My Experience of Working in a Product Design Consultancy -Anna Pritchard (2022)
Is it a male dominated industry?
Anna has been working with us for the past month now during a work placement. Before she left us to head back to university to finish her MSc in product design, we had the chance to interview her to gain some insight into her experience here at ITERATE.
So, you’ve been working at ITERATE for the past month now. How have you found your first experience of working in a product design consultancy?
I have really enjoyed it, and I am extremely thankful for the opportunity. It is an experience that has provided me with a lot of insight into what it’s like working for a consultancy. It is very different to being at University, I specifically found that I learnt so much about the end of the design process.
It has been great having you here Anna. Can you please tell us a bit about the project you’ve been working on and how have you found it?
I have been working on a smart plant monitoring system, for this I have been looking at designing a device that has an app and that measures humidity, moisture, and light. It was an adaptation of an internal project.
When I was first given the project, I initially thought I have seen loads of similar products on the market. At University, I wouldn’t usually do a project around something I feel is already in a saturated market, so for me that really challenged my usual approach, as I had to think of a way to make the product really stand out through my design decisions.
So, I approached this challenge by firstly observing competitors’ products and finding similarities amongst the various different designs. So, as an example I found that they all stuck to the same form. Then from user feedback, I found the reviews regarding the form to be mostly negative. I always try and take on a user’s perspective when developing a product, so from this I was able to determine that the approach I would initially take, would be to change the form.
So, have you found the project to be successful, within the given time frame?
Yes, though I only had a set amount of time to work on the project, and would have loved to have taken it further, I still feel that I have learnt so much being here at ITERATE, especially about getting a product to a standard where it is ready for manufacture.
What would you do next, in the project, if you did have more time?
I would massively improve and refine the size of the end product; I still think it’s too big. The whole concept behind my product was that it was supposed to resemble a pencil, however it is much bigger than a pencil currently. If we were to take away some of the components, it would increase the cost, however it would make mass manufacturing possible.
So, you have mentioned the form a lot when describing your product and what you would do to improve it, is the form of a product usually something you mainly focus on?
This was different for me as it’s not usually the way I work, this whole process is completely new to me. I have never really focused on the form of a product much myself, I normally focus on the functionality of a product I am developing more than the form.
I always try and consider the user when developing a product and with the plant monitoring device I wanted to reflect, in the aesthetic of the end product, what the user of such a device would be drawn to. So, the brief that was set to me was an indoor plant monitoring device, and generally speaking, people who buy indoors plants do so more for aesthetic purposes. This led me to create a device that was nonobtrusive and that wouldn’t take away from the aesthetic of the plant. I wanted the monitoring device to act more like a subtle accessory for the plant rather than having its own visual rights.
Have you found working to a brief selected for you challenging?
Not necessarily, because I quite enjoy learning new things. So, when there’s a topic that I have to look into that I am not familiar with, I enjoy researching into it and expanding my knowledge. As product designers I believe we should be knowledgeable about the field that we are looking into to.
How have you found working in workplace environment compared to doing work at University?
There are some similarities in the sense that you work individually on a set project, however with University I would say I dedicate a lot more time to research, due to having a much larger time frame. I would more so look into a target market and a market response, but at ITERATE its very much focused on viability and verification, which was so good for me as it was the skill set, I needed to develop when going on to complete my degree. This has really opened my eyes to the bigger picture of product design; it’s not just the initial research you have to do, it’s also the verification of the end output.
It’s different as at University you get to pick the products you develop, and they therefore relate to a topic that you find interesting.
What is the main thing you have learnt from working in a design consultancy that you didn’t learn at University?
I would definitely say I have learnt so much about manufacturing and engineering throughout my time at ITERATE. My current experience with manufacturing and engineering was only at surface level and I didn’t realise how much more there was to learn. The design team have this wealth of knowledge, specifically in verification and validation and getting a product to a manufacturing standard, which really helped me learn about this stage of the design process.
Have you found the product design industry, so far, to be male dominated?
I suppose so yes, currently on my course there are only four girls, including myself, and the remainder are boys and also throughout my whole education there has been more males than females looking to go into this industry, but this doesn’t concern me in anyway. I would consider myself to be quite ambitious, so the fact that the industry is male dominated encourages me to change that and pursue a career in it.
So fortunately for me, my Mother is a Manufacturing Engineer, so I have always had someone to look up to that’s in the engineering industry. At one point she was the only women in her team at work, so having this role model to look up to has always pushed me to want to peruse a career in it also and break the bias.
I do think everyone has different traits, and if employers or companies don’t open up to having female engineers or designers, then they’re really missing something, as I believe women have a lot to bring to the table in this sector.
You are the future of this sector, and through your experience so far, can you see a shift in the bias, and can you imagine that from this shift, more women will be attracted to product design and the industry as a whole?
I really do hope so, I love it and I am really passionate about the subject, and I would recommend any women to take it on. There is a need for more diversity in product design and I do think more women are feeling as if this could be a potential career choice. There are already so many incredible design consultancy’s out there that are female driven, however I do feel as if there will be a significant shift in the output of product design with more women involved but trying to gauge where that shift will be visible is hard to visualise.
So, what do you think the industry as a whole could be doing to make a career in the product design more attractive to women?
I don’t necessarily think it’s about making it more attractive to women but more so making it more accessible to women. I mean that in the sense that if we look at it from an angel that focuses on mechanical engineering and electronics engineering, though there are some females that do go into this, women aren’t necessarily always as interested in the sector of product development, so an employer may see this as reason to not hire a women. However, I feel that if someone is showing a willingness to learn new skills, that they may not necessarily be familiar with or even interested in, then this shouldn’t deter an employer from hiring them, and I think this is where a biased has be created.
So why do you think there is this issue of accessibility for women in the product design industry?
So, over the course of the last couple of years, the target market for the products I have created has been children. So, I believe you’re experience as a child when growing up can change the way you think and perceive things and really moulds the person you are and the path you decide to take. As an example, I was exposed to a fantastic women throughout my childhood who is a Manufacturing Engineer, so I had a great women to look up to and that was a role model to me; a lot of children aren’t necessarily exposed to this. So, the last project I did was on stereotypes and from this I learnt a lot about how gender can play a role in these stereotypes and how susceptible children can be to their environment; if a child has grown up absent of these female role models in sectors like product design and engineering, then then they may feel a case of impostures syndrome when thinking about or embarking in a career in this sector, as their opinion on who is able to work in this sector may have been influenced from a young age.
Would you say more female role models in the engineering and product design sector will implement this shift and break the stereotype?
Yes, so Barbie do this really well, they have introduced role model Barbies. The Barbies can vary from being a Ballet Dancer to an Astronaut, they are based on real women, and they tell their story and explains the steps they took to be in the profession they are in. I think this is such a step forward and really shows how our environment and society is shifting, and in turn, showing how there are more female role models from a variety of different sectors.