Heather Bybee

Bachelors of Industrial Design, 2010
Brooklyn, NY


What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? I’m currently really fascinated with the tech start-up culture exploding in the Bay Area but also spreading to other cities around the country. Ammunition works with many hardware startup companies in the Bay Area and around the world so I work with people daily who are trying to launch a new business, product, or service. The startup community is full of really passionate, intelligent people and working with them to design packaging for their very first product is really exciting and feeds my motivation to do good work every day.

“Design is not just aesthetic—the needs of the user, the limitations of the business, and the strategy of execution all work together to create good design.”

Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? My way of thinking about design has been formed by the many influencers who are all part of the design process. Packaging design is the bridge between the product and consumer, and crosses over many departments and functions within a company. I work daily with visual design, user experience, product design, supply chain, marketing, and sales. Each of these functions within an organization has different needs and priorities. Packaging design can’t happen in a vacuum and incorporating the many needs from different perspectives has really transformed the way I think about design. Design is not just aesthetic—the needs of the user, the limitations of the business, and the strategy of execution all work together to create good design.

You are currently a Packaging Designer at Ammunition in San Francisco. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your current design work? About a year ago Ammunition decided to expand the company and open a small satellite office in New York. That office has become the home office for the packaging department and I was relocated to Brooklyn in April of 2015. At the time I was the only packaging designer for Ammunition along with my boss who leads all packaging creative direction. Since then, we have grown to an office of five designers dedicated to designing and executing all packaging design projects. Being a part of a new office, dedicated to my discipline, and being an integral part in it's growth and development has been the most rewarding part of my career to date.

After finishing your Industrial Design degree at Auburn, you studied at Brunel University in the UK. How have your studies at Brunel influenced your current and past work as a packaging designer? My Master’s at Brunel was in Design Strategy and Innovation. My dissertation looked at how principles of biomimicry and human centered design can be merged together to create one design strategy. Both principles are actually very applicable to my day-to-day work. In packaging we are very concerned with material recyclability, new material technology, and overall product lifecycle management. At the same time, we always keep user needs at the forefront of every design to create the best experience we can for a new consumer. My overall study of design strategy has really helped me understand and participate in long term packaging strategy conversations. We work on projects that often have several products that need packaged or several packaging variations for the same product, so creating a long term packaging strategy to define materials, sizes, modularity, etc. is extremely important to designing a cohesive packaging system. 

You are clearly a successful designer in your field. In your opinion, is it harder for women to become successful in the field of design? At Ammunition I work with tons of companies—established corporations and startups—and there are noticeably not a lot of women in leadership roles. I think it is harder for women to become successful in any field that has historically been dominated by men. I think the biggest hurdle is self-confidence. There are many times that I’m the only female in the room and it can be at times intimidating. Believing in myself, speaking confidently, and trusting that my seat at the table is just as important as the next person, has helped my take steps forward everyday. 

Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? Currently the packaging design team in New York is all men except for me and nearly the whole ID team in San Francisco is male as well.  I would say overall I’m actually more used to working with men than women. I think the differences are more associated with personality and work style rather than a product of someone's gender. Unfortunately, I do believe that female workplace discrimination still does exist, but I luckily work in an environment where no such activity would be tolerated internally by coworkers or externally by a client.

While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? Any corporate sponsored studio at Auburn was challenging, but provided to most “real world” design experience of any class. Any time you have to present your process and ideas to people outside of your peers it can be difficult and humbling. I used to think that I could become a designer and hide behind a sketchpad or computer, but I have to participate in meetings and give presentations almost daily. Speaking up in front of others was never my strongpoint, but getting that initial exposure to sharing my process and ideas with external people in our sponsored studios really helped transition me into a professional environment.

Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? One of the nice things about living in New York is there are a lot design related events going on. I try to go to DesignDrivenNYC every month. It’s a free event once a month where 4-5 people speak about their careers, projects, give advice, etc. all centered on the design industry. They also post their talks online at designdrivennyc.com. For magazines, I frequent FastCompany, mainly because they write a lot of articles about people and products that come out of Ammunition. I also regularly scan The Dieline because it’s specifically for packaging design (www.thedieline.com).

“It’s very important to be able to work with a variety of people and also use their feedback to make the design or idea better.”

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? I wish in school I had a better grasp of realizing how collaborative working the design industry is. Design has an effect on all touch points internally at an organization and externally with customers or users. It’s very important to be able to work with a variety of people and also use their feedback to make the design or idea better. At the same time, I wish there were more opportunities in school to work cross-functionally with students from other departments in elective classes or small side projects. I think the combination of specialties (industrial design, graphic design, engineering, etc.) would create some really interesting and fun projects and better represent working in industry. 

What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? One thing that young designers should avoid doing is sending very long PDF portfolios in job applications. If at PDF attachment is more than 18-20 pages there is very little chance that I’m going to make it through to the end. I would advise people to send 3-4 projects, around 16 total pages and also withhold some additional work or further details to share in an interview.

Design Samples

Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.