If my department chair told me 2 years ago that by the time I graduate from Art Center, I will have conducted field research in Peru and India, studied and collaborated with MBAs in Singapore and worked at my dream company in San Francisco, I would never have believed him. Ironically, he actually did allude to such possibilities during my 4th term review and even in hindsight I’ll never know how he could have guessed so accurately. As an Environmental Design student with a Designmatters Concentration, I have been able to travel to the most curious corners of the world, meet and connect to amazing people and have learned more about myself than ever before.
This past Fall I wrapped up an intensive MBA exchange program between Art Center and the INSEAD Business School, and then became a Design Strategist Intern at Hot Studio, an impressive 16-year old experience design agency based in San Francisco and New York City. I was introduced to Hot Studio through Designmatters during my search for “the perfect studio” to join post-graduation. I wanted to find an inspiring company that was not only setting technological trends but was also addressing complex issues surrounding social innovation. Hot’s ability to choose and implement projects in industries such as education, community engagement, and healthcare, exceeded my expectations in many ways. Grad ID Alumn, Radhika Bhalla (’09) had been an active member of Designmatters during her time at Art Center and was able to apply her passions in social innovation as a Design Strategist for Hot. Radhika was Hot’s first Social Innovation Intern and little did I know I was to be Hot’s last intern.
Before Hot’s acquisition by Facebook, my time working at the studio was filled with incredible experiences of astonishment and brilliance. I instantly fell in love with the company, its values and its people. The kind-hearted, talented and inspiring team behind Hot’s doors brought about interesting discussions and positive zeal within every interaction. Each day was filled with different challenges and rewards and I got to learn directly from all branches of the company from the designers and directors to the developers and engineers.
In my second week of work, I was assigned to a fast-paced project to work with a Creative Lead, UX Designer, Client Partner and Producer. After the briefing, I jumped in to help put together interview/user-testing materials to bring to offsite research trips around San Francisco. I was asked to contribute my ideas, methodologies and criticism throughout the whole process, and what surprised me the most was the openness of the project team and how eager they were to learn from me, as I wanted to learn from them. This made me feel extremely appreciated and valued as a member of the team, which created an incredibly encouraging and creative working environment. There seemed to be no hierarchical line between the seniors and juniors, which allowed me to add my unique contributions to the project. I was even able to present a part of the final presentation to the client, which gave me an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
Each day I left the studio in awe of the fact that I had found a company where I saw the direct impact of my design education and training put to the test. Even as an intern, I was addressing complex design and business problems. I was energized by the attitudes and passions of my co-workers who were always eager to share about their in-work and out-of-work projects. I discovered that each person sitting beside me was spearheading their own start-up, outreaching to their local communities or producing theater productions outside of work. Each person was encouraged and supported by the “Hot family” to pursue these passions holistically.
Hot stood out above other studios because they were not only able to balance high-profile clients, but were also able to commendably create meaningful and valuable deliverables for clients working on topics surrounding social issues today. The studio hosted events like “Triple-Bottom Lunches” where courageous individuals working on social impact missions came in to share their experiences on the hardships and rewards of pursuing such ventures. Under the direction of Social Innovation Director Sarah Brooks, the group spearheaded projects spanning categories ranging from civic innovation, healthcare and education. I was able to participate in the Hot’s Civic Innovation group. Our goal was to create an indie-child organization called City Pixels SF, fueled by the passions of Hotties to host and facilitate quarterly panel discussions around civic issues. Our first event was called The Future of Retail where Kevin McKenzie of Westfield Labs and Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks, came in to discuss the trends in consumer culture and behavior, and how the commerce space was responding in shaping the future of our retail experiences. City Pixels SF kicked off with thought-provoking discussions and interest to pursue more events in the future.
In late March, I jumped onto the production team of AIGA SF’s bi-annual Compostmodern conference. Sarah was the executive producer and I was able to assist her in the ticket sales and planning team. The topic focused on Resilience and the exploration of creating a more sustainable world through design. Speakers like John Bielenberg, Eve Blossom, Ezio Manzini and Dr. Paul Polak graced the stage with their experiences and calls to action. By being a part of the planning committee, I met people I never would otherwise have interacted with. After numerous emails, calls and meetings, the world of working within the social impact community opened its doors to me. Never before would I have imagined to be working side-by-side with some of the most prominent game changers in the industry. Never would I have imagined that I would be driving Dr. Paul Polak around the Bay Area and bouncing ideas and career advice off him.
I am so thankful I was offered the opportunity to take part in such a rewarding production. My participation in Designmatters sponsored projects like Safe Agua Peru and TEDxArtCenter equipped me with the knowledge and first-hand experiences to share with others. I jumped into riveting discussions on the state of our planet and capitalistic markets, and listened carefully to other peoples’ successes and failures in their organizations. The people at the conference were warm-hearted, welcoming, intelligent and fearless. Completely inspired and encouraged to take my own steps forward to a career in social innovation design, I can never forget the doors that were opened to me and continuous support of people who believed in the fight to create a better world.
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