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  • Suzy Wakefield

Design Mentors and their Importance

I have been cleaning up and organizing recently and came across this amazing article I have held onto from Time magazine March 2000 on The Rebirth of Design. It is incredibly prescient to what has happened design wise in the years since.

When industries are competing at equal price and functionality, design is that only differential that matters’

MARK DZIERSK, Industrial Designers Society of America in Time Magazine March 2000

What is also amazing to me is the manner in which I received the article and the sentimental thoughts seeing it again conjured up in me. I was working for Limited Design Services at the time, a division of Limited Brands. LDS, was created by Marie Rao and Les Wexner as a think-tank for the corporation. It was begun in order to service the various divisions that L Brands, as it is now known, owned. I worked on large and small projects that entailed travel, experimentation and incredible opportunities to partner with vendors, and colleagues of different specialties. We created presentations filled with product that was a nod forward to new ways of looking at opportunities (‘soft sport’ before sport and athleisure were the multi-billion-dollar enterprises they are now), and learning the capabilities of new machinery such as Santoni before it evolved into the commercial staple it is today.

One of those divisions that LDS supported was Victoria’s Secret, in which I eventually went to work. I had the great fortune to work with many extremely talented people whom I am lucky enough to consider my mentors and friends. From a design stand point I learned numerous valuable lessons, some tangible around product and many intangibles around the design process, that I have taken with me into the rest of my career. With fast now being ever present in our vernacular of fashion, often we have lost the passion for the journey and why we are trying to get there. As Mark Dziersk said in the quote above, design should be our North Star when creating product and this was the mantra of everyone who I worked with then. This is one of the many lessons that I learned from my leaders and colleagues at LDS, because they would settle for nothing less.

With all going on in the world today, from real world challenges of leaders, who are mirroring behavior we should not accept from our kids on a school playground, to so much of retail in flux that it is head spinning, both the article and the time are a wonderful reminder to me that good design and a good attitude will triumph. And that the creative process and teaching ourselves and our teams is so critically important. In today’s day, it’s not just about the product; it’s the platform, it’s the venue, it’s meeting the customer where she is in the most beautiful way possible. All the things that we need strong mentors to coach us on because I firmly believe that, as referenced in the Time article, it is not the cheapest that will be the winner all the time. A strong aesthetic must be ever present.

It is the strong mentors that we forever take with us and hopefully mirror, even in a small way, in our own careers and in life. Limited Design Services was for me a magical and invaluable experience. Design experts freely teaching their thoughts on the world, how to design and how to be open to that experience. There were always articles, such as this one, on my desk from Marie, Jed Krascella or Wendi Goldman. Wendi taught all of us that good designers could be disciplined and should be; creativity is not just left to those who are mercurial. It is a well-ordered, thoughtful job that should be taken seriously because it also is associated with volume that matters and product that we should want to be proud of. Seeing what Wendi is doing now with the GAP and the sustainability efforts she is leading are not a surprise, considering her strong guidance in the way she carried herself coupled with amazing taste and talent all those years ago.

While at LDS, Jed got us young team members in a room talking about design and he emphatically said that we should all be reading the NY Times, learning about the world in design and outside of it as well. That we needed to be informed and well-rounded in order to make a mark. He probably had no idea what this meant to me and that because he said it I began to do it. I’m embarrassed to say, I started slowly with an article or two and then built up and now love to take in all the various ideas from the latest articles on designers, politics and even sports. It was a gift of something that was not on my realm of thought as a twenty something absorbing so much else that NYC offered.

The leaders there gave commentary on my work, and more importantly gave me a foundation for being a designer, carrying myself as a creative person and hopefully making an impact to future teams that I would lead. It’s about building a design community which they all did so well. And if you can get your team to be a community then you will do what it takes for them and with them because you know the feeling is reciprocated. I still admire and follow their achievements, as well as so many others I worked with at that very special place so many years ago. I wish that all are as lucky as I was to have such a great experience in their career. For mine I am forever grateful.

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