What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? I am fascinated by the positive potential that people have to affect those around them. When you work in product design, you come to realize that you have a responsibility to care about your work because the results directly affect the people’s quality of life. It’s a powerful position to be in.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking about design? When I was in my first year of college, I made the decision to change degrees. My attention span was next to zero in my core classes, and it was evident by my notebooks full of doodles. I had no idea at the time that industrial design existed until a friend of mine, by a happy accident, showed me around his studio space. I fell in love with the projects hanging all over the walls and models filling up the classrooms. This was where I wanted to be.
On my first day in the summer entrance program for ID, I felt awkward and out of place. A few days into the program, Professor Lu pulled me aside to let me know I was at the top of the class and to keep it up. His reassurance in a moment of doubt sparked the confidence that I needed to move forward and become a designer.
You worked for TTI Floor Care North America as an Industrial Designer for several years out of school. It seems you gained some extremely valuable experience as a lead designer on some well known products. What advice would you give to student designers today who are preparing themselves hoping to land their first job working on a product development team? When you are searching for your first job, know that this one will not likely be your "dream job", and that is okay. It's a journey, and you will get there. Take advantage of your time after graduation as the underdog. Listen and soak up anything and everything from the people that you work with.
You are currently a designer at BlackHagen Design. What is the most interesting or perhaps rewarding part of your current design work? At BlackHägen, I am primarily designing medical devices. I find the nature of this work (in general) to be both challenging and rewarding, as the end result can become a life-altering solution.
The time that I've spent doing product research in hospitals has been the most rewarding part of my work here so far. It has opened my eyes to the magnitude of responsibility that comes with medical design. In a clinical environment, there are opportunities for improvement everywhere you look, but your time there to observe is limited. You have to become a hybrid of a sponge and a fly on the wall so that you can soak up all the information while not disturbing the clinical staff. It's a tricky position to be in.
“We solve problems differently, and we have a different aesthetic understanding of design.”
You are clearly gaining success as a designer in your field. However, in your opinion, is it harder for women to become successful in the field of design? I do not necessarily think that it is harder to become successful as a woman. In a lot of ways, you have an advantage as a woman in design. There are not as many of us in the field, and you have something unique to contribute that a man cannot. We solve problems differently, and we have a different aesthetic understanding of design. A woman is an asset on every design team, and a good manager will recognize that.
Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? Industrial design is a male-dominated industry, so most of my professional experience has been in working with men. I find the collaboration between creative men and women to be rewarding and productive because we complement each other well. I have not noticed huge differences in treatment because I'm a female.
Growing up with four brothers has taught me a thing or two about working with men, and I feel lucky to benefit from my upbringing in a career that I love.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? The one that stands out most in my mind was the semester with Rich Britnell, designing electric smokers. I remember learning more that semester than in all of the others. Plus, he let us learn to weld. Who doesn’t like welding?
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful?
(1) “The Universal Traveler: A Soft-Systems Guide to: Creativity, Problem-Solving, and the Process of Reaching Goals by Don Kober (a fun read)
(2) Industrial Design Served (for product design references)
(3) Pinterest (for trending material)
(4) Medgadget (for designers working in the medical device industry)
(5) Freakonomics Radio (just for fun!)
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? You don’t have to stay up all hours of the night to get ahead. Be smart and efficient with your time, and you will be better respected in industry. Habits start forming while you are a student, so form the right ones.
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? Avoid writing a generic cover letter. Write a little bit about who you are. You are bound to find a better fit if you are as honest as possible with potential employers. Your portfolio is a useful tool, but your personality goes a long way. I’ve seen managers flip through many a portfolio mindlessly, so don’t put all of your effort in that alone.
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.