Bethany Pirtle

Bachelors of Industrial Design, 2007
St. Louis, MO


What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? I am absolutely passionate about design-in all forms—product, graphic, interior, architectural, landscape, user experiences—All of these areas are influences to me in my work. Incorporating an ‘aesthetic sensitivity’ to any project has a huge return on investment because of the emotional connection people have when using or engaging with your creation. Many times the user can’t pinpoint why they like something, they just know they like it. That’s proof of good design when they don’t realize the level of detail and consideration put into a project to make it ‘just seem right’. Building a creation with thoughtfulness in a form/function balance infused with good aesthetics is a great formula for project success.

“To be successful in design (or any function) you MUST know how to work with others and how to communicate your thoughts both visually in your designs, but also in presentations and conversations.”

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? I really look to examples out in the field. I don’t need someone with a prestigious ranking to tell me what good design is. I am highly influenced by good work done by other designers, working out in the marketplace like me, whether it be a well-designed digital ad, a beautiful piece of furniture or a great interface for an app—good design is all around and I pay attention to what really works well and speaks to me, then try to incorporate some of those features into my work.

You have worked for Emerson Tool Air Comfort Products segment for quite a few years now out of school. What advice would you give to student designers today who are striving to land their first job as a designer at a company like Emerson? My best advice would be (1) Stay humble. There’s always more to learn; you will never have all the answers. Especially coming out of school, you are passionate, skilled and are ready to conquer the world. Employers love that attitude, but you can’t be arrogant with it. You have to know how to work with others, when to fight and when to compromise. (2) Be the most dependable and hard-working employee in the business. Anticipate what others will want or question about your design in advance and be prepared to defend it. You have a unique position within the organization and it’s your job to make others value design. If they see you’re grounded and dedicated to your cause, you’ll have more favor.

You are currently the Director of Marketing Retail Vacs at Emerson Tool. With your numerous responsibilities in mind, what is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your current design work? I have had an interesting career journey, starting as an Industrial Designer, with increasing responsibility in New Product Development and then into broader Marketing Roles focusing a lot on Marketing Communications and now more into eBusiness. The most advantageous part of my journey is exposure into all of these niches. I am blessed to learn and engage in each of these areas because they give me a more holistic approach to business. There is no doubt, that without my ID background, I couldn’t bring the flavor I have to the other general marketing roles. My path has enabled me to connect and engage with other departments and has been highly influential in gaining new opportunities because of the experience and responsibilities I’ve had. In each of these roles, I bring passion and a process for collaboration. All that to say, my most rewarding part of my job is connecting various groups or specialists (whether it be sales, graphics, ID, eBusiness) together as one team-bringing light and excitement to what we’re all working on together.

You are clearly a successful designer in your field. However, in your opinion, is it harder for women to become successful in the field of design? I actually think the marketplace is yearning for female designers. Women tend to bring a unique approach to design simply because of their perspective. I don’t know if it’s necessarily harder for women to be successful in the field of design than men. To succeed, whether male or female you must have many more skills than just design skills. Whether these skills are considered challenges or not depends on the personality of the person. To be successful in design (or any function) you MUST know how to work with others and how to communicate your thoughts both visually in your designs, but also in presentations and conversations. You constantly need to sell your designs and sell yourself as an expert in your field. You must also be collaborative, focused on how to do things more efficiently and cost-effectively. Lastly, you must be willing to put in the hours to get ahead. Volunteer for additional projects and responsibilities and anticipate what your boss would want and have it ready before (s)he even asks for it. These characteristics will make you stand out.

In your opinion, is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? I think the only difference is that there are just less women in the marketplace. Especially in working with Engineering, there are many times I am in meetings with 15-20 people and I’m the only female. This could be intimidating to some, but I don’t see this as a disadvantage but rather an opportunity to make an impression and stand out with your views and thoughts. I have never experienced discrimination for being female, if anything it could have helped because of the female perspective I bring, after-all, most purchase decisions are made by females.

While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? Ha!  Most of them? I suppose the most challenging would have been early on in Chris Arnold’s class for a mechanical toy project. I made a moose that plays the banjo. This was definitely a challenge because it was the first real product project that really needed to function and look like it came off a shelf. Deadlines were tight and that’s the only time I pulled an all-nighter. That (and the furniture design studio) were my most challenging projects and also my favorite two projects.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? Good things do happen if you work hard and have talent. There was a phase during my time as an industrial designer that I felt stuck; once you’ve designed 30+ ceiling fans, you’re ready for a new challenge.  When you work for a manufacturer vs. an agency, the breadth of product you design is limited in most cases. However, if you work hard and have talent, other doors will eventually open. I hate the phrase ‘pay your dues’ but expecting broad jumps quickly isn’t likely for someone right out of school. The benefit for working for a manufacturer is really getting to know the product, the consumers, the process, how to go to market etc. You have such a deep knowledge pool that you do become an expert.  It also provides a stable workplace with lots of exposure to the interworking’s of business. This is just my experience and I know the agency route also has a lot of benefits as well. For me, and how I’m wired, I’m glad I stuck it out because other opportunities did come. The quicker you can know yourself and your wants and needs the better—it will enable you to determine your path sooner allowing you to grow and seize new opportunities.

What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? Being a millennial is an advantage. Employers know they need this generation to bring collaboration and technology into their business. But just because you’re a millennial doesn’t mean you should disregard processes or formalities. Walk the line. You can be a catalyst for change, but it has to be done with grace.
(1) Dress for the job you want—even after you get the job.
(2) Speak clearly and confidently. 
(3) Be prepared. If you’re applying for a job designing cell phones, but don’t have a cell phone in your portfolio, go into the interview with a few concept sketches and renderings already done-with some reasons and considerations. That’s a real crowd pleaser.
(4) Be personable. It’s not just your portfolio but your personality and how they think you’ll fit with the existing team. Share your strengths and weaknesses.
(5) Explain your motivations—meaning, let them know what makes you tick and your ideal working environment. If this job isn’t going to meet that need, best both parties know as early as possible. The last thing you want is to be hired and hate the job because it’s not the right fit.
(6) Stay optimistic. Everyone likes to be around people that have a ‘can do’ attitude.

Design Samples

Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.