As a young industrial designer graduating from the University of Houston in spring 2012, there were many different paths I could have taken. But even before graduating, I knew I wanted to be involved in the healthcare industry. It may not sound like the obvious choice: there are a high number of constraints to work with, no room for mistakes, the environment is incredibly fast-paced, and the design opportunities may appear boring.
Some designers are under the impression that exploration and creativity are limited in this field, when in fact it's quite the opposite. The healthcare industry actually demands for its designers to be familiar with new technologies that are being developed, as well as to constantly research new materials and manufacturing processes. Upon my graduation, I was hired by Formation, a multi-disciplinary design firm located in The Woodlands, Texas, outside of Houston. In my new job, I found a place to pursue forward-thinking design where my passion for research and the design process was actively encouraged. It was definitely not what I expected from an entry-level position.
Although I had previously interned with other design companies, this was my first real design job. I'd finally shed the title of “intern” and was now a project designer. I knew that I wanted to improve people’s lives through design, but at the time, I didn’t know to what extent. I was especially surprised with how fast things are completed, and how quickly a concept goes from being a sketch to actually being manufactured. This varies from one project to another, of course, but I'm constantly impressed with how efficient and, generally, how well things can be done if you trust and follow the design process.
As I began my first big project designing the exterior signage of the Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), I was surprised with how easy the transition was, going from a student to an actual "real life" designer. Although I was new to the wayfinding industry, I was able to apply the same design process that I learned in school studying industrial design. Working on CHOC, I began to realize that although it's rewarding to come up with concepts that push the envelope, it's always important to make sure that these are feasible, keeping in mind the possible manufacturing processes that will be used to bring those concepts to life. And then there's the challenge for any young project designer: design quickly, and pragmatically, while adhering to budgets, schedules, and project themes—all while processing real-time changes.
I've also learned how important donors are in the healthcare industry. Many of these hospitals wouldn't exist if it weren’t for them. One of my many roles in the project was working on the donor recognition for CHOC, which sensitized me deeply because many of the donors have lost someone dear to them. In order to honor them properly, I felt that I had to come up with various design concepts that allowed me to see how design can acquire and express deep thoughts, while maintaining the function for which they're designed.
While design students and young job seekers might quietly dread getting “stuck” on one project or one industry, I want to say that in the end, you're in control of the kind of work you want to do. Starting at the bottom, you may not be able to choose the clients or the aspects of the project you'll work on. However, if you work hard to improve your skills and become proficient in one or multiple areas, people will take notice and you'll find yourself doing more of what you love. This is also why it's important to research your potential employers. By mixing various design disciplines, such as graphic design, industrial design, and environmental design, I’m constantly finding new ways to interact and engage with our users and clients. So far, I've enjoyed this journey. This field is full of possibilities and it's been one of the most rewarding experiences I've had. Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unlikely assignments.