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Profile: Coco Raynes

Name: Coco Raynes
Job title and company: President, Coco Raynes Associates, Inc.
Degree(s): Fine Arts, Graphics, and Interior Architecture, École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, Paris
Professional interests: Environmental graphics, wayfinding, universal design and exhibits

What are you working on now?

A future five-star hotel under the coconut trees, on a remote island off the Caribbean coast of Colombia, and finding out what will be my next professional interest.  

How do you/did you explain to your mom what you do for a living?

She understood it when I started being published. Until then, I was doing “little drawings.” 

What inspired you today?  

The extraordinary exhibition “Moi, Auguste, Empereur de Rome”, at the Grand Palais in Paris, on the occasion of the 2,000 years of his death. I was taken by the museography sobriety, the play of natural light, and the timeless beauty of the sculptures and objects that illustrate his reign. 

What industry buzzword would you kill?

Too many to mention!

When you’re working, do you discuss or exchange ideas with your colleagues?

Yes, always. First with my clients and project architects, and then with the designers who work with me. Sometimes ideas sparkle during conversations, but often they surface from a silent obsessive reflection.

What are you reading?

Usually a couple of books at the same time. Right now I am rereading Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar.

Do you sketch by hand or digitally?

By hand.

Has your career taken you anywhere you didn’t expect?

I am an interior architect gone wrong. I never thought 40 years ago that I would work in the field of signage and universal design.

Where is the field of architecture headed?

I do not know. I just hope that in 10 or 20 years from now, cities will not have lost their identities. How boring if everywhere looks the same!  

Can design save the world?

Of course not! Design makes it more pleasant, more comfortable for some of us. For other people, technology will eradicate their habitat—the latest disaster being the decision to build the [Belo Monte hydroelectric] dam which will inundate approximately 400,000 hectares of the Amazonian forest in Brazil. 

What do you hope to contribute from your work?

Maybe some innovation, a certain way of solving problems. My work in accessibility 30 years ago largely contributed to opening museums and other public spaces to nonsighted visitors. Also, in wayfinding—the term did not exist in the early 1970s—applying giant typography on the key circulation doors in major healthcare buildings (Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, New England Deaconess, Joslin Foundation...) was viewed as eccentricities; today, it is again the latest fad. So are the 3-D parking symbols: We designed the first one for the Niketown building [in Boston] some 20 years ago. I also created the first glass signage. It was pre ADA, for University Place at MIT. When later, Braille and tactile text were required, we created the first compliant sign system on glass, and worked with the manufacturer to perfect the technique. This work was followed by a design vocabulary for tactile maps.

Who or what deserves credit for your success?

Myself: hard word and tenacity.

Your least favorite college class?

Mathematics.

If you could give the you-of-10-years-ago advice, what would it be?

To the me-of-10-years-ago, it was already too late! To the one -of-30-years-ago, in order to compete in the design world, I would also attend a business school.  

Your favorite Boston-area structure?

The interplay of Trinity Church and the John Hancock building.

Who would you like the BSA to interview next?

You do not need my advice!

If you were on a late-night TV show, what would your 30-second plug be?

It will not happen!

If you could sum up your outlook on life in a bumper sticker, what would it say?

“It shall pass”, meaning nothing lasts forever.

All images courtesy of Coco Raynes Associates.