What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Recently, I have been focusing on being aware and thankful for the complexity of what is right in front of my face. At times, I have struggled when looking for focus and design inspiration. However, I am realizing that I don’t need to go far to be inspired. In a way, I am like a kid always trying to learn and absorb what is happening around me. Ordinary things can become extraordinary if we open our eyes to a different perspective. Sitting outdoors and observing nature has been inspiring to me. A tree, a flower, or a bumblebee are things we disregard, but are complex and detailed. I always want to retain a childlike wonder and awe of the world around me. I believe this enables me to grow and excel as a designer and as a person.
“Envisioning things from a broad perspective and being able to see many possible outcomes helps me to arrive at the best solution. I have yet to see a design that was perfect on the first attempt; design is a process of trial and error and many recalculations, which is one of the most wonderfully frustrating and vital parts of design.”
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? There are many well‐known, famous designers who inspire me. A poster of Dieter Rams’ Good Design Principles is hanging in my office, but my biggest influence in design thinking began at an early age. As a little girl, I remember watching my dad make old, worn‐out equipment functional again. He repurposed and recycled many items. I observed him grow his own beef, pork and garden vegetables. My dad was modeling for me what being environmentally friendly and responsible meant as he took care of our family’s needs. Growing up around a farmer, mechanic, and “jack of all trades,” taught me to think logically and critically, to be tough, and to take criticism well. I learned to work hard and never give up. My dad never treated me like a “dainty” girl and “being a girl” never got me out of any chores. On occasion, my dad would tell me to “figure it out” instead of helping me solve a problem. This was frustrating for me at the time, but now I am thankful for those early challenges. For me, the drawing skills and the artistic part of design came through the training and instruction I received in college. The problem-solving skills, the testing of my comfort zones, and the forging of determination came from my dad. This is a part of design thinking that you don’t learn in a classroom. You learn it though experience. I learned not to let mistakes defeat me. Instead of being defeated, I learned to approach the problem from a different angle. Envisioning things from a broad perspective and being able to see many possible outcomes helps me to arrive at the best solution. I have yet to see a design that was perfect on the first attempt; design is a process of trial and error and many recalculations, which is one of the most wonderfully frustrating and vital parts of design.
After finishing a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design at Auburn, you decided to continue your studies and pursue a Master’s degree in Industrial Design at Auburn. How has the extra experience and education benefited the work you are doing today? Graduate courses provided me with an opportunity to further develop my expertise in a specific area. I took one semester of the master’s program at Auburn before making the decision to enter the job market by taking a position at Peak Season. As a graduate student, I chose to research heirloom furniture. Spending time looking at the reasons why families pass down a piece of furniture from one generation to the next caused me to realize just how valuable a piece of furniture can be. I began to analyze how I could include those desirable traits into a product’s design. Graduate classes provided an environment for me to hone design skills, develop depth and increase my future employability.
You are currently Designer at Peak Season Inc. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your current design work? There are two things that are extremely rewarding to me as a designer at Peak Season. The first thing is that Peak Season is a relatively small business, which gives me a great opportunity to be involved in many of the steps of the design process. I sketch initial ideas, present concepts to clients, and collaborate with Asian manufactures to reach the end goal of a final product in the market. I love getting to be a part of the entire creative process from the conception of an idea to the birth of a product.
The second thing that has been very rewarding to me is getting to experience the Asian culture. I have had the opportunity to travel to China several times. I have gotten to see first-‐hand the truly artisan manufacturing of outdoor furniture. The aluminum casting and wicker weaving processes seem untouched by modern technology. I was pleasantly surprised to find the experience to be like stepping back in time. Working with Asian manufacturers has taken me outside of my comfort zone and helped expand my communication skills. Not only does a language barrier exist, but there is an extreme difference in American and Asian culture; therefore, I am constantly seeking out the best ways to communicate. I find myself asking, “How can I change what I am doing or saying to help?” This experience has made me an overall better designer. It is very important to remain positive and to empathize with others rather than getting frustrated. I approach it as an opportunity to grow in my knowledge of communicating with all people not just the people who are like me.
In your opinion, is it harder for women to become successful in the field of design? I have discovered that attitude is a very important part of success. If you begin your career believing that you cannot be successful because of your gender, you have already lost a key part of the battle. It is true, women will face different challenges than men, but in the end, we determine our own success.
