What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? Honestly, my life today is consumed by being a working mom and just trying to keep my head above water. I am amazed by parents, especially other women who are able to have a vibrant career outside of the home and be a great parent. It is really tough to balance.
I would say that I am fascinated by women, particularly moms, who have their own thing going on – whether they are professional bloggers, makers, or small business owners of a baby product. Their effort to find their own niche enables them to continue down a creative, professional path while having more flexibility to devote to their families. That is what I aspire to figure out for myself.
“Great design isn’t just about creating a beautiful object; it is creating something that is user-friendly, intuitive, and solves a problem.”
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? It is hard for me to pinpoint a single influence on my way of thinking about design. Thinking through this question, I feel like my aesthetic is influence by my mom who’s style is definitely less is more; this aligns with my design point of view or design preference which in some ways I also feel like is innate, in addition to be learned.
My love for design research was definitely influenced from my graduate thesis days at Auburn and carried over into practical use at Newell Rubbermaid. I am a detail oriented person so I love diving into a topic and discovering different points of view about the same topic.
Designing approachable and user-friendly products that solve a consumer frustration or need is an approach that I came to value from my days working at Newell Rubbermaid. Great design isn’t just about creating a beautiful object; it is creating something that is user-friendly, intuitive, and solves a problem. Everyone loves beautiful objects but if they aren’t useful, they are more objets d’art than well designed products.
You worked in product design, design strategy and color forecasting for Newell Rubbermaid (Goody and Home Solutions segments) for several years. In all of that experience, what was the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your daily design work? When I look back at my time at Newell Rubbermaid and Goody, the most rewarding part was my work family – the friendships and relationships that I made. I worked with a great group of people from my ID team to my cross-functional team to the suppliers. I absolutely loved the design team that I was a part of, and I had such a great, supportive team and manager from whom I learned so much.
I had a great manager who worked with me to carve out ways to grow within the position that I held. At times, I focused on managing interns and supplier relationships; later on during my 5 year tenure, I wanted to learn more about color forecasting, design research, and design strategy. I was lucky to work for people and a company who valued my profession al development and gave me the opportunity to explore areas of interest.
You are currently the Director of Aesthetic Design at Simmons Bedding Company in Atlanta. What type of design challenges does your current position entail? In my current position, I am essentially the right hand woman to the SVP of Aesthetic Design and Innovation. Part of my position is to help think through design ideas and strategy and then sell the ideas internally, often challenging conventional thinking. Our team is also often called upon to sell looks and ideas to our retail customers during key account meetings.
In the background, we manage the logistics and procurement of materials for prototyping and development, and later in pre-production, & production, we work with our suppliers to overcome technical challenges of textiles and new processes. There are lots of design challenges that pop up in myriad places throughout new product development – it definitely keeps you on your toes.
In your graduate school thesis you focused on developing guidelines to help designers create power tools with women in mind. How did that in-depth research prepare you for your work as a designer in the field? My graduate work fueled a passion for me in design research. I love digging into a topic, understanding the background, and attacking it from different angles. This served me well at Newell Rubbermaid on several projects – helped me understand a specific consumer frustration, develop potential solutions from a variety of angles, and then define a scope that worked best for the business and end user. The thing that is so great about product design is that there are so many types of products and consumer needs – there is always room to learn and to be curious.
“...have confidence in yourself and apply for that job that you don’t think you’re qualified for.”
In your experience, do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful in the design field? In general, I think it is tough to be successful in product design. There is a lot of competition out there, and often, moving up requires moving companies and/or geographical locations. I saw a lot of young designers, who started out as interns at Newell, struggle to get their foot in the door and more seasoned designers struggle to advance to where they wanted or deserved to be.
What I would recommend is to work hard to get that first internship or job — it may not be your ideal product to design or company to work for but it is a start. Secondly, be flexible with where you are willing to live — I was not much to the chagrin of my Auburn professors; luckily, I made it work and found some good companies in Atlanta to work for. The last thing I’ll say is have confidence in yourself and apply for that job that you don’t think you’re qualified for. I read somewhere that when applying for jobs, women felt the need to be nearly a 100% match vs. men at 60%.
My recommendation for young women designers is to give it a shot. I know I’ve bypassed job opportunities because I didn’t think I was ready for them. I procrastinated and the opportunity passed. It doesn’t hurt to apply and interview – if it doesn’t work out, something else will.
Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? To me, these experiences where you might feel or be treated differently is more of a result of the company culture or the makeup of a functional team. In my experience, R&D teams have been heavily male, especially engineering. I was lucky enough at Newell to have a balanced design team (50% male/ 50% women) and to find the support of other female colleagues with in R&D.
The mattress industry is very heavily male dominated and is a stark contrast to working for the Goody business which very female oriented. I am still in the early stages of learning the industry and finding my voice but I like that I am able to hold my own.
“My graduate work fueled a passion for me in design research. I love digging into a topic, understanding the background, and attacking it from different angles.”
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find interesting? (books, websites, podcasts, etc.) Fast Company, Coroflot, Behance, Core77, Design Milk, TED Talks, Pinterest, NPR, StoryCorps, WGSN
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school for design? A couple things that would have served me well would have been to focus more on sketching and to know Solidworks; I was really good at Rhino but the companies that I worked for didn’t use it.
In school, group projects can seem like a pain because you don’t weld total control of your design. The reality of the working world is that all of your work will be group projects. You will likely be on a cross-functional team and have clients – whether they are internal or external to the business that you work for. A big part of your job will be selling ideas and influencing people.
Also, having gone back to school for ID, I wish that I would have also gotten my MBA and have been more versed in business. I think having a MBA paired with a design degree gives you more credibility when you work for a large corporation.
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? I have seen a very talented designer not get a job offer because he lacked general tact and good manners – this was seen as a character flaw. Having a decent personality and treating others well is critical to getting hired and being part of a cohesive design team.
Another thing that I learned is that you don’t have to know everything when you start working. Being malleable and willing to learn often makes you a better candidate than those who are less flexible.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.