Jessica Dugan, Senior Design Manager at 3M

From journalism to healthcare design

Jessica Dugan (MDes + MBA 2012), Senior Design Manager at 3M, talks to Kanal Chhajed (MDes 2021) about her career journey and the pivotal role of ID in shaping her path. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Tell me a bit about your background and what led you to ID.

I actually studied magazine journalism and cultural studies when I was an undergrad. When I graduated, I was kind of playing around with what I wanted to do. I had the opportunity to work as a communication designer on the university magazine and really enjoyed the experience. As I looked around for options, I found ID, and thought, great, yeah, I think I want to be a designer. I applied but then I also got an offer for a job.

If you’d have asked me when I was an undergrad if I could see myself where I am now, doing the things that I’m doing, I’d say: “There’s no way.”

I ended up doing print production at a publishing company, but I kind of knew that I wanted to go back to design school. I started on a second bachelor’s degree at the Harrington College of Design in Chicago. And I did that for a couple semesters and then realized that the level of the curriculum there wasn’t challenging for me. I realized that I needed to have a master’s degree. So I quit that program, and I reapplied to ID.

Where did you go after ID?

One thing that I really love about ID is the real-world projects that you get to do. Through those experiences—I ended up doing my internship at a service design consultancy—I discovered that I was interested in consulting. At Peer Insight, I used both my design and business skill sets. They brought me on as a contractor for my last year of school and eventually as a full-time employee after graduation. I worked at Peer Insight for almost four years — including an internship and contracting stint — and then just decided that I wanted a change.

One thing that I really love about ID is the real-world projects that you get to do.

One of my former colleagues at Peer Insight had actually moved to Minneapolis to join United Healthcare. They were building up a human-centered design team there to focus on how to create services for their members. That was a different type of experience for me because it was an internal design team, and I learned that sometimes you have more influence as a consultant than an employee. But it was a great role. I really got to do a lot of work with the Medicaid and the Medicare populations. My boss there for three years was Mark Jones, who’s a professor at ID and he is really great. He’s one of the founders of Service Design Network, so it was wonderful to learn from him.

After some role changes at United Healthcare, I decided that I wanted to be in a more design-led organization and joined 3M, again through a colleague referral. I found out that 3M has a really great design-driven culture.

3M is one of a very small number of organizations in the world that has a Chief Design and Brand Officer (CDBO).

Since our CDBO is part of the C-suite, we have some real influence in the organization. 3M is currently transitioning—we’re moving away from being solely a product-based company into being more of a software-and service-based company. So we need people who understand business models, connected systems, and IoT [Internet of Things] to really come in and begin to talk to the business partners and start to design some of those more complex interactions.

What kind of projects are you working on at 3M in your current role?

I recently moved into a new role at 3M Design, Senior Design Manager, where I am responsible for the management of multiple design disciplines within our Oral Care Solutions Division, including UX and Industrial/Product Design as well as dotted-line responsibilities to our Brand and Packaging Operations teams. I’m only a few weeks in but I am excited for the opportunity to expand my knowledge and influence across design disciplines and deep into the Oral Care industry.

In my previous role, I was responsible for UX Design projects across three divisions within our Health Care team. First, I worked in Food Safety. It is really technical, but the cool thing is that we get to work with truly multidisciplinary teams.We launched a new product in January 2021 and that project was a collaboration between myself and a couple other designers, our microbiologist team at 3M, our technical team, and our business marketers. You have to work with everybody to design complex software that has very specific clinical and scientific use cases, and you have to understand the general premise of the science.

We get to work with truly multidisciplinary teams.

We always joke that for this project, we had to become mini-microbiologists because there’s no way you can design to that level without understanding the use case and the science behind it.

In my new role, I’m managing, by far, the biggest team that I ever have. I have seven direct reports here. And they run the gamut from design researchers and strategists, information architects, prototypers, interaction designers, industrial/product designers, and then other service designers as well. And depending on the need, visual designers, too. I do a little bit of creative direction and oversee things to make sure everybody’s executing on their projects. I’m really happy to have landed at an organization that has such breadth and that it’s been able to keep me busy.

