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Karen Parolek
  • Education: BArch, Notre Dame
  • Memberships: CNU
  • Dog Breed: Pug
  • Bicycle: City Cruiser

Karen Parolek, Principal

Karen Parolek is a passionate advocate for walkable, bikable, diverse and equitable communities; user-centered design thinking; and impact-driven business. She applies her expertise in communication, usability, and information advocacy to her work at Opticos. Well-recognized for her work, she has contributed to cutting-edge initiatives to create smarter and more sustainable corporations, spoken at national conferences, and consulted with international organizations. Her unique mix of skills in graphic design, information design, and architecture—combined with her aptitude for technology and systems thinking—lend themselves to her ability to make things easier to use, clearer to understand, and more accessible to everyone.

Committed to developing better ways of running a business, Karen led Opticos to become a founding B Corp in 2007 and a California Benefit Corporation in 2012—new types of impact-driven companies committed to a triple bottom line of social, environmental and fiscal responsibility. In addition, her efforts rethinking and redesigning zoning codes for cities in the United States and abroad have helped revolutionize the way we regulate land development in our communities to reinforce more walkable, sustainable places and have led to her recognition as a national expert in Form-Based Coding and zoning reform. She co-wrote the seminal book on Form-Based Codes and was a founding board member of the non-profit Form-Based Codes Institute.

Before joining Opticos in 2000, Karen worked at the internationally recognized design firm Pentagram where she worked with Michael Beirut to create all the wayfinding signage for the Wall Street area of New York City. She also worked with notable architects including Robert A.M. Stern, Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, and James Stewart Polshek, and helped create signage for Disney’s town of Celebration, Florida. Following Pentagram, Karen helped launch the information architecture profession with her position at NBC Internet (then called Snap.com), where she enabled people to navigate through cyberspace and helped establish the site as a top-10 Internet portal website. She has also created online systems and content for VeriSign and the Liz Claiborne Art Ortenberg Foundation.

Her current focus is on the housing crisis facing many cities in the U.S. and “Missing Middle Housing,” an effective housing affordability solution and a critical element of walkable communities. She led the effort to create the MissingMiddleHousing.com website, and she is regularly invited to speak with organizations around the country about the concept.

Now, when she’s not avidly researching more responsible ways to run a business, she can be found biking to and from the small Berkeley bungalow she shares with husband Dan, their two children, and their pug, Petey.