized

“I’m so inspired by what I’m seeing and learning about real challenges on the ground. The braintrust is alive and energized for design’s new moment.”

Behind-the-scenes on a Lifestyle Photography + Video Shoot for The Colonnade Hotel with Denise Korn, Creative Director, Gensler Lifestyle Brand, and Photographer Conor Doherty. Production by 5th Street East.

Sunday Series Lead Image: Denise Korn at Lucie Drink + Dine, The Colonnade Hotel Boston. Branding by Gensler Lifestyle Brand.

The Sunday Album

Denise’s Work-From-Home Space

“My work takes me out and on the road often so I don’t think I have ever spent this much time at home. Honestly, I am enjoying it. I am surrounded by things that bring me much comfort, reconnect me with memories and people and moments in time that I cherish.”

“I am very sentimental and a bit superstitious and bring meaning behind things and keep them dear. Not a hoarder, but a curator of things with personal meaning.” 

“We live on a dead-end street so it’s been more quiet than ever, and it seems like the birds are all on speakerphone, amplified as if we were in the middle of a jungle. There is also a family of bunnies, yup, bunnies, that live just outside my window in the garden. I hear it’s not good for the garden, but I love them.” 

Personal Placemakers

Fresh Flowers“I always keep fresh flowers in the house so they now have found their way onto my desk.”

MUJI – “I am obsessed with MUJI ( and have been using MUJI Notebooks and Pens for a while now. I juggle multiple projects so each project gets it’s own notebook and go through them very quickly but they are easy to carry, and separating by project is one of my #1 organizational strategies.”

Books“I recently reorganized our small library so that my work-table is situated in the front corner of our townhouse facing south. I get beautiful morning light and have two windows framing my view and am surrounded by floor to ceiling books!”

Sunday Short

Short musings worth sharing

I’ve known Denise for over 25 years. Not only are we work colleagues, we happen to be best friends. When Denise told me she had joined Gensler, I was overjoyed.

(L) Denise Korn and Anna Cheshire Levitan on set for The Diplomat Hotel, West Hollywood, Florida, and in Boston on set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, filming the signature property video for Four Seasons Private Residences One Dalton Street Boston.

(Note: I’m holding a coffee cup…clearly, a staple.)

Design Talk

I’m also the daughter of an architect.

Growing up in the 70s, my family discussed Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier and Gropius as if they were Nameth, Staubach and Bradshaw. My brothers and I saw the world looking up – at buildings, scaffolding, spires, towers, slopes, curves, cantilevers and concrete.

Our dad, architect Ed Cheshire, graduated from Georgia Tech in 1961 and Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1964 under Dean Josep Lluís Sert, whose mentor was Corbu himself.

My mom remembers meeting Mrs. Gropius on Harvard’s campus in the early 60’s.

“She always wore a cape,” Mom says.

This is what we talked about in our family. These were our legends.

Our dream home in Vieques, Puerto Rico (not yet built but someday!). Poured concrete, modernist with openings to the Caribbean Sea. Designed by my dad, Architect Ed Cheshire. Dad draws & drafts by hand. He also builds models. Old school. 

“At Harvard in the early 60s, we had to draw and draft by hand and create a model for every design. We also had to draw and draft upside down so we could sketch concepts to show our professors. Learning to draw upside down was an invaluable skill when presenting design concepts to clients.”

Architect Ed Cheshire

Design Leads Us Forward

Through architecture, my father taught me that design has the opportunity to lead us forward.

Think Corbu’s modernism with an emphasis on clean lines, light and unadorned, open spaces, a reaction to the heavy ornamentation of 19th century architecture. The Swiss architect/artist created his vision for a design-centered life, a utopic  alternative to the crowding in filthy cities, ravaged and exhausted by successions of world wars and pandemics.

So, like Denise, I’m hopeful and excited to see what comes from this period in our lives.

This I know for sure, we will get through it, and design will lead, and respond, accordingly.

1920 – 2020

Hotel le Corbusier, Marseilles, France. Designed in 1920 by Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, known as Le Corbusier, considered the father of modernism. The Hotel is part of Unité d’habitation, a modernist residential housing project, focused on communal living, aka “lifestyle.”

The Sunday Series is published weekly by 5th Street East to celebrate, highlight and share inspiring stories about our creative partners and collaborators

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5th Street East

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