Ashley (Thompson) Imsand

Bachelor of Industrial Design, 2010
Baltimore, MD


What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Right now, my biggest influencers haven’t been people or artist in particular; my obsession has been architecture and furniture as a whole. I love scanning sites like Design Boom to see what is new in those fields. Last year, I was fortunate enough to head to NYC around the time of ICFF to do some high-end trend research for a program that working on. While there I was able to see and fall in love with all of the showroom displays that were added in time for the show. Fingers crossed, I’ll be able to attend the show next year.

“...while having the technical aspects of a designer are important, being able to generate good ideas and explain the business case behind them is also just as important.”

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? It all begins with the customer or client, each design should be customer centric… it doesn’t mean you give them what they ask for but as the saying goes, “you give them what they didn’t know they needed.”

What project or design problem have you faced (in the past or recently) that seemed to be a “failure” but turned out to be an extremely valuable experience? An example of a “failure” would be a tub I designed for retail, the tub launched this year and while sales online for the tub have been successful, the brick and mortar sales at retail have been lack luster due to the point of purchase in store. In designing the tub, we did not consider how the tub would be viewed at retail. The reason why this experience is so valuable is because it taught me to look at design as a whole story from beginning to end. And while there are always things that you may forget along the way, it is so important to remember to design for ALL of your customer’s point of contact with your product. Because you may have a beautiful design that is intuitive and sustainable, but if no one purchases it, they will never know.  

While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? The most challenging project I had at Auburn was Professor Tsai Liu’s 4th year construction studio. This was the most difficult because it challenged me to think outside of what I wanted to design and instead forced me to observe the “customer” which were construction workers, and glean insight from them regarding the pain points of their job. I remember waking up in the wee hours of the morning to watch concrete finishers and asking them questions. From those interactions, I learned the basis to being a professional designer, by beginning with the customer.

You are an industrial designer for MAAX in Maryland and previously a designer for Adler Display. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your current work? Are there any specific projects you are extremely proud of and would like to share? With MAAX being a company that encourages career development and evolution, I have had the opportunity to participate in parts of the product development process that I wouldn’t be able to anywhere else! Because of how well I have taken to some of the more strategic elements (assisting with market research, reaching out to customers, research and conducting trend analysis and etc.) of the product development process, I was promoted to the position of Assistant Product Manager, where I will be tasked with my own program that I will scope and lead.
    A project that I extremely proud of…I have two that stand out in my mind right now. That would be the freestanding tub program, while we may have had issues with the retail tub; we will overcome them and will develop a way to improve the point of purchase display to accentuate the tub. But I’m proud of this project because it the labor of 1 ½ years and makes up the first 6 products that I have designed that have gone to market and despite the hiccups, the designs have been well received and are selling well.
     Another project of note would be during my time at Adler were I designed an exhibit for MRSEA. A group of Vietnam vets wanted an exhibit for their lobby that told the story of their time in Vietnam. The design process was deeply personal as I worked directly with one of the vets and held his flight suit and Purple Heart in hand. It really just humbles you working for such an admirable client and all you want to do is deliver the best possible design and experience you can.

In your opinion is it (or has it been) more difficult for women to become “successful” in the design field? Expand upon the things that you perceive to be the biggest challenges if possible. It is definitely hard for women in design, we have to work harder and bring additional value in order to set ourselves apart from our counterparts. That value comes in many different forms whether it be manufacturing knowledge, business acumen, or additional technical resources (animation, trend analysis, sketching and etc.)
     The largest hurdle for women in design… besides the glass ceiling is the perception that we aren’t as talented and capable as men. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many a male designer and have heard firsthand how women are treated and the first criticism I hear when a male designer is speaking of woman designer is regarding a woman’s “bossy” attitude or her “inferior” sketching ability.

Do you think there is a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are a woman? Unfortunately, in my career I haven’t had the opportunity to work with many women designers. Other than at my internship at Johnson & Johnson, I didn’t work with another woman designer until I started at MAAX two years ago and she works in Canada. However, in my experience, it’s always been a supportive relationship with the other women. I feel that there is this unspoken and sometimes spoken understanding that we need to always be on top of our game and make sure that our voices are heard and not allow one another to be bulldozed by our male counterparts.
     Yes, I have absolutely been treated differently because I am a woman. There is always the assumption that I do not have a clear understanding of business strategy and the manufacturing requirements behind a design. However, it is always fun when they learn just how wrong their assumption is.  

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? In school, I wish I had a better understanding about the different career paths available for an Industrial Designer. In my short career, I have been able to touch so many of the different paths from exhibits, commercial interiors, packaging, to point of purchase and product design. It would have been great to have more exposure to them while I was in school.
     To build on that, it would have been great to have career guides with potential salaries attached to them. That way, you could really tailor your education to give you your best opportunity for success based on the lifestyle you want to live ($$$$), individual capabilities and preferences.
     For me, I have always had more of a leaning towards Design Thinking and Strategy. My goal has always been to work as a Designer in global company where I can learn as much as I can. From there I want to take my design thinking, sprinkle in a little bit of business and manufacturing knowledge so that I can become part of the larger conversation within the organization and elevate myself to a VP level. I felt that while having the technical aspects of a designer are important, being able to generate good ideas and explain the business case behind them is also just as important. I think young designers should leave school with a basic understanding of reading financial forecast, understanding the basics of market research, and translating research into CTQ’s, that way when you attend these meetings with cross functional teams you have the ability to speak knowledgably, changing not only the trajectory of a product but potentially the trajectory of the company.

“...we have to work harder and bring additional value in order to set ourselves apart from our counterparts.” 

Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful (books, websites, podcasts, etc.)? I can’t stress the importance of LinkedIn—that is how I got my job at MAAX. I was contact by a recruiter who found my profile. My husband who is also an Industrial Designer has received several interview requests based on his LinkedIn. I’m also reading a book called “Getting to Yes” about learning to negotiate; it’s been a very valuable tool so far! 

What should young designers avoid doing when applying for positions in the field? Don’t sell yourself short! Young designers should not limit themselves when applying for a new role or position. If you see a position or role that you are interested, apply! Especially if you are applying directly to an individual or department via email.
     Let your work shine! Do not bog down your work samples with kitsch presentation methods, employers want to see what you are capable of and don’t want to be distracted by fluff. Think, video, shareable PDF’s, personal web sites, and etc.  If you find yourself physically mailing anything… you know you are going in the wrong direction.

Add any additional thoughts if you feel they need to be shared. Network, Network, Network! The Auburn family is a large one and we have a tendency to look out for one another. Do not be afraid to reach out to fellow alumni to help get your foot in the door. 

Design Samples

Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.