We had the good fortune of connecting with Lee Fuhr and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Lee, what principle do you value most?
Empathy. And I know, it’s become a buzzword, an overused shortcut in corporate jargon. But it’s too powerful a word to bury in that garbage heap. Real empathy is the most powerful force I can imagine in altering (and improving) human behavior. If we could put empathy-vitamins in the water, just imagine how the world could be. Imagine if people could feel what others feel. What a superpower! True empathy would be the end of war, the end of inequality, racism, sexism… of all the isms.

And in our work, empathy drives us on every level. We approach our clients with empathy — feeling what makes them anxious or happy. Those motivations are often buried: the middle manager who’s operating out of fear of losing her authority; the CEO who needs to seem confident but is secretly scared that he doesn’t know how to lead; the entrepreneur who really is more confident than she should be. All of that colors how we work together, how we can make our clients successful beyond the metrics.
And, of course, empathy for the end-user fuels all of our design work. We have to really care about how a person feels when they interact with our site (were they just thinking about our client’s brand because they came from an ad, or are we interrupting their day, or did they reach out to us, or…). We care about making the user’s day a little brighter after an interaction with our work.
If all designers and marketers were motivated as such, we could all let our guard down just a bit, and the world would feel a bit easier, a bit less stressful.

Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
We are Cozy Design, Inc. (just call us “Cozy”). We’re a digital design & marketing shop headquartered in South Park, San Diego. We’re pioneering a new approach we call “Rational Design” to apply hot-shot agency professionalism to the 95% of businesses that aren’t giant, wasteful enterprises, which are typically the only ones who can afford said hot-shot agencies.

I came up as an Information Architect in the late 90s, then a User Experience Designer in the 00s, then I added visual design as the 00s bled into the 10s. In short, I was trained in operationalized empathy: in understanding and valuing users and designing for them. I worked with big, fancy agencies; and big, fancy companies; and small, scrappy companies.
Over time I grew weary of meeting with middle managers in giant companies who didn’t care about the work we were doing together. Not in the way that entrepreneurs, founders, and passion players care. So about 12 years ago, I started working on my own. Over the years I’ve evolved toward this Rational Design style of working.
The approach is still a work-in-progress (and hopefully always will be), but it’s our key to working with people who really care and who really need the help. We will not (can not!) abandon our big-agency precision. But we can do less better. Give a designer 30 minutes and she’ll design a better business card than a plumber will in 30 years. I’d rather get those 30 minutes than tell the plumber it’ll take us 30 days and a vision quest. (You can learn more about my Rational Design approach from the talk I gave at San Diego Startup Month: https://youtu.be/DZThJOi0fIc)
Also: years into my freelancing era, I started a design community that has grown to over 650 members. I encourage anyone in (or interested in) the design space in San Diego to join. Just mention “Shoutout” in the last field and I’ll approve you straight away: https://sddd.org

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well, I’m an introvert, and my best friends tend to be as well. So I’m going to skip the Gaslamp, and most of the beaches, and we’re definitely not going to the Zoo or — gasp! — SeaWorld.

Instead, we’re focusing on natural beauty and quiet contentment. We might get breakfast at Homestead in Solana Beach, or Parkhouse in University Heights, then head to Balboa Park for the most populated part of the visit. But c’mon, Balboa Park is just a _gem_, and it’s a great place to sit and people watch (oh my, the tourists).
For dinner, nothing fancy, but we want to keep it very San Diego. So I’m thinking Tribute in North Park (or Pizza Port back up in Solana Beach) or maybe just meat-things from Mastiff inside North Park Beer Co. Then let’s eat ice cream. Anywhere. Because it’s ice cream.
The next day let’s hit up the other breakfast spot, then drive east to the desert. I love getting away from everyone, into the mountains, into sprawling open acreage, into quietude. We can hike, we can sit, we can eat country food.
I also love to explore neighborhoods with guests. So maybe we’ll spend a morning in University Heights then an afternoon in Encinitas. Or North Park and La Jolla. Or Bird Rock and Solana Beach. All that is, I mean, when there isn’t a murderous global pandemic.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Frankly, I’m standing on a ladder of privilege. I’m a white, straight, cisgender, American male with supportive parents (I’m even firstborn!) and a solid middle-class upbringing, living in generally peaceful times. Any success I’ve enjoyed is due in large part to the fabric of these advantages.

This all culminates with my schooling. I went to Carnegie-Mellon University, which kicked my ass. But since CMU, I’ve had the inbuilt assumption that I can do whatever’s on my plate that day. That confidence is _everything_. That confidence — and the safety net provided by the privilege quilt I mentioned — have allowed me to take risks. Those risks have led to my business, my wife, my kids… my life. I try not to take it for granted.

Website: https://www.cozydesign.com
Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/leefuhr
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CozySD
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/cozySD
Other: https://sddd.org

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutSocal is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.