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Leslie Phinney Celebrates 35 Years Of “People First Design”

Leslie Phinney ‘79 is the Co-Founder, CEO and Creative Director of Phinney Bischoff, an integrated brand strategy and design firm with offices in Seattle, WA, and Sun Valley, ID. Throughout its 35-year history, Phinney Bischoff has had the privilege to work with many beloved Seattle brands, including BECU, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Seattle Symphony, The 5th Avenue Theatre, and Woodland Park Zoo.

Her name is familiar for a reason: Leslie Phinney is the great-great-grandniece of real estate pioneer Guy C. Phinney who in the late 1800s developed Green Lake and the property where Woodland Park Zoo now stands. Phinney started college at University of Washington for the liberal arts foundation, then transferred to Cornish Institute (as the college was known at the time) to complete her BFA. She chose Cornish for its intimate setting and small class sizes, the inspirational working professionals who taught the design courses, and the multi-discipline environment of a college that specialized in the arts. Phinney did work-study throughout her time at Cornish with what was at the time a trail-blazing goal of eventually owning her own design business. “It’s difficult to imagine today that there was ever a time when design wasn’t well recognized as a profession,” offers Phinney. “Sure, there were architects, industrial designers, interior designers, etc., but ‘graphic design’ wasn’t a well-known career path, much less ‘brand strategy’.”

In 1982 she founded Phinney Design, one of  Seattle’s first woman-owned design firms, on three basic beliefs: that the company would be a place where employees and clients would flourish; that giving back to the community would be integral to company culture; and that  great design is informed by a solid foundation of research and truly  understanding the people we are trying to communicate with. “The work we do is  or can be responsible for educating, motivating, influencing, inspiring and  even employing people. It has a higher purpose,” states Phinney. This smart,  problem-solving approach to design, unusual for its day, was contributing to  the origin of brand strategy as we now know it.

Today, Phinney Bischoff (so named after Phinney and husband Karl Bischoff merged their businesses in 1993) is recognized as a  leader in the Northwest and beyond with their “People First Design” approach  that puts people at the center of transformational brand solutions. Client collaborations include those that support and invest in making lives better for  our communities, such as The Allen Institute, BECU, Downtown Seattle Association  and Premera. The Capitol Hill office – a turn-of-the-century house only 131 feet from Cornish’s Kerry Hall – reinforces that collaborative, comfortable  and familial philosophy that set the company on its course 35 years ago.  Phinney invites the Cornish community to come visit, either on the web or in person!

Thank you to Reeve Washburn of Phinney Bischoff for contributing this Cornish alumni story. If you have a Cornish alumni story, please send it to communications@cornish.edu.  We would love to hear from you!