Tekna's Diverse, Welcoming Culture Leaves a Lasting Impression
By Amy Liang, Industrial Design Intern
I have never consumed so much coffee or as many donuts as I did during my seven-week tenure at Tekna. But besides acquiring a caffeine dependence, I’ve also amassed a broad set of design skills and developed a deep appreciation for Kalamazoo and the friendships I’ve formed here—all of which will stay with me as I leave Tekna to enter my senior year of college.
Even before coming to Tekna, I knew this place would be a perfect fit. Tekna had been looking for an industrial design intern who could also participate in graphic design and design research projects. In previous internship interviews, I had always voiced my interest in design research, as well as my graphic design experience. Yet other interviewers didn’t seem as convinced that these were important assets. (I got a lot of “yeah,” “sure,” and “okay” responses when I mentioned the value of understanding visual brand language and GUI from an industrial design perspective, or the benefits of talking one-on-one with users to understand why they like, or dislike, a product’s design). I had begun to wonder whether the other firms were only looking to hire a “sketch monkey.” ???? But at Tekna, I could explore all three disciplines—industrial design, graphic design, and design research—because each project I touched placed an almost equal emphasis on all three. In good design, the three fields are co-dependent. Without enough research, you can’t make forms that address the user’s needs; and without clear, visual communication design, a user won’t be able to understand how to use the product. (There’s also the engineering side, making the actual thing work…I’m just glad Tekna has a really talented engineering team). That being said, I got to use and develop a range of skills: from sketching, to Photoshop rendering, to making prototype and CAD models, to crafting color schemes, to creating illustrations and icons for packaging design and banners, to marketing and user research, to presenting concepts, to playing with blocks, and to almost riding a unicycle (seriously!) … I really feel like I got to do it all—all while working on numerous real-world projects encompassing medical, cooking, and children’s toys. Without a doubt, I received great exposure to the varied and colorful life of a Tekna team member.
Another perk of my internship was moving to Kalamazoo for the summer. As a Hoosier, I thought I knew Michigan pretty well; it’s that neighboring state with the dunes where you go on Sundays if you want to buy liquor. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Kalamazoo’s vibrant culture. I could go on and on about how much I fell in love with the city: its local art scene (I saw an exhibit by my one of my favorite artists, Hung Liu, at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art), the world-class food and beer, the yoga and meditation groups, the parks, the number of adorable second-hand shops and cafes. There was definitely no shortage of things to do on the weekends.
But what really made the internship special was the genuine camaraderie I experienced here. During an interview with a different design firm, I had asked about work atmosphere and if employees felt encouraged to share personal projects and interests. The interviewer responded that the busy office environment was not conducive to this approach. While I can attest to the importance of diligence and a highly-focused work ethic, I also recognize the value of exploring and celebrating personal interests in the workplace. At Tekna, learning about my co-workers and their various extracurricular hobbies (e.g., rock climbing, native gardening, bike racing, knife making, fixing cars, yoga and photography) helped me see even more clearly how diverse outside interests both drive and bind successful creative teams. I would socialize often with my Tekna friends, grabbing a drink or catching a movie. And when a personal matter popped up into my life unexpectedly, members of my Tekna family reached out to share their support and encouragement. I’m truly grateful to have had the opportunity to intern at Tekna and will enter my last year of undergraduate studies confident that I have “eternal friends” out in the design community cheering me on.