Donald D. Powell was born July 17, 1929 in Fargo, North Dakota. He received his B. Arch. from the University of Minnesota in 1957, but soon after graduation enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Research and Development Command, where he served until 1959. Powell joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1960, where he became associate in 1968. Leaving SOM in 1976 to found Powell/Kleinschmidt with partner Robert Kleinschmidt, Powell remained at his namesake firm until retiring in November 2009. Notable honors received by Powell include a Fulbright Fellowship Travel Award (1960–1961); induction into the Interior Design Hall of Fame (1989); and Outstanding Leadership in the Interior Design field, International Interior Design Association (2007).
Powell/Kleinschmidt also won the AIA's Distinguished Firm Award (1990) and was cited by Contract Design magazine as one of the Top 20 interior design firms of the last quarter-century (2000). Significant and award-winning Powell/Kleinschmidt commissions include the Gretchen Bellinger Executive Office and Warehouse (1983); Mayer, Brown & Platt Law Offices (1988); 880 Lake Shore Drive Residence, Chicago, Illinois (1989); Paul Stuart Men's Store (1995); Briarwood Country Club (2000); and the 200 West Madison Atrium, Chicago, Illinois (2006).