As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re expanding our spotlight to honor a pioneering figure in design and education, Lady Frances Sorrell. With a career that spans decades and a profound influence on young people’s creativity, Lady Frances has left an indelible mark on the design world. Learn more about her remarkable journey and achievements below.

The Life of Lady Frances Sorrell
Born Frances Newell in Woking, Surrey, Lady Frances Sorrell grew up in Thame. Her early years were marked by a burgeoning passion for design, despite limited opportunities to study art at her school in Epsom. Undeterred, she nurtured her creative inclinations at home and began attending Saturday art classes at the age of fourteen, thanks to her mother’s encouragement. This early exposure laid the foundation for her future endeavors in the world of design.

Frances pursued a Foundation Art course at Epsom College of Arts, followed by a Graphic Design course, which equipped her with the skills and knowledge to enter the professional design field.

Notable Works and Achievements
In 1976, together with John Sorrell, she co-founded Newell and Sorrell, a design company that started modestly at their kitchen table and grew into a globally successful business with 300 employees. Newell and Sorrell became one of Europe’s most renowned design companies, specializing in identity and brand consultancy. Their groundbreaking redesigns for British Airways, the BBC, and the Royal Mail are just a few examples of their impactful work.

As the creative director, Lady Frances received over a hundred awards for creativity and effectiveness, including twelve Design Effectiveness Awards, five silver D&AD Awards, four Art Directors’ Club of Europe Awards, five USA CLIO Awards, and many more. In recognition of her outstanding contributions to design, Lady Frances and Sir John Sorrell were awarded the D&AD Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.

Beyond her professional success, Lady Frances has dedicated a significant portion of her career to pro bono work for numerous charities and organizations. She has served on various advisory boards, including the British Council Design Advisory Board and the NHS London Design Advisory Group, among others. Her involvement with Mencap, a charity focused on supporting people with learning disabilities, highlights her commitment to using design as a tool for social good.

Inspiring Creativity in Young People
In 1999, Lady Frances and Sir John decided to leave their business to pursue other passions. They co-founded The Sorrell Foundation, a charity aimed at inspiring creativity in young people. Central to the Foundation’s work is the principle of listening to young voices. Their ‘joinedupdesignforschools’ program has revolutionized the way schools are designed by involving pupils as clients, equipping them with creative skills for life and work.

The Foundation’s National Art and Design Saturday Club, led by Lady Frances, creates pathways into the creative industries for young people. This initiative has been praised for its role in putting design on the educational agenda at a time when it was being marginalized. Lady Frances’s efforts have helped thousands of primary and secondary school pupils unlock their creativity and gain valuable life and work skills.

Honors and Recognition
Lady Frances Sorrell’s contributions to design and education have been widely recognized. She is a Visiting Professor at the University of Arts London, an Honorary Fellow of University College Falmouth, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. In 2010, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the Open University for her exceptional contribution to education and culture, and in 2011, she was made an Honorary Fellow of Hereford College of Arts. Frances is also a fellow of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce, a fellow of the Chartered Society of Designers, and a member of the Designers and Art Directors Association.

Lady Frances Sorrell’s legacy in design and her unwavering dedication to nurturing young talent make her a truly inspiring figure in the world of design. Her story exemplifies the profound impact that creative vision and commitment to education can have on society.

Listen to the recent interview with Lady Frances Sorrell and Sir John Sorrell on Vince Frost’s “Design Your Life” podcast series.