Design Optimism: The Work of ID Alum Lea Stewart

By Chris Cavender

If anyone can relate to the students of today it’s Jefferson Industrial Design alum Lea Stewart (BsID ’02), Senior Manager of Baby and Parenting at Newell Brands. She oversees a team of product developers for such well-known brands juvenile brands like Graco, Baby Jogger and Nuk. As a graduate shortly after the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, Stewart entered the design profession at a moment of turmoil, which students of today may relate to. Her career journey is good insight into having career success even through rough economic times.

A sample of Lea Stewart’s work for Baby Jogger.

How you define success for your own career was a theme Stewart spoke, since it will be very personal, and does not have to compare to what we see in glossy design studio advertisements or through comparisons of our peers on social media. She recalled an occasion when she was speaking on a panel of professionals in commencement of graduating industrial design students. The topic was raised on what is important for job seekers. Instead of focusing on landing a job at a highly recognizable design consulting firm on your resume, Stewart pointed out that it is most important to consider what you will learn from a job and how purposeful it could feel for you. An example given was that on surface level, working for a company that makes hose nozzles may not sound like an alluring design job, but if that company is helping to save lives, stop wildfires, and is giving back to communities, it could be the best place to work for you. Don’t make assumptions on where good jobs are to be had; great design careers can be found in unexpected places.

Just a few of the products Lea Stewart has designed for Nuk.

Stewart says that because the Jefferson Industrial Design program taught her “how to think about design,” that has helped throughout all stages of her career. The Jefferson approach — human-centered, research-based, and process-driven — can be seen in every project that Stewart has taken on.

She also advises to seek growth inside and outside of work throughout your career journey. One way to add variety to your portfolio and gain experience to your portfolio, that Stewart did in her early career, is to take on freelance projects.

After speaking with Stewart, I know she would encourage all students to stay optimistic about your future and find the joy in each design you do.

Add comment