Alyson Beaton is an interdisciplinary designer/maker/author and entrepreneur. Her projects range from space, exhibit and objects to graphic design/branding. Over the course of her career she has collaborated with many companies to create unique products and experiences including: Neiman Marcus, Barneys NYC, National Building Museum in DC, Windham Fabrics, Nickelodeon Studios, Zachary A Design, and Paper Source. Her artists’ books have been distributed by Printed Matter NYC, and Colette (FR) and remain in the permanent collection of the Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection in Chicago. She received her Bachelor of Environmental Design degree from Texas A&M University, and went on to complete a Master of Fine Arts degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her Lille Huset “little house” collection has been notably featured in Dwell Magazine, Chicago Magazine, The Austin Chronicle and sold in stores large and small worldwide.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
As a kid, I would spend hours on our home computer using a program that preceded Photoshop to create floor plans of my bedroom. I made all of my Barbie houses, and by middle school I bought a sewing machine and made my own clothes. I never took any art classes; I was just constantly making things. At the time, I didn’t know what design — or being a designer — was, but when I went to college and had to choose a major, Architecture was the most interesting to me. When I toured the studio at A&M, I fell in love with the energy of it. To the untrained eye, it looked like a total mess with drawings on walls and model making remnants on the floor, but to me it felt like exciting new ideas were taking shape. I wanted to dive in and learn everything I could about it.
What did you do before teaching?
I practiced architecture for a few years before returning to graduate school to study visual communications. During and after graduate school, I started teaching part-time while I developed my own studio practice, and this has been my way of life ever since.
Where did you draw inspiration for the Lille Huset line?
My Lille Huset line was inspired by my house in Chicago that my husband and I were renovating. Needless to say, it was always a work in progress, with missing floor boards and bathroom doors. We would constantly explain away these imperfections to visiting friends, but our kids knew our house was “not finished.” In my time as a faculty member at Columbia College in Chicago, I had access to laser cutters, and I wanted to create a small version of our neighborhood out of chipboard for my kids to play with and learn about community. I thought it would be fun for them to be able to draw on the walls of the houses and make them their own. I created multiple building types to show them that not all kids live in a large single family home but that some lived in apartments and that all houses were equally special. To make a long story short, the first lille huset I created was a version of our house for my daughter on her 8th birthday, and she loved it. From there I began to build more of the houses and take them to local markets, and people loved them. I sold out of the 5 houses I brought to market before it even opened. I knew from there I had something to build on. I spent the next 8 years developing the line.
What classes do you teach here at UT Austin?
I teach a variety of classes across our curriculum including: Type 1, Type 2, Images and Communications, and our Internship class.
What advice would you give to a student looking for a job in the design field?
Find where you want to go by trying lots of things because you don’t know where you path will take you.
What drew you back to the classroom?
I have pretty much always been in the classroom in some way shape or form. Teaching has always been a counterpart to my studio time and for many years as a full-time Associate Professor. My design work heavily informs my classes and what we do in studio. Over the past 15 years of teaching, I have only had 1 sabbatical of sorts when I moved back to Texas.
What has teaching design taught you about design?
Teaching design is a lot like having lots of eager apprentices as the field was traditionally practiced. I love learning and learn from them and am inspired by their enthusiasm for design every semester.
What are you working on right now? Any next moves for Lille Huset?
After moving back to Texas, I retired Lille Huset. I decided it was time to move on to a new project, a new house renovation, and I am currently establishing a new interdisciplinary design and research studio with my husband called Urbs. The work we do with Urbs is a culmination of ideas around our evolving city and how design can have an impact on it. Along with this, I have been developing a line of textiles that I design and print as a way of embellishing a space from public to personal. I am fascinated with the idea of home, which continues to inform the work that I do.