March 15, 2024

Sarah Dickinson headshot

Sarah Dickinson’s (STEINHARDT ’11) fascinating career has been led by a passion for crafting unique designs. From her childhood creating fabric and clay crafts to making one-of-a-kind bags from MTA cards while living in New York City, this designer's story unfolds with creativity at its core. Sarah is the co-founder of the New York Puzzle Company, a venture that began with NYC subway map puzzles and has grown into a flourishing enterprise offering an array of delightful products. She also utilizes her studies in Environmental Conservation Education from Steinhardt to guide her company’s commitment to environmental sustainability. Read on to explore the growth of the New York Puzzle Company as well as the personal inspirations, environmental dedication, and nostalgic ties that have woven the fabric of Sarah’s creative career.

You’ve had a diverse career of crafting unique designs. Can you share a little bit about your journey and what led you to where you are? 

I have always loved making things. When I was little, I would make things with fabric and clay and try to sell them to friends and family. I started making those ribbon belts that were all the rage and matching handbags just after college. When I first moved to New York, I would keep my metro cards from all my subway rides and make handbags and wallets out of them. I wanted to turn this into a business so I approached the MTA and got an official license from them to do this. While I was working on selling these MetroCard bags, I teamed up with a college friend who had also just moved to New York and he suggested we make puzzles out of the subway map. Since I had the MTA connection, we together created this new business making our first puzzle of the subway map.

New York Puzzle Company started with just six puzzle designs, but it has since expanded to include mugs, calendars, and more. Can you talk about your company's growth beyond puzzles? Was there a “gateway” product that triggered this expansion?

We’re inspired by the amazing art we work with. Our company is all about fantastic imagery, illustration, and art. We have licenses with world-renowned artists and publishers to transform their existing art into our puzzles. Since we know our customers already love this art, we figured we could offer these same beautiful images on other items. Why not sip from a beautifully decorated mug with the same artwork as the puzzle you are doing?  

How do you find inspiration? 

In so many ways. I love any good book (or audiobook) on management, marketing, advertising, leadership, and medieval English historical fiction! Getting out and seeing the world so I can experience different points of view, cultures, and vistas. Social media is a go-to. I find so many new illustrators and artists on Instagram sharing their work. I love discovering new visions and ideas there. Also, I find a lot of great art and ideas on Pinterest. I love snooping around there to get inspiration. And of course, talking to friends. They have some good ideas but also some terrible ones. I try to take it all in.

Do you have a personal favorite puzzle?

It changes all the time! I'm always very excited about things I'm working on at the moment. The newest thing I have discovered is usually my favorite. I really love our new Loré Pemberton collection since all her art is so cozy and homey and makes you want to jump right into the image and snuggle up. Islander is a summer image of hers of a sea cottage that I can't wait to do this summer. And of course I love any of the funny illustrations from Peter de Sève like Jurassic Paris or Summer Getaway.  

You got your Master's degree in Environmental Conservation Education from NYU and serve as an environmental ambassador and liaison for 1% for the Planet . Could you share more about your dedication to the environment and the work you do to preserve it?

Yes! I have always tried to be a big environmental advocate. It is so important to take on the responsibility of conducting business responsibility and taking the initiative to do so. Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has always been an inspiration, and it was his involvement with 1% for the Planet that encouraged us to also become a member. Through this organization, we contribute to causes that are fighting for the environment every day. Organizations like 350.org, Surf Riders, Solar Sister, and Upstream are a few of the great causes we support. We are also always looking for new non-profits to support as well as new ways to be more environmentally friendly as a company.

Could you reflect on a standout moment from your time at NYU?

Two trips were my favorite classes. One was to Black Rock Forest, a living laboratory for field-based research and education, just north of the city. We did a “nature classroom” for the week, and had the most fantastic teacher who took us out every day to observe and sketch the wildlife we saw. We learned all about bird calls and owls and how to identify various plants. 

I took another class in Cape Town, South Africa that I loved. It was right after the World Cup had taken place there, and we explored a whole new culture and continent. Maria Damon was my teacher for that one. We would have class in a coffee shop every morning and then go on field trips in the afternoon. It was a great group of students and a fantastic experience.

Group of student in Black Rock

Black Rock in May 2009

Sarah in Cape Town

Sarah in Cape Town in July 2010

What is something your fellow alumni would be surprised to know about you?

I did not go to my graduation ceremony! The timing was bad so I never got to wear a cap and gown.

Your puzzles tug on the heartstrings of nostalgia. Do you have any nostalgic experiences from your time at NYU that you’d like to share?

Absolutely! I got my degree while working in the Politics Department. I have such fond memories of my time there. Diana Barnes was the head of administration in the Politics Department and my boss while I was there. She was such a wonderful, funny, joyful person. 

Left to Right: Diana Barnes, Youssef Cohen, Lauren Browne, and Sarah Dickinson

Pink and green day in the Politics Department. Left to Right: Diana Barnes, Youssef Cohen, Lauren Browne, and Sarah Dickinson

She ran a tight ship but made working there fun for the students, faculty, and staff. She made the department feel like a very close family. Youssef Cohen was the director of undergraduate studies in the department at the time and my office was right across from his. He was such a fun-loving, silly, and inspirational soul. We have since lost both of them to cancer, Youssef in 2016 and Diana in 2022, but they meant the world to me then and now. I always think of them whenever I think of my time at NYU.