Bridget Soldan uses design skills for social innovation

ID alum Bridget Soldan (MDM 2018) talks about moving from industrial design to design strategy and social innovation at IIT Institute of Design (ID), and where design should be headed next.

From industrial design to ID

What’s your background? How did you decide to come to ID?

I graduated from Purdue in 2006 with a bachelor’s in industrial design and worked in that field for over 10 years. Before I came to ID, I worked for Masco Corporation designing decorative home fixtures for brands like Delta Faucet—the ones that you see at Home Depot, Target, Walmart. We had our design studio in Chicago.

I actually knew about ID because I had looked into different grad programs a couple of years after I had graduated. I went to an open house, I had a design director that had gone through the program, and I began coming to ID for workshops, events, and Design Camp. That’s when I learned about the option to do the 2-semester MDM program full-time. It fit my background really well, so I applied.

My goal when I left my job and went to ID was to transition from being a visual and product industrial designer to go into more strategy, more social innovation.

What do you most value about your ID experience?

I was really interested in systems thinking and also just exploring options for designing within the social space and what options were out there that were not so commercial, which was what I was trying to pivot away from. I took a lot of Carlos Teixeira’s classes, which I really really loved. They were about thinking more holistically, learning the theory of systems thinking and how that can really intertwine with design.

That was my favorite part of the program: opening my mind to figuring out how to design within an ecosystem. That put me in a different mindset. I wanted to focus more on theory to really change and open my mind to different ways of thinking.

Denis Weil’s civic design class exposed me to specific people in the field of social innovation, a field that isn’t really defined for designers. Stephanie Wade came to talk to us. She works with Bloomberg Philanthropies doing what I didn’t know that I aspired to be doing until I met her. She actually used to work at Booz Allen too.

Also in Denis’s class we did a project with the VA Innovation Center in Milwaukee, for the Veterans Hospital specifically. We got to know the woman who was leading that and she expressed that there was a big need for designers in that area. It made me want to look for those places that design is really needed, but it’s not there yet. And that was what attracted me to what I’m doing now.

Why civic design?

I really wanted to do something with my time and energy that was generally more meaningful than what I was doing before. That was my main goal, but I wasn’t fully set on going into the civic space because I didn’t know if there was even a market for that. What I found is that ID professors are a really great resource for counseling on what career options are out there.

Advocating for veterans

Describe the work you do now.

In the Veterans Experience Office account at Booz Allen, we create a strategy to really understand veterans on the ground level. We focus on how we can measure the services veterans are getting, in terms of customer experience, in a good and clear way. We also work to really understand their needs and to come up with better solutions. I work on a design team that’s grown quite a bit, a group of design strategists and service designers.

Every part of what we do is from a human-centered perspective. I like to think of us as advocates for veterans.

The MDM outcome

What would you tell someone considering the MDM program?

I mean my biggest advice to anyone going to grad school in general would be set clear goals for yourself while keeping your mind open in the time you have there. The time you have there is really what you make of it. What you put into it is what you’re going to get out of it. So get to know your profs and peers as well as you can. One of the benefits of being there is the connections you make.

What difference did the MDM make for you?

I think about sometimes where I was at before I went to ID. I think of it as a pivotal moment: I felt like I had to do something differently, I wasn’t satisfied. So it was either getting another job and putting everything into looking for new opportunities, or trying to improve myself and figure things out through going back to grad school for getting to that next level.

I did put some time and effort into looking for jobs and testing the waters and I kind of felt like I was going to be doing the same thing I was doing. If I didn’t go back to school I definitely would not have been in DC working for Booz Allen—I would not have even known it was an option.

It’s so fast-paced here that I have to really push myself to reflect on things. It hasn’t even been a year yet since I’ve been here, and I definitely think I’ve grown as a designer, as a strategist, and also really exposed myself to a completely different world. I never thought about what it would be like working for the federal government.

In sum, I attended ID August 2017 to May 2018. I interviewed with Booz Allen during recruitID in March 2018 and started there in July 2018. So in less than a year I had finished the program and started a new career.

I’m definitely happy with my decision and wouldn’t change it.

What's next for design

Where do you see design increasingly providing value or taking a larger role?

I definitely see a huge opportunity since I’ve been here for more designers in government, whether it’s federal government or local government. Thinking about the public as customers or users, putting them at the center of decisions, giving them a voice. I think that right now at least human-centered design is trending in certain parts of the federal government. People say they want it now because it’s working. It’s starting to get traction, which is really exciting, and being seen more in local and city governments which are actually able to make change more quickly.

Obviously, it’s also really big in healthcare right now. I see education as the next healthcare. It’s one of those things that it should be considered a basic human right which I think makes it similar to healthcare in the fact that it needs a lot of help and there’s a lot of opportunity to improve.

MDM 2018

Bridget Soldan

Last year Bridget Soldan (MDM 2018) landed a position at Booz Allen Hamilton after interviewing at recruitID.

Join us at Civic Design in DC on April 11, 2019, when Bridget and fellow ID alumni Jenna Petersen (MDM 2018) and Ellie Eberts (MDes 2016) discuss their experiences at ID and design’s role in addressing large-scale problems.

In less than a year I had finished the MDM program and started a new career."