As we prepare for the inaugural AIGA Eye on Design Conference, we meet some of our esteemed speakers to find out more about them, their work, and what you can expect from them on the big day.

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Jessie Kawata likes to pursue the big “why” questions in science. She believes that understanding human nature and the relevance to humanity is just as important as advancing science and technology itself. 

A creative technologist best known for being one of the driving forces of creative change at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Kawata’s work pushed the boundaries of design and space exploration to a new level. With a background in product design from Art Center College of Design, Kawata pioneered the industrial design capability at JPL and led an inaugural ID team that designed spacecraft, introduced design-thinking practices within early planetary mission formulation, designed blue-sky mission concepts, operational mission tools, Earth science societal applications, and initiated creative robotic strategy capabilities. The footprints of her strategic vision expands across the agency from NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Next, Kawata will join Microsoft as principal design director of a new charter that focuses on human-centered machine intelligence.

In your previous role at NASA JPL, what were the most challenging things about working as a designer or Creative Innovation Strategist in the realm of science and engineering?

Not only do you have to be quick at learning new technical systems and finding gaps, you have to be able to translate them and formulate new solutions at a rapid pace.  In addition to adapting to an institution where strategic design is foreign, you have to be smart at introducing a new culture and language of design. 

What is your advice to other designers who may be interested in working for the government? 

Be versatile and patient. If the world of design is new to them, you have to find a way in.

No one will offer you the right job because it might not exist yet.

You have to be an ambassador for the entire field of design no matter what your expertise is. Once you are in, then you can find a way to create a new culture.

What would you like the world to know about women working at the conjunction of of STEAM and the creative field? 

I’m a believer in adding “D” to the end of STEAM. Women working in the realm of STEAMD have to be resilient to the biases of art and design on top of facing a male-dominated STEM culture. My advice is not to let false perceptions get in the way of achieving your goals.

What’s one of the most exciting things you worked on during your career at NASA? 

Everything that NASA does is incredibly compelling and intriguing. It was always about the journey, not just the destination. Watching the design seeds that I’ve planted grow into actual movements that have influenced real space missions is exhilarating to say the least. 

Reserve your spot