Brian Mason recently joined Essential to lead our consumer healthcare practice. Brian grew up in New England, graduated from Dartmouth with a BE and MS in mechanical engineering, and then moved west to work at IDEO for a decade. After leading IDEO’s consumer and medical product development, he joined the wearable breast pump start-up Willow in its early days, and over the following four years, built an in-house development and engineering team, which launched a Best of CES product in 2017, and the company continues to scale.
1. You just moved from California to Boston with your family. How has the change of coast been?
Folks keep asking, “Are you settled yet?”. With three young kids at home, the answer is “Nope... but we would not have it any other way!” We decided to move East to be closer to family. With our desire for adventure and with a supportive community, we struck out in faith and made it a reality. We are settling into Boston and enjoying the proximity to so much that we love (like all of the wonderful bodies of water to swim in). I am honored to be back in the product development sphere that Boston is known for - particularly the medical device community. I am confident that I will still have some New England blood in my veins come winter!
Brian and his family on top of Rattlesnake Mountain, overlooking Squam Lake in New Hampshire.
2. So you went from working in consulting, to being the client and working at a start-up, and then back to consulting. What was behind your decision to return to the world of consulting?
I have worked in consulting for the bulk of my career, and I love it. The word “consultant” can have negative perceptions, but a good design consultant works alongside clients and companies to give them a boost of energy and rigor around user insights, design conceptualization, engineering expertise, etc. Partnering (keyword!) with clients on their toughest problems allows us product developers to leverage best practices across many industries, companies, and design disciplines. I experienced that first hand. My experience at Willow was once-in-a-lifetime as we took a breast pump concept and turned it into a wearable product that has been life-changing for new mothers. Bringing a product to market (and every facet associated with that) is incredibly hard, and everyone who does that day in and day out should be high-fived. I am thankful that I have been able to live it from both sides, and my goal is to continue to bring meaningful products to market.
3. What attracted you to Essential?
An early mentor once told me that when she reviews candidates’ resumes, she first goes to the bottom to see what makes the person tick before she gets to the top to make sure they have the important experience. I feel the same way about Essential. I knew from the beginning that the important stuff was there. It was the small things in the company culture that made the difference: daily lunch around a big table together; off-site trips prioritized by everyone (partner to intern) across the company; taking the time to stop and ask colleagues about their weekends and their families... Essential is a cutting edge design and innovation firm with a cross-functional team of experts who all work really well together, aiming to get the best product experience (from a user, technology, and business perspective) to market.
4. How would you describe your role?
At Essential, my role (and everyone’s role) is to help our clients take a strategy or an idea, and iterate to get the product, service, and/or experience to market. My role, which is also my passion, focuses on leading consumer healthcare engagements. From having the very first coffee conversation to handing off the final deliverables, I work closely with our clients to ensure we're helping them innovate in the best way possible. Essential already has great experience in this industry, so I'm excited about the new opportunities we can help create in this space. There is so much potential!
5. Let’s take a minute to go back in time. Tell us about one of your favorite college courses.
I laugh when I think about a couple of courses I took during my graduate work at Dartmouth. During the class, "Intro to Product Design", I built a ski pole that had a lock built into the handle (to easily lock skis up when you ran in to get lunch) as well as a set of snowshoes, which allowed you to snowshoe up a mountain and then glide back down the hill when needed.
With the ski pole, I decided to paint the prototype the night before the final presentation. Unfortunately, I did not use quick-dry paint, and that morning when presenting to my advisors, my hands became sticky and covered in green paint. Later that semester, I did final user testing with the snowshoe out on a local sledding hill. A friend of mine was testing it out when the snowshoe broke apart right under his foot at the first turn. Unfortunately, I had used a superglue (as I was building quickly) that dissolves in water. It is no surprise that the idea of “failing fast in order to succeed sooner” was drilled into me early in my career.
Prototypes of a snowshoe and ski pole that Brian designed early in his career in graduate school.
6. Much of your work is creative by nature, but do you enjoy any other creative outlets?
I love a good project. And now that I have children who can handle tools and love to be in the garage with me, I have no shortage of helpers. My dad has always been big into projects. I think it’s because he is good at them, they can be done with other people, they normally involve physical labor, and it keeps him young. I am similar. Whether it is installing racks in the basement, building a tree fort in the backyard, or mulching someone else's yard with them, that is my happy place. Building stuff with people. I guess that is why I am at Essential - I love to build stuff with people. Simple as that.
Brian building a puzzle board with his daughter and son.
7. What might people not know about you?
On the personal side, I am part ski bum who wishes every morning I wake up that the office would be closed, the roads would be blocked, and I would be “stuck” at a ski mountain as the snow falls. If I snap back to reality, I am also part organizational nerd. Especially after living in the close-quarters of California for so many years, I find myself daydreaming of new ways to set up or organize a space to make it beautiful and functional. At work, this looks like delivering a well-thought-out final presentation, or being a stickler for CAD best practices and embracing a Quality System (even when it means a little documentation “here and there”).
Want to know more about Engineering Development at Essential?