Day In The Life Of Product Designer Sean Kelly

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I wake up in the morning to the sound of little paws clicking on the floor around my bed. My dog Oli is pacing restlessly, waiting for me to get up. I wish him good morning and we sneak out of the room, careful not to wake my sleeping wife and baby daughter.

It’s early and the sky’s just beginning to fill with light as Oli and I take a walk on our street. A few houses down and we’re bombarded by the flock of wild peacocks that roams our neighborhood. Oli is excited to see them, getting in a good chase before we turn around and head back home. They chortle as we walk away.

I make breakfast as Oli watches, the look on his face somewhere between begging and mind control. As I eat, I roam design blogs, filling my head with inspiration for the day. I pack lunch for myself, my wife, my daughter, and I lay out her outfit for the day. Our outfits usually match.

My wife rushes off to work, and my daughter and I head to daycare. Cruising through the forested hills of Southwest Portland, we sing our favorite songs from the radio and talk about the scenery outside our windows. The conversation is getting more interesting everyday as she learns new sounds and starts to form words. We arrive and I drop her off. She’s recently learned how to wave and say “bye dada!” This moment leaves me emotionally vulnerable and I fight back the tears as I run to my car.

The rest of my commute takes me down along the Willamette River’s edge, following its flow into downtown and across the Hawthorne Bridge into Southeast Portland. I pull up in front of Grovemade at eight o’clock.

I toss my bag into the design area and begin my morning ritual of walking around the shop, wishing everyone good morning, and instigating our daily morning warmup by screaming “STRETCH!” Soon, everyone’s screaming the word “stretch,” powering down their work stations, and heading outside. We assemble in a circle, chatting, joking, and stretching, and we finish with a power pose.

Back in the design studio, I find our other product designer Kevin tending to the baby avocado trees he’s sprouted in a couple of our succulent planters. As he waters them, we nerd out about design discoveries and inspirations we’ve had since leaving the shop last night.

We currently have multiple products in various stages of development, but today we’re starting in on a new one. To begin, we sit down in front of a wall of eight-foot-tall black pinup boards. Right now, they’re completely blank. Our objective is to cover them with imagery to inspire and guide the design of our new product. We turn to our computers, feverishly pulling material from anywhere and everywhere. We print them out and tack them up, and the board is full in no time.

I take a quick morning break. Our graphic designer Max and I head over to Sweetpea Baking Co. for a couple Charlie Browns - a kind of chocolate, peanut butter, oatmeal dream bar.

When I get back, Kevin and our cofounder Ken are examining the inspiration board. It’s time to filter the images. We discuss each and every piece on the board; some make the cut and go to a neighboring board while others are abandoned to the recycling bin. I try defending an image that I feel really works for the project, but Ken and Kevin aren’t convinced and I’m overruled. We reorganize the winning concepts, calling out specific details and ideas with dozens of sticky notes.

Once the fundamental concepts are in place, it’s time for the sketch battle. Pens hit paper. Ideas flow. The drawings come out quick and dirty. Moving from 2D to 3D, I grab a stack of cardboard, scissors, and tape, and get to work making rough models. It’s one of my favorite parts of the design process. Kevin joins me, and we work quickly, cutting, folding, taping and gluing. Our models begin to take shape, one inspiring the next.

After lunch (ramen), I’m pulled aside to work on an engineering problem with Ken and our design engineer Galen. After Kevin and I finish designing a new product, it’s handed off to Galen, who shepherds it through the engineering phase. He takes our pie in the sky concepts and figures out how we’re actually going to manufacture them as real products, sourcing the materials and vendors along the way. Right now, he needs my input on whether to etch or engrave our logo on a new steel part.

Back in the design space, I find Kevin surrounded by a mountain of material and models in various stages of completion, his head just peeking over like a kid in a ball pit. I dive in. The hours pile up, and soon it’s time to pack up for the day. Our space looks like a tornado hit a craft store. Cardboard shrapnel litters every surface and the smell of hot glue hangs in the air. We stand back and admire our work with a mixture of satisfaction and terror.

After sweeping, lining up the models, and gathering our things, Kevin and I high-five each other and any other willing participant. It was a busy and productive day, and we deserve every five we can get.

When I walk through my front door, my daughter absolutely screams, toddling towards me with her arms raised. My work-brain is already switched off. I’m home. I’m happy. I AM DAD.