Like many young Colombians, Cathy Sánchez's father was an amateur cyclist who scaled the mountains around Bogotá with dreams of going to the Tour de France. The 1980s saw an influx of great Colombian riders, “like Luis Herrera, who would win all the uphill stages, so he was a big culture hero. My dad definitely instilled a love of the sport in me, and we used to follow it.” However, she admits, “I’m actually a terrible rider. I didn’t get that gene.”
Drawn to art from the startBorn in Queens, New York, Cathy spent her early childhood in Colombia. She returned to the United States with her parents in time for kindergarten, and graduated from New York City’s High School of the Arts (the school featured in the movie and television series, Fame). After receiving a B.F.A. degree in painting from SUNY Binghamton, Cathy landed her dream job: working for a design studio that specialized in educational design for children. “I love kids, and I wanted to do something that involved working with creative people in different fields, like illustrators and writers. And now I have two kids, ages two and four, who serve as great inspiration.”
Now self-employed, Cathy works from home for a variety of clients. She was brought onto the Brain Power team to design the Activity Guide for Teachers, the Fun Facts Family Guide (a brochure being distributed at IMAX theaters), and posters for elementary, middle, and high schools. “I find teenagers the hardest to design for because the visual appeal has to reflect their sophisticated and quickly changing tastes,” Cathy explains. “Science is a particular challenge, because it’s intrinsically difficult.”
The challenge of explaining scienceMaking the material accessible doesn’t mean sugarcoating or oversimplifying it, especially when it comes to describing something as multifaceted as brain function. As Cathy says, “It goes beyond learning about the different parts of the brain, to understanding how they operate and how this could affect you and your behavior.” For example, it might be empowering for teenagers to learn that some times of the day are better for learning than others, and that these fluctuations have to do with cognition rather than mood or temperament. As a bilingual parent, Cathy has been struggling with how to teach her kids Spanish, and for her it’s been very helpful to realize just how much the brain is capable of. “It’s just a matter of making these new neurological connections that my kids haven’t used yet,” she says happily. “And I’m a part of that process.”
A sophisticated team effortCathy works with a team of other designers on the Brain Power project, each of whom is at work on a specific component with a particular audience and objective. The Web designer has to think about a huge range of ages and purposes, while Cathy has to keep details in mind like the fact that many teachers do not have access to up-to-date technology. “I have to use very simple lines in the Activity Guide so that it will copy well on old Xerox machines,” she explains. “We’re all on different pages, and the puzzle is how to make those pages fit together. The great thing about designing is that there are a lot of layers of subtlety. You might not notice that the font is all the same, or that we all use the same color yellow. But our job is to make subtle connections like these that make the pieces work together yet function independently.”
Good design is personalCathy points out that bad design makes things harder to use (Florida ballots, for example), and feels that public appreciation for good design is growing. “People expect more from objects—not just does it work, but is it stylish? Will it take up less space? I think this shows that Americans are affluent enough to be choosy and have the time to think about which stapler to buy,” she points out. “On the other hand, good design is getting cheaper to buy because more and more people expect it.”
Cathy’s dream design project would be to illustrate and design a children’s book written by her husband, a fourth-grade teacher, about being children of first-generation immigrants. When the kids are in school and there are a few more hours in the day, they’ll get started.
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Name: Cathy Sánchez Duvivier
Born: Queens, New York, 1970
Where do you live?: Highland, New York, across the river from Poughkeepsie
Job: Freelance graphic designer
Education: B.F.A. in painting, SUNY Binghamton
Book/s I'd want if I were stranded on a desert island: Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins; Eastern Sun, Winter Moon by Gary Paulsen; the Bible. I love Leo Leonni’s illustrations as much as I love his writing.
Favorite place to visit: Cinqueterre, Italy, a string of five beautiful fishing villages connected by a footpath on the western coast, south of Genoa.
Favorite food: Chocolate
Favorite artist/kind of music: Current favorites are Cake and Lucinda Williams
Biking experiences: I bike with my son (my daughter’s still too little); it’s nice for it to come full circle in the family.