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Designing for Function

Art Aiello |
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Art Aiello is a writer and editor based in Waukesha, WI.

Finding one’s calling can be something that happens rather suddenly and in the middle of walking another path. For Motivo co-founder Jennifer Harris, her “aha” moment came during her third year of architecture school at the University of Michigan.

“I happened to attend a lecture given by Tony Dorado, a human resources senior advisor from Nike, that featured the role of industrial designers at the company,” Harris said. “I was hooked. I found an immediate connection to the creative process of taking a user’s needs and translating them into functional products. I have kept Tony’s business card all these years — 17 to be exact — which probably speaks to how pivotal those 60 minutes in the lecture hall were to my career trajectory. Shortly thereafter, I transferred into the design program and finished out my degree in industrial design.”

That is not to say that her career in product design has not been influenced by her training in architecture. A proponent of the “form follows function” approach espoused by American architect Louis Sullivan, Harris said she strives for simple, intuitive designs in which the form of the product reflects its purpose and every detail has intention.

“My design inspiration comes from the users — their needs, likes and dislikes. This input most directly shapes the final design,” she said.

“We started with users to develop the Tour design and involved them throughout the entire process to get to the finished form and function,” Harris explained. “The resulting form of the Tour is a reflection of its function both in its utility and intentional [deviation] from the typical medical device...”

Harris is particularly excited about the Tour, because she said that for her, the most rewarding aspect of her career is seeing a finished product being used in the world.

“Anytime in the design process when a prototype or finished product elicits a ‘wow’ from a user,” she said, “is the moment you know a need is being met and you are doing your job as a designer.”

Harris said that she looks forward in the coming months to building awareness of the Tour as an option to conventional walkers — one with an ergonomic, modern design unlike anything currently on the market.

And if she wasn’t reinventing walkers? Harris professes she’d pursue her love of metalwork.

“I’d likely fire up my torch. It’s been a while since I’ve designed and created some jewelry and metalsmithed objects,” she said.

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