ABOUT HISTORY SARA TODAY NEWS CONTACT  

At only 4 foot 11 inches, Sara Little Turnbull may be small in stature, but she’s a giant in design and widely regarded as “the mother of invention.”

Born in Manhattan in 1917 as Sara Finklestein, Sara attended Parsons School of Design on a scholarship from the Women’s National Jewish Council. After college, she worked at Marshall Fields, then became an ad agency art director, and later an editor of House Beautiful magazine, where she worked for nearly two decades. Nicknamed Little Sara, she changed to Sara Little along the way.

At House Beautiful, Sara anticipated and helped develop postwar changes to the home, recognizing that women would remain in the workforce after the war while still handling household duties. In 1958, Sara left the magazine and officially became Sara Little Design Consultant, offering product design, development, and marketing services.

In a practice that has spanned six decades, Sara has traveled internationally in her design research, from the tribes of Borneo to work with Dr. Richard Leakey in Africa. As a product research consultant, she has worked with CEOs of America’s largest and most innovative manufacturing firms, including Procter & Gamble, 3M, Coca-Cola, Corning, General Mills, Macy’s, Pfizer, Revlon, Nike, and Volvo. She has translated her observations of consumers and culture into a number of successful products, including: Corningware products, the 3M dust mask, soy-based candy, and even the first successful chocolate cake mix to be sold in England.

Sara has also consulted for government institutions, including those in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Great Britain, and was a consultant to NASA. She has also served on many advisory councils and boards of trustees, including the Board of Trustees of Parsons School of Design and as Chairman of the Scholarship Committee of the School Art League in the City of New York.

In 1965, Sara married Jim Turnbull, a forest products and plywood executive, and they resided in Tacoma and Vantage, Washington, during Jim’s retirement years. In 1974, they established the Sara Little Center for Design Research at the Tacoma Art Museum, where collections from her world travels illustrated items of cultural design, beauty, and utility.

Most recently, Sara was founder and director of the Process of Change at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a position she held for nearly 20 years. At Stanford, she also co-developed an innovative multidisciplinary course that emphasizes collaborative product development between engineering and business school students. In the process, she has mentored students in the design of products such as ski racks, alarm clocks, and water bottles, and helped them develop a deeper understanding of culture and its influence on product design. Her students have become executives and designers in some of America’s top innovative companies.

Sara has received multiple awards and honors, including the distinguished Design Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Trailblazer Award from the National Home Fashion League, and an honorary doctorate from The Academy of Art. Before moving back to the Pacific Northwest, the Modern Art Council of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art designated her a Bay Area Living Treasure. In 2006, Sara received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award from ICOGRADA.

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