Storyboard: Keiko Ishida

A good listener

I remember two distinct turning points in my life as a creative person.

Picture this: I’m 10 years old, in art class. My teacher is, to put it politely, a wildly outside-the-box thinker. Usually in art class, students are graded according to their individual skill sets, the effort they exert, and the ability to consistently turn in work on time. This teacher’s emphasis was miles away from the aforementioned description. He was obsessed with process. How do we get to where we’re going? To this day, the lessons he taught have stayed with me.

The second turning point occurred when I was probably 17, in a high school Home Economics class. Our assignment: design your dream house. I began excitedly envisioning the floor space, devising ways to physically utilize every nook and cranny of this space that didn’t even really exist. It made me realize that part of a designer’s job is to connect people to objects, to bring the two together in a meaningful way.

Today, I am a Design Research Manager at Capital One, part of a team that develops internal systems, and helps foster platforms for Capital One employees to drive innovation for the future of the industry. It sounds poetic, but truly, listening and observing are the key to literally everything I do. I have to be able to understand people to get to the core of what they need. And how can I do that if I’m not a good listener?

Let’s be honest, listening is an undervalued trait. After all, we live in a digital age, where we’re being constantly assaulted with information from all sides, and at all times. Oftentimes, we must remind ourselves to slow down. Breathe. Allow space for listening.

At work, I do a lot of what are called ethnographic interviews. Listening comes in handy with a job like this. The point of an ethnographic interview is to uncover needs and wants. People often don’t know what they need because they can’t envision what could be. In that context, my job is to help construct a framework for unpacking an individual’s needs.

ArtCenter taught me the design process, and the power of observation. Really, observing and listening go hand in hand. I took a class called Design Research while studying both Product and Industrial Design. We were trained how to interview people, how to listen, and what exactly to listen for. We were schooled on how to search for uncovering insights in what the interviewee chose to tell us, and how to synthesize important information, extract it, then use the insights to improve the user's experience.

For a long time, I thought the sole job of a designer was to make things beautiful. But Design is really about helping people understand their needs, through narrative and stories. It’s about connectivity and shared experiences. Every worthwhile creative endeavor, without fail, begins with research. That’s why you – yes, YOU, reading this right now – are a key part of the process.

I graduated from ArtCenter in 2012. There was a certain tension in the air, just knowing what special company we were in as students. Every one of my peers had worked just as hard as I did, if not harder, just to get to that place. My peers and I grew together. Sometimes we cried together. I suppose one goes with the other. What’s more, we always listened to each other.

ArtCenter prepared me for high-stakes professional situations, like chopping it up with CEOs or the other senior executives of big companies. Basically, if I meet a graduate of the College, I trust them almost right away. If you survived ArtCenter, then you’re surely alright with me.

Keiko Ishida
BS 12 Product Design
Design Research Manager, Capital One
Former Lead Strategic Designer, BCG Digital Ventures (2014-2021)

… listening and observing are the keys to literally everything I do.

Keiko Ishida
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