Admittedly still figuring out who she is as a designer, Cathy Lee 15 GD is making the most of her open-ended summer internship in the New York office of IDEO (pronounced eye-dee-oh), the global design leader. “It’s such a fluid environment,” says Lee. “I was hired as a communications design intern, but I’m involved in field research and interviews, and I frequently get to step outside of my role as a graphic designer and think about business strategy.”
Known for its human-centered approach, the award-winning firm has helped clients with everything from branding to developing products to designing innovative internal systems and spaces. “The firm has lots of financial clients in the New York market,” says Lee. “One very visible project IDEO worked on is Bank of America’s Keep the Change program. We do a lot of collaboration and brainstorming and bring different ideas to the table.”
That core company focus on collaboration is something that Lee really appreciates on the job. “We do everything in teams,” she says. “I’ve learned that I’m good at organization and keeping the group on topic. Those are skills I can bring back with me to RISD.”
The key to IDEO’s success, says Lee, is the way the firm synthesizes interesting ideas from people with a wide range of backgrounds – futurists, experts in biomimicry, interactive designers – and makes everyone feel comfortable expressing his or her point of view and reacting to one another’s ideas. “IDEO is one of the safest environments I’ve ever worked in,” says Lee. “We frequently have calls with people in the company’s other offices, and everyone is really friendly and nurturing.”
Lee has contributed to a wide range of IDEO projects in the past three months, focusing on user experience, posters and environmental graphics. When the firm was invited to run a workshop in Colorado at the Aspen Ideas Festival, she worked on signage that would “elicit emotional responses, fit the mood of the festival and also provide information.”
Lee’s parents are both Chinese and though she was born and raised in the Midwest, the family moved to Beijing during her high school years. “Switching from a sheltered suburban life to an international school in a crazy city has made me very sensitive to the people around me and where they come from,” she says. “That shows up in my personal style and in my design.”
During her senior year, Lee plans to explore her perspective as a Chinese-American and may study Chinese calligraphy with an eye toward incorporating those type forms into her work in Graphic Design. “The nuances of the different languages and cultures can combine in interesting ways,” she says. “My goal is to create work that brings people together.”
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