What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? My transition from Industrial Design to Consumer Experience/Service design is recent; I took the Humana job in March of 2015. As a relative newcomer to the world of service design I’m fascinated by design disruptors. Turning the status quo on its head and using a consumer centered way of thinking to deliver surprising delightful experiences. Think Airbnb, Uber, or a favorite of mine, StitchFix. Big business is finally coming around to a notion that Industrial Designers have held as a foundational principle all along…putting consumer experience first leads to success.
“As a relative newcomer to the world of service design I’m fascinated by design disruptors.”
You worked for GE as a Lead Industrial Designer for approximately 5 years. As a leader, you carried many responsibilities (all of which can be viewed in an amazing list on your LinkedIn profile!). In all of that experience, what was the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your daily design work at GE? The most rewarding part of my daily design work while I was at GE was definitely working with the interns. I’m passionate about providing the same transformational opportunity that was given to me as a student. I received an internship with Viking, my first employer, as an inexperienced 3rd year student. They had many more qualified applicants, but they extended their knowledge passion and expertise to me. While at GE I turned a loose search for warm bodies who could cut foam core and mount posters into an internship program with hiring rigor, project rotations, and a growth and support system. Beyond the organizational efforts, I’ve just always really loved teaching others what I’ve learned. I find joy and fulfillment in seeing others grow and succeed. I’ll get to say I knew them when! We’ve had some talented folks come through in my tenure.
You are currently a Consumer Experience Strategist at Humana Inc. It seems design research and strategy, specifically focused around processes, are a large part of your work, correct? Yes! I was not exposed to truly innovative and insightful consumer research until I worked at GE with consumer research professionals. There just wasn't time in school to get into deep consumer insights. Gathering information, planning and designing sessions, and then the arduous "fourth dimensional thinking" I call it, process of synthesizing insights. Finding themes, and subsequently visually communicating findings. The advice I would give would be to expand expertise and knowledge in consumer research first and foremost. Consumer research (good consumer research, generative, and evaluative) is the foundation for insights that drive good service (and product) design.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I wish I had known more about design strategy and design for business in school. It’s not enough to design innovative, functional, and beautiful things, more and more the ownness is on designers to prove the value proposition for their designs. I’ve seen in my short career the shift from design as a craft (design by assignment) to design as a value proposition (design for market and business opportunities). Designers, even those who work for consultancies, must learn to navigate and operate in the constraints of a business.
Design research and strategy are important aspects of the process for both graphic and industrial design students to learn. What advice would you give to student designers who are preparing themselves and their portfolios for a career in design today? The best advice I can give with respect to preparing a portfolio for the first step into the professional world would be to focus on quality not quantity. I think one or two really well thought out projects from early discovery and research through to a complete design is more powerful than a lot of little projects. It might be hard to swallow but that will require quite a bit more work than is allotted in a typical project cycle or semester at school. Employers want to see how designers can think critically. All that should be illustrated using the hard skills of the trade (sketching, rendering, cad, model making etc) in the context of the project at hand.
You are clearly a leader in your field of expertise. Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful in the design field? Surprisingly, no. I have not experienced barriers to success in my career due to my gender. I think I’ve come up in the design world during or shortly after a tipping point. There will always be a wide variety of personalities to work with, for, along side and they might not always be so progressive. The “boys club” still exists I’ve just never let it affect my posture towards my work.
Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? Surprisingly the only discrimination I’ve experienced came from two women! This is the point in the interview where I plug Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. They weren’t designers themselves. I work in a cross-functional department with many disciplines. A friendly colleague and I were collaborating with a woman who wasn’t happy with the leadership responsibilities I was given (we weren’t heading in the direction she preferred). She went behind our backs to a leader of ours and made some suggestions that I wasn’t up to the task of facilitating a day long alignment session with Vice President level stakeholders b/c “she was concerned about me and the baby” — I was 8 months pregnant at the time. When our leader stopped by to relieve me of my duties I had a “lean in” moment and confronted my leader and the woman. In a very professional way with the support of my colleague I firmly explained that pregnancy doesn’t preclude me from doing my job, and I am the only one who can determine whether or not I am physically able to do my job. The guise of “looking out for me and the baby” was discrimination plain and simple. That story may be too much information for the interview, but it thought i’d provide context for my comments.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? I think the Playcore sponsored studio was the most challenging project while I was at Auburn. It was the third year the company had sponsored a studio. The company had experienced great market success with the designs that came out of previous studios. Their ask for our studio was a bit more targeted to specific needs in their product portfolio. Client expectations in addition to the regulatory and safety guidelines of designing playground equipment for children and Tin Man’s tough love made the project quite challenging. But it was probably one of the most realistic to professional life studios I experienced.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful?
(1) This is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases by Marc Stickdorn — First service book I read, super easy to read.
(2) Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder
(3) 101 Design Methods: A Structured Approach for Driving Innovation in Your Organization by Vijay Kumar
(4) Service Design: From Insight to Implementation by Andy Polaine
(5) Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs by Larry Keeley
(6) service-design-network.org — Their online publication is great.
(7) servicedesigntools.org — A staple in my web browser favorites.
(8) luma-institute.com — Phenomenal workshops however they make their guidebook and templates available for purchase (cheap) on their site.
(9) adaptivepath.org/events-training/ — My path to falling in love with service began with a 1 day experience mapping class with Adaptive Path. I later did this 4 day workshop as well.
(10) Convivial Toolbox: Generative Research for the Front End of Design by Liz Sanders — Convivial Toolbox is a tough read. But she's a phenomenal thinker. She did a two day workshop at GE around co-design as a generative research technique.
(11) The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries — Bit of an eye roll here b/c this and Eric Reis seem to be overplayed and inflated. But it is a good way of working (that is the framework of our office) it would be neat to structure a studio around lean start up.
“I’ve seen in my short career the shift from design as a craft (design by assignment) to design as a value proposition (design for market and business opportunities). Designers, even those who work for consultancies, must learn to navigate and operate in the constraints of a business.”
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? I’ve recoiled from young designers applying for my internships that are TOO casual in communications. It’s easy in our digital age of 140 characters or less to forget business etiquette. I’ve received emails with no salutation or signature and a generic one line “please visit my website” On the flip side, I would also say to avoid epic communications as well. Striking the right balance with the ability to carefully and artfully curate your thoughts is a skill that I think most professionals value.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.