Excellent work will speak for itself. Every person brings a unique life experience and perspective to the table. This is what makes a creative field so awesome. Our individual knowledge, personalities and experiences influence our designs. Diversity enhances a workplace.
Honestly, I have had more people question my ability because of my southern accent than due to my gender. One of the first questions that I am asked is, “Where are you from?” One of my professors at Auburn, who is Asian, told me that he was proud of his accent because it was a part of his story and his heritage. His words really stuck with me and empowered me to do the same. I could allow someone else’s opinion of me to erode my confidence, but I choose to ignore it.
Is there a difference between working in design with women and men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? For one reason or another, I have always been interested in what society labels as masculine and I enjoy the competitive atmosphere. Thinking back to when I was a student at Auburn, on one occasion, a male student took a power tool from me simply because I am a girl. I also remember watching some of my male classmates struggle to use power tools themselves. There is a stereotype that goes along with being a female designer. For example, “girls don’t understand mechanics, tools, or manual labor.” I have also heard it said that girls like the artistic side of design more than the manufacturing. Personally, I like “blowing stereotypes out of the water.” Initially, someone may judge me based on my gender, but excellent work proves who I am. Yes, men and women are different. That doesn’t mean one is less valuable or less skilled than the other. If we focus on a person’s best qualities, the outcome will be much better than if we choose to focus on something as narrow as gender.
While you were an undergraduate at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? I tend to get very involved in all the projects that are assigned to me. By the end of the semester, they reflected my heart and soul. One of my favorite assignments was to develop a product to sell on the online Etsy store. The challenge was to create a product that real consumers found aesthetic and useful. It was an awesome feeling to send my design to an actual person, who paid cash for it. I was challenged to face a fearful question every designer asks, “Will anybody want to buy my designs?”. In the beginning, it was intimidating to put my design in the market. But, in the end I gained confidence, a little cash, and a new entrepreneurial spirit.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? If you are designing products for people, I recommend purchasing a book like Human Dimension and Interior Space: A Source Book of Design Reference Standards by Julius Panero and Martin Zelnik. It helps with choosing dimensions to suit the largest number of people possible. I use this book frequently in my current job.
“Don’t just be the best designer you can be, but be the best person you can be.”
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I wish I had realized earlier in my college career just how important being connected is within the design community. I was fortunate to develop many positive relationships with my classmates and professors which paid off. Remember, a classmate may become a coworker one day or maybe even a boss. I am so thankful for the relationships that I developed in college, but if I could go back I would take more time to invest in the lives of the people around me. One of my professors helped me to get my current position with Peak Season. Without his recommendation, I wouldn’t have known the job was available. Don’t just be the best designer you can be, but be the best person you can be.
Many students in the Auburn ID program are applying and accepting internships at this time. You were able to gain hands‐on experience through a highly selective, six month Industrial Design internship with Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey. How did you maximize your learning and design opportunities while working at Johnson & Johnson? I was very fortunate to receive an opportunity with Johnson & Johnson. I learned a great deal just by asking questions. The internship allowed me to work with people who are successful in the field of design. People love to tell their own story; all you have to do is ask. Some of the most influential moments happened outside of my cubical. I didn’t always get the most glamorous projects, but I tried to do the best job with the ones that came my way. The internship was not just a temporary job, it was a great opportunity to develop my skills.
What should young designers avoid doing when applying for positions in the field? Most of my suggestions of things to avoid are simple. Do not show up unprepared. Bring copies of your resume and business cards. Dress for the job you want. Do not talk badly about your peers or previous employers. Make sure to look interested and attentive when the interviewer is talking.
When going through the process of looking for employment, the interview is one of the most intimidating moments. I have had opportunities to participate as an interviewer and the most impressive thing to see is the passion and excitement when an interviewee shares his or her design story. Passion is contagious! The most passionate students tend to have the best designs. Do something that you love! Believe in yourself and your designs; then, other people will be impressed. Be confident. Be passionate. Be prepared. Be yourself. Be real. Find a way to express the qualities you have that set you apart from other designers and show them off. I interviewed several times before I was offered a job. I have failed at times, but remember everyone fails. Even the most successful people on the planet fail. If you failing, at least you are doing something. You are learning, moving forward and improving. Never stop improving. Job searching can be intimidating, but don’t stop trying. Keep believing in yourself. You are worth it!
Designer responded to questions in 2017 via email.