Stepping stones, rules to break and becoming a hybrid

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Tilly Rutherford has embraced a modern, multi-disciplined mindset that allows her design roots to shine whilst pursuing a new area of expertise. Originally a graduate of Industrial Design at RMIT, Tilly worked at an architecture firm honing her design skills through 3D modelling and graphics, before making the switch to web development as a coder in the IE Graduate Program in 2018. 

Now Tilly’s back in the role of Designer (albeit in the digital sense), but this time she’s armed with complementary skills that allow her to manage end-to-end solutions on her own, which has led her to pursue independent projects. We asked her to reflect on that journey.

Tell us briefly about your path to IE and what drove you to work here.

I have always been interested in design. I come from a creative family where art and design have always been celebrated. In high school I was awarded top of my class for Visual Communication, receiving state acknowledgment as an exhibitor in Top Design 2011. Following this, I completed a Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design at RMIT, graduating with First Class Honours. I continued developing my Industrial Design skills at an Architecture studio where my role focused on 3D modelling and producing all client-facing comms. After a while, I became the in-house Graphic Designer and Visualiser for the studio. 

I was doing a lot of freelance Graphic and Web Design on the side and was frustrated with my inability to build the websites I was designing. Coding, unlike Industrial Design, wasn’t as simple as getting in the shed and playing around with tools until you make something that looks legit but you can’t sit on, so I decided to have a brief hiatus in my design career and learn how to code. 

From there it all went quite fast. I studied Web Development at General Assembly for three months, during which we visited IE. I really needed to solidify my coding skills and IE proposed the perfect solution: a Developer Grad Program, where I was promised a year of learning and mentorship… and it seemed like the kind of place that would support me in becoming a hybrid. 

Did you find the transition to web development an easy one? Why/why not?

I didn’t think I would enjoy coding so much! I believe that to be a good designer you need to understand everything about the product, including how it is made. Learning how to code has made designing web products so much more enjoyable. Now I know what is possible and what rules I can break which makes being creative about your solutions so much easier. I believe it’s really important to constantly learn and evolve with the expectations of the industry. I still have so much to learn but definitely have the incredibly knowledgeable developers at IE to thank for my progress. They’re an extremely welcoming, patient and caring group of people.

So you’re back in the role of Designer. What sort of skills or experience have you been able to bring to your new role?

My Industrial Design degree taught me a lot about the principles of UX design. Realistically, product design and web design are not too dissimilar - just different methods of production and interaction. Every experience teaches you something valuable. I view coding as just another form of creative problem solving, in that regard, coding is not too dissimilar from design. 

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What motivates you most to turn up to work?

The people and the atmosphere. I have worked in some really toxic environments where every day we were all on the back foot. Suffering some kind of workplace bullying is something most people can relate to; for me, the lowest point in my career came when I was barred from a meeting on account of my gender. This kind of thing is precluded entirely from the culture of IE owing to an atmosphere of acceptance, equity and merit which in turn creates a great sense of welcoming, control and autonomy.

Most exciting projects you’ve worked on at IE? Why?

My favourite project has been Bupa’s new wellness app Maple. Learning React Native - as a stepping stone to native app development - was one of my biggest development goals. Every new development skill I learn or new technology I am exposed to has made me realise how achievable web projects are.

Where to from here? What are your big goals for 2019 (inside and outside work)?

I have a little app side project on the go which I would really love to see finished in 2019. Can’t give you any more information than that!