Women in Industrial Design: A Conversation With Natalia Baltazar

Natalia Baltazar is a 2021 graduate of San Jose State University and has taken her first steps toward an exciting career as an Industrial Designer for Sprout Studios.

Natalia, also known as Smalltazar, believes the biggest ideas start small. Her favorite part of the design process is the early ideation phase, when you are really free to explore, research, and create concepts that test the limits and bounds of your creativity.

On finding her place in industrial design. 

I was an only child and both my parents worked, so I was in lots of classes and activities from fencing to Spanish to art. They kept me occupied but also gave me the ability to experience many different things and figure out what I really liked. I always found myself most drawn to the arts, anything that allowed me to be creative. On the other hand, growing up in the Bay Area, I was also exposed to a big influence of technology and STEM. 

I decided to pursue an education in mechanical engineering because it seemed to have both a technical and creative aspect. The summer I graduated high school, I had an internship at a startup and met two women industrial designers. I had never even heard of industrial design until I met them. As I began my classes in college, I realized that ID is where I belonged.

On her encouraging experience in school.

After reading the interviews with the other women involved in this project, I recognized that my experience in school was much more encouraging for the gender gap. About half of my graduating class was female, and there was an active Women in Design group at the school that hosted various networking events and studio visits. I was fortunate to meet and witness many other women working in the industry, and that really impacted my college experience. Having a group of women leaders to work with and learn from helped shape who I am as a designer.

On landing her first job as an industrial designer.

After graduation, I found myself deep in the job hunting process and was eager to learn more about every opportunity I came across. I had been following Sprout on social media for a while and saw on LinkedIn that they were hiring. I applied, and then saw a post about Virtual Office Hours. Being across the country, I thought it would be an opportunity to get to know more about Sprout and maybe connect with other designers. I had my portfolio ready just in case, but I was not planning to present that day. My strategy going in was actually to be a fly on the wall… but then, someone on the team asked if I wanted to introduce myself or share anything, so I did. 

I guess you could say it worked out really well because shortly after that I was offered an internship. I was considering another offer closer to home, but I was intrigued by Sprout being multidisciplinary and liked that it was a smaller studio. Of course there was lots to consider before moving from San Francisco to Boston but I knew it was a good opportunity and got to work figuring it out.

On confronting the “gender hurdle.” 

Walking into the studio that first morning, there were a few members of the ID team already there and they were all male. Naturally I was nervous being my first day and honestly this was a visual that made me feel more different. But everyone was so welcoming and helpful and I quickly started to feel comfortable. I remember leaving that day and thinking, “This is going to be good.” 

I had to remind myself that I do have the skills, I was hired for a reason, and I do belong here. Having experienced other work environments where I didn’t feel like I was on the same playing field, my confidence has grown at Sprout. If I have a question or need feedback, everybody is open to sit down with me and take the time to help. I can talk to Jordan who is the CEO as easily as I can talk to an intern. It really makes me feel like an equal part of the team.

On what it’s like to actually be an industrial designer.

In school when you do a project, you have in the back of your mind that your work counts toward a grade. The realization that, when I design something now, it could end up interacting with an actual person is a really cool experience. 

I have been working on a concept project recently and I enjoy exploring all the different possibilities that emerge when there aren’t as many parameters that you have to design around. Accessibility is also an area that interests me and it excites me to think about how to approach a project in that area. I think it’s an area with a lot of potential to design more thoughtful products and experiences for many different audiences. That being said, I’m open to doing all types of different projects because I might surprise myself with something that I was not initially interested in. 

On the future of design, and herself as a designer. 

AI is everywhere right now and we are just beginning to explore how to use it to its fullest potential. Technology improves, trends change. It’s exciting to think about the future of design and how these kinds of advancements will affect the creative process. 

Looking 5 years down the road, I hope to still be working as an industrial designer. I know that sometimes the industry pigeon holes women into project manager or CMF roles, but I want to still be hands-on actively designing. I look forward to being at a place in my career where I can give back to the design community since I was so impacted by the women I met in the Women in Design group at my college. Whether it be through a scholarship or mentorship, I would like to impact other young designers in some way. My biggest goal right now is to grow as a person and a designer— in skills, in responsibilities, in types of projects. I hope to look back and say, “Wow, I contributed a lot.”

On finding inspiration in the everyday.

Especially during the ideation process, the world around me really makes an impact on the concepts I come up with. If I’m working on a household appliance for example, I may be inspired by architecture. A particular building may spark an idea that I translate to the form of that product. I like to visit museums to be exposed to new things and often while I am working on something I will go back to that “mental archive” to recall something I may have seen for reference. 

Instagram and TikTok have led me to discover new designers and learn more about different techniques. Or, sometimes I’ll run into a video on a similar topic like architecture or art history or even cooking and it will spark an idea. I also enjoy listening to the popular podcast Minor Details.

Natalia Baltazar is a 2021 graduate of San Jose State University and has taken her first steps toward an exciting career as a Junior Industrial Designer for Sprout Studios in Boston, MA, Natalia, also known as Smalltazar, believes that the biggest ideas start small. Her favorite part of the design process is the early ideation phase, when you are really free to explore, research, and create concepts that test the limits and bounds of your creativity.

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