I think designers often have short attention spans. We can lose interest very quickly.

That’s why I think our tenure tends to be about three, four years at every company. I’m no different. It’s nice to know that there are places to move internally at 3M.

I think it’s funny — we all have these really complex journeys, and I’m always telling mentees and students, you can never predict what your career will be and how you’re going to get there.

What is one thing that you would advise students to be very intentional about in their careers?

I think that you need to be aware of the different steps of your career and how you want to contribute. I loved my job at Peer Insight. I loved my colleagues. I was doing great stuff. But I was moving up the ranks so quickly there that I was losing touch with doing the actual work. I found myself doing a lot more sales presentations versus actually going into the field. And part of that is the consulting model, the higher you go, the more expensive you are, and the client only has so much budget.

I was moving up the ranks so quickly that I was losing touch with doing the actual work.

I had only been out of school for three years and I knew I wanted to do research and strategy. And I didn’t feel like I had lived those experiences enough. So I thought about it and decided that I needed at least a couple more big projects, where I was immersing myself in research and really living the experience because I hadn’t felt like I had had that. So to me, that was a big turning point and I wasn’t afraid to speak up — I had a good relationship with the leadership team.

So I guess my advice would be: know how you want to contribute and what you want to get out of a job.

And if you feel like you’ve already gotten that or you can’t learn anymore, then maybe it’s time to move on. Or if you feel like you can’t get there, you’re too low or you’re too high on the org chart, or there’s just not a chance to gain that experience there, then that might be another reason to leave. And you should always try to work it out, especially if you have a good relationship with your team and your bosses. There’s no shame in saying, “This is what I need from this job.” Right? You don’t want to be stuck somewhere that’s not fulfilling.

Are there any particular skills or expertise that you’d advise students to gain before they graduate?

Yes, ecosystem thinking is big right now. It’s thinking about all of the different on-ramps to your products and services. You need to think about whether a product has the potential to be connected to the Internet of Things, what are the companion products, how would you pull data in, and how is everything linked together.

Ecosystem thinking is big right now. When we’re hiring, we look for people who understand not how to not think about one narrow thing, but who can really think about the whole strategy for how those things connect and can represent that in some way.

Now, with COVID, and everybody being quarantined, we really have to think about how all of those communications are happening between the different products and services to make that a seamless experience for our users. That’s a natural extension of service design and business model innovation because you have to have both of those things to understand that kind of wiring diagram to help you strategize and execute.

Secondly, I would say it’s important to get some familiarity with business model innovation, and how that impacts your design.

You have to understand business needs in order to design the right thing that fits into the value proposition for your customer.

Learning how to talk to a business partner or a client and pull out those important things that drive the constraints around your solution is really important, and not something that all designers get exposure to. Yeah, it’s a common conception that it’s a skill that senior designers would require, but it’s necessary at a junior level too — junior designers are the ones who are actually making and designing the product.

Any experiences at ID that you value which one might not get once you graduate?

One of the things that I probably did not do as well as my other peers, but now I’m kind of wishing that I did, was building great relationships with professors.

The more relationships you have, the better you set yourself up for success and career advancement in the future.

I see people who kind of forged those relationships and how they have some advantages over me. Where if they have a question about something, they’re not afraid to reach out and get advice. So I think that’s important.

See your professors as peers, because they are going to be your peers in the design world. And they’re going to be the ones that can give you great advice. They will be the ones that can help you directly when you’re in a tough situation because they’ve probably experienced it before.

The other thing would be to make friends with the other students beyond your cohort. Those relationships are so important and almost every job that I’ve gotten since grad school was due to interpersonal relationships.

Originally published at

“See your professors as peers, because they are going to be your peers in the design world. And they’re going to be the ones that can give you great advice.”