Get My Job: Spotlight on Industrial Design

Alumna Kyra Ellzysmith uses design thinking as an innovation and co-creative catalyst at IKEA.
Kyra working at a whiteboard
Industrial design alumna Kyra Ellzysmith left the startup she founded to follow her true passion of homeware and home design.

In this Nexus series, Get My Job, we interview alumni and faculty from one of the University’s 160-plus undergraduate and graduate professional programs. The latest installment features alumna Kyra Ellzysmith ’09, who will be speaking Nov. 10 to the Jefferson community. She credits the skills she learned at the University for guiding her as an innovation and co-creative catalyst for IKEA.

“The backbone of industrial design is design thinking,” Ellzysmith says. “Design thinking can be applied to solve some of the world’s most complex problems.”

What did you major in at Jefferson, and how did this program prepare you to enter the field?
Majoring in industrial design was the best thing I could have done to prepare me for my current field. I worked alongside some of the most skilled professors in the design world and collaborated with students from different programs across the University, such as business, marketing, fashion design and textile design. This work showed me how design thinking and networking could really push me and shape my career.

Kyra working with colleagues
At IKEA, Kyra Ellzysmith (center) uses design thinking to develop future ways of working and living.

What was your career path to land in your current position?
I took an untraditional route to my current job. I graduated in 2009 during the Great Recession and found myself with a valuable degree but struggling to find work.

With an alumni friend, I started a design consultant company called Studio KMD and began a path of unexpected learning. I had no idea how to run a business, but I did know design. As I fell back on my design skills, I discovered how to build a successful startup. One key technique was utilizing our vast alumni network. They knew our skills and helped us find clients—or even became a client.

I left KMD in 2016 to follow my true passion of homeware and home design. I’m driven by the life at home and how it creates a foundation for all of us to achieve greatness in our lives. I took an entry-level position at the IKEA South Philadelphia store as a visual designer. There, I started my education all over again learning how to run a giant store and design for life at home. Some of my responsibilities included inspiring customers with ever-changing displays showcasing solutions to life-at-home activities and products that tell a story.

Fortunately, I had an amazing manager who took an active role in my growth. I moved to another position after a year as a visual merchandiser at the national level where I designed areas for customers to shop for all new and existing stores. This work led me to my current position and allowed me to be a part of creative directions, where we use design thinking to expand our designs and think of future ways of working and living.

My industrial design background lets me shine in these areas. I take an active role in bringing innovation and co-creation to the entire company through different problem-solving and forward-thinking exercises.

For one exercise, we hold a session with four to six people who all have different jobs in the company. We ask them to describe their daily work and any problems they may encounter. These group exercises allow people to look beyond their own experience to see the whole picture and appreciate where the root causes of problems originate. From there, we do iteration sessions on possible solutions that we will then test.

Kyra working with colleagues
"For any student thinking about getting into the innovation space: Trust your point of view and don’t be afraid to voice it," urges Kyra Ellzysmith (left).

Please describe your core job responsibilities today?
They’re all centered around innovation and co-creation. I spend a lot of time looking at different industries and companies for inspiration, such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, Apple and Comcast. I try to understand how people solve problems from various backgrounds and filters of their industries so I can learn and grow from them.

Having an overview of the world and our company allows me to single out patterns and problems to either create greater efficiency or a better path for IKEA to grow.

During co-creation activities of my job, I look at complex information and partner with amazing people from all over the company—from the store level all the way up to the global level—and in every position from cashiers to department heads. We all take that information and analyze it through different group activities, pulling out the underlying themes we need to focus on or make a change in.

What are your favorite parts of your job?
Getting to work with so many different people from around the organization. IKEA has some great employees, and I love that I get to fill my day collaborating with them. I also love how much my job changes with the times. There’s never a dull moment.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Trying to create in a virtual space. Due to COVID-related restrictions, we conduct many of our collaboration sessions remotely. However, we’ve found some amazing tools to help us with these issues, such as Whiteboard or Miro.

I also do a lot of self-work with virtual calls and allow for proper breaks and pace-setting. As people work more virtually, their brains take on greater strain than if you would do these sessions in a physical space. Taking additional breaks and working at a slower pace helps these sessions to produce greater results and run smoother.

Majoring in industrial design was the best thing I could have done to prepare me for my current field.

What’s one piece of advice for students considering entering this major or profession?
For any student thinking about getting into the innovation space: Trust your point of view and don’t be afraid to voice it. Innovation isn’t something you major in during college. All my colleagues in this space come from diverse backgrounds with different degrees and have various points of view because of it. These differences make us stronger.

Innovation is a way of thinking about problems, but those problems are no longer just how to design a product. You can use design thinking to expand many areas, such as medical discoveries, new technology programs, solving complex system problems and more. Learn about the process of design thinking and follow that intuition when inspired.

What’s an interesting fact about you?
I also run a startup leather shoe and bag business with my wife Cheryl called Loyalty Leather. We design and make vegetable-tanned leather products and then dye them like paintings. It’s a really fun, creative way to express another side of myself.

For Jefferson’s Virtual Speaker Series, Kyra Ellzysmith will present “The Road Less Traveled: Success Amidst Chaos” on Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Visit here to register.

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Design and Style