Name: Katie Schussheim 
Hometown: Mason, Ohio 
Education: University of Cincinnati, Bachelor of Science in Industrial Design (College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning (DAAP))
Work Experience: Product Designer at Summer Infant; internships in consumer healthcare, surgical device design, glass packaging, & themed entertainment design
Current Title/Team:  Design Researcher, Innovation Strategy



You started your career in industrial design. How did you end up in design research and strategy?

Actually, before I pursued industrial design, my first passion was fashion design. A pre-college summer course, a bad sewing teacher, and an insightful comparison by a college administrator all helped me redirect my focus to industrial design; I discovered this was where I could really change lives. In my studies, I focused on medical design and then went on to learn about a slew of other design avenues... I eventually discovered the research portion of the design process was my forte. To improve on an existing design, research always comes first; you have to understand who will use a product, how they will engage with it, and what the “pain points” are in the current experience. To me, research is the most fascinating part of the design process; it lives at the intersection of psychology, physiology, and design. I’m excited to fuel better design solutions through my product research and discovery work at Essential.


What is your favorite thing about your role?

I love how diverse it is. I genuinely learn something new each and every day. I get to become a (quasi-) expert in whatever subject matter my current project is on. There are so many opportunities to dive into new topics and engage with people from diverse backgrounds. 


What’s the most challenging thing about your job that people might not realize?

People may not realize that research involves a lot of observation, listening, moderation, and comprehension -- typically hours upon hours of information. Whether actively pursuing lines of inquiry during an interview, spending days onsite at a factory, or scanning videos for behavior cues, it can be strenuous maintaining a heightened level of awareness, observation, and engagement over long periods of time. The nature of the work can be both physically and mentally draining.


What product or experience would you love to get your hands on to redesign? How would you fix it?

Coming from midwestern suburbia, I had little experience with public transportation systems. When I started working at Essential, commuting on the MBTA (Boston’s public transport system) became an integral part of my daily routine. At first I found it incredible that I could so easily access the entire city - now, as the newness fades, I begin to see such potential for improvement! A technological update, consistency between lines, and some thoughtful wayfinding design would go a long way to improve the MBTA!


What are you passionate about?

Outside of work, I’m passionate about reading and sustainability. I recently read Frankenstein and Dracula on a quest to consume all of the ‘classics’...  I'm currently working my way through Moby Dick. I’m surprised by how much time and popular culture have changed the context of these stories and given them new life beyond the page. I’m also constantly on the hunt for new literature and insights into building sustainable lifestyles. From carrying my own metal utensil kit to teaching myself to compost, I challenge myself to gradually transition to a more ideally sustainable way of life.


katie gardner museum Shelf of Classics-2

A shelf of classic books Katie discovered at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Ma. Katie is on a quest to consume the classics.


What might people not know about you?

I am working towards fluency in American Sign Language (ASL) and hope to learn even more languages in the future. What intrigues me about sign language is the ability to communicate with people from all walks of life, and meet them where they are. As a child, I became great friends with a girl at summer camp from St. Rita’s School for the Deaf. She was incredibly patient as we tried our hardest to communicate with each other, despite the fact that neither of us could access the other’s language. To this day I adore the way ASL allows people to transcend verbal boundaries and express themselves in a physical, lyrical, visual way. 


Tell us something unique about you.

I have recently gained a reputation around the office for my random and unusual facts, especially about obscure animals like the pangolin, mantis shrimp, and goblin shark. I love animals and idolized Jane Goodall as a kid. Now, I focus that energy as a pet foster, working at shelters to help socialize animals and make them ready for adoption. Animal adoption is critical to coping with overpopulation, ending animal cruelty, and rescuing kind souls who want nothing more than to be loved. I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for the joy on the faces of everyone involved on adoption day, when an animal finally gets a ‘fur’-ever family.


katie and canine friends

Katie spends much of her time at animal shelters, fostering those that are most in need. Pictured on the Left and Middle: Hazel, Tiller, & Ginny at the Warren County Human Society in Ohio. Pictured to the Right: Katie with Emmy at the Wood County Humane Society in Kentucky.


Interested in Design Research and Innovation Strategy at Essential?

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