What Matters to Ann Willoughby

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Debbie Millman has an ongoing project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers, and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer ten identical questions and submit a nonprofessional photograph.

Ann Willoughby is Principal Emeritus of Willoughy Design. She’s an AIGA medalist, former juror for Cooper Hewitt National Design Awards, and Joyce C. Hall Distinguished Professor of Design.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Cooking and joyful meals with people I love at home, or on family/friends’ vacations.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

At about age 4, I used to draw on the cardboard inserts my father gave me each time he unwrapped his folded shirt from the dry cleaners. Another big moment came in the 3rd grade, when I was asked to “teach” the first graders art twice a week.

What is your biggest regret?

I didn’t insist on going to one of a couple of prestigious design schools where I was accepted.
My parents did not want me to leave the South. Maybe I was afraid of failure. I love learning, so maybe I will catch up.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Slowly when I was younger. I was devastated once, but now I see disappointments and loss as part of life’s passages. These days, I try to fully feel both pain and joy, knowing our capacity for both is greater than I realized when I was younger.

What makes you cry?

Nature, family, children, animals, music, art, literature.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

I do love to draw, cook, garden, and travel, and the subtle memories seem to last a long time. But I find less joy/pride from my immediate personal accomplishments than I used to. I do enjoy watching others succeed and being part of a team effort.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I believe we have a soul, but I am not sure what happens when we die. I believe we live on in the memories and creativity we leave behind for others.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Not sure I would use those terms. I hate it when I am lazy and put things off when I have a commitment, or something useful to do. I feel sad when I hurt others, especially those I love, or those who are counting on me, or need me. Sometimes, if I am ill for too many days, I become unnecessarily frustrated with myself and others.

What do you love most about yourself?

I love it when I have extra energy and can take the time to be 100% present for others. Getting older can be a little frustrating, so I appreciate the days and moments when I feel active, contributing, and useful.

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Pasta with a whole braised fish with the head on!