December 01, 2017

Five Questions with Marta Harding: Design Lead at IDEO

Marta Harding is passionate about building brands, developing visual systems, and immersing herself in experiences and environments that inspire unexpected observations. As a Communication Designer at IDEO San Francisco, she guides content, leads teams, and uses design to drive positive impact. As a member of IDEO’s innovative Design for Food team, she collaborates with other multidisciplinary teams to find holistic and creative approaches that serve both clients at and customers of businesses including Suntory, Anheuser-Busch, Target, Nestlé, and The J.M. Smucker Company.

When did you first realize you needed to be in a creative field?

“Ever since I was wee little, I loved drawing and coloring. On Career Day in kindergarten, I dressed up as a classical French artist (I pronounced it “arteest”)—think tilted navy beret, paint splattered smock, and a color-soaked wooden palette. In 8th grade, my aunt (a graphic designer at Pacific University) introduced me to the term ‘graphic design.’ Wee Little Marta suddenly knew what she was destined to do with her life—quite an existential moment for a 13 year old! Although my excitement about being a graphic designer never waned, I didn’t realize its potential for widespread positive impact until I joined IDEO.”

What is your relationship to the creative process?

“I rely heavily on my creative process. A refined creative process—a clear approach combined with a tangible set of tools that facilitate exploration and understanding—gives designers the space needed to uncover truly meaningful design solutions. I’ve seen how a consistent process aligns teams, clients, and consumers. The process unlocks the power to uncover new points of view that may have never been considered or even thought possible.”

How or where to you find inspiration?

“Inspiration. Is. Everywhere! The key is understanding how to see it. For many, inspiration strikes spontaneously like lightning—a brilliant, searing flash out of thin air. For me, it’s different. Before I’m even ready for creative inspiration, I seek to understand the why behind the design challenge—what are the needs and obstacles that shaped a project’s goals and objectives? At IDEO, empathy is our superpower and source of creative inspiration. We go out into the world and relate with real people, in real environments to get inspired. At first, the details and insights arrive piecemeal, but when thoughtfully stitched together, they form an elegant and efficient creative solution.”

What was one of your biggest creative challenges?

“Being creatively challenged fuels my work, and one of my favorite challenges is bringing objectivity to design. I love using tools and trying new methods with the goal of creating a common language for evaluating design—a language that both empowers the client to provide meaningful feedback and gives the design team the ability to thoughtfully share stories that explain design decisions.”

Who is one of your heroes and why?

“My grandfather is a hero of mine. I never heard him raise his voice, I watched as he patiently supported my grandmother in her dementia, and he always sheds a tear when I call to say ‘Hi’ or wave to say ‘Goodbye.’ He makes me feel special simply by the way he loves and shows his appreciation.”

BONUS ROUND: What quality inspires you?

“Kindness inspires the way I strive to lead and the person I hope to be. It produces an environment of respect and empathy. When things get hard and I don’t feel my best, I seek kindness. And, being kind to someone in a moment of need is truly heroic.”

Register today to save your seat for her talk “Where’s the Light? Lessons in Fumbling Through Creative Darkness,” part of our illuminating  speaker lineup, at January’s In/Visible Talks conference.