Rekindling a Passion for Design
Early in her time at the Institute of Design, Kat Reiser (MDM ’22) watched as her two worlds of design clashed. On one side was industrial design—the source of her undergraduate degree and the field in which she was working at the time—while on the other, the ideas and practices that she was studying in her Master of Design Methods program at ID.
“I had been learning things in the classroom at ID and then clicking off of class and going onto a work meeting and being told to do the opposite. It was very frustrating to learn about the good practices, success stories, and case studies at ID that showcased that this is the best way to do things, and then experiencing the sort of things that the readings would articulate as problems at my job,” Reiser says, adding: “At ID, my worldview opened up.”
The idea of moving on from product design was not something that Reiser expected to happen when she decided to pursue a degree at ID. Working full-time at a kitchenware company in Chicago, Reiser says she initially chose to pursue a graduate degree in design to improve her career trajectory in her chosen field.
Already familiar with ID, Reiser says that she felt that the MDM program, a business-minded program for professionals, would provide a chance to quickly earn the degree that she was looking for during the pandemic without needing to really engage beyond the classroom.
But with a great deal on her plate, including teaching at the Chicago nonprofit Advanced Design, she eventually decided to leave her full-time product design job, recognizing that she was getting more than she’d ever imagined by ingraining herself within the ID community.
“That was very close-minded of me,” Reiser says of her initial mindset. “Once we got on campus, it split open a little bit more and you realized how rich all the different types of people are and the backgrounds that they bring with them. As knowledgeable as the professors are, it’s all the people that you get to work with, and you get exposure to, that reinvigorated my sense of what design could do. I was not expecting this, but I’m happy it happened.”
Courses such as Politics of Design, led by Clinical Professor of Community-Driven Design Christopher Rudd, and a civic design course led by Adjunct Faculty Stephanie Wade and former ID Dean Denis Weil also resonated with Reiser, fundamentally altering her perception of design.
Specifically, she says, these courses allowed her to think about design from different perspectives, getting away from the idea of brand-driven design and helping her to recognize that practicing meaningful, purpose-driven design could be a better fit for her.
“There are all these things that I had been thinking in practice, but didn’t really know how to articulate,” Reiser says. “We’re talking about design, but we’re also talking about business and how all these different systems work together there. I had been working for a nonprofit, and I’ve been interested in politics, and that kind of washed over me and completely redirected my career. ID does a really good job of teeing you up for these changes.”
Reiser will put those ideas in motion after graduation, when she’ll start working as a design strategist for Booz Allen Hamilton, a national consulting firm, working on a team whose client is the United States government. Her turn into civic-focused service design will be aided by the fact that her team will include three ID alumni, which gives her confidence in the relevance of the work they’ll be doing.
It will also serve as a fitting cap to her impactful year-and-a-half journey at ID.
“ID has renewed my optimism in design,” Reiser says, “because I came into this program absolutely cynical with design overall.”
Photo: Kat Reiser (MDM ’22)