Emily Rothschild is an industrial designer who keeps on surprising people with her innovative concepts. Her approach is to spot areas of our lives that are often overlooked and develop new, often humorous design solutions. She’s probably best known for her design concepts for storing and organizing medications – basically she’s reinventing the medicine cabinet and helping people create a more artful ritual out of something as mundane as medication. Emily is based in New York City and is the recipient of numerous design awards (including Time Magazine 50 Best Inventions 2010). She is also the co-founder of Hello! We Are _______., a collective of artists and designers with a range of interests, experiences, and skills.
Hello Emily, can you tell us how you made the leap to independent entrepreneurship?
I worked in art museums before stumbling upon and falling in love with Industrial Design. Design offered the perfect way to combine my background of research and writing and experience in the art world with my love for getting my hands dirty. Like exhibitions, design is a means of telling stories visually – stories of individuals and communities, materials and processes. After finishing graduate school, I had a few opportunities to work on my own as well as with a small team and decided to take the leap. These combined experiences provided the means to explore research projects as well as art-based work.
What is a typical day like for you?
On a typical day I get up early and get to work – mornings are a productive time. My studio is in my basement so it’s easy to get a jumpstart on the day. Every day is different which I love. I’m always working on a few different projects at once, self-generated and team-based. Most days are a mix of making, research (on-line or in person), administration, shipping, and a Skype chat with the team. There’s usually also some running around involved to pick up supplies and inventory. It’s always a good blend of computer and hands-on work, reaching out to clients and customers, and also my own time to produce.
Do you enjoy your work? Why?
I love all things art and design. Industrial Design provides the opportunity to learn about different materials, processes, areas of interest, and people. I’m always learning and always striving to make something that makes a difference and/or makes people smile. I feel very fortunate to be doing what I love and to be working with people who inspire me and teach me daily. The only trouble with working on your own is learning how to stop working. It’s both a blessing and a curse: to be doing what you love, but never knowing quite how to turn it off.
”Design is a means of telling stories visually”
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I find inspiration from design collaborators and friends, clients, found materials, walking my dogs… anywhere really. I had a professor in graduate school who told our sleepless class to pick our heads up and take a walk. It is often hard to remember to step away and create some distance, but it’s necessary see things from all angles: sometimes you need to step back in order to get closer to a solution. I also find inspiration from the people around me. My mother is an anthropologist and archaeologist and my father was a doctor and tinkerer, their interests framed the groundwork for my curiosity about people and my perspective on design. And my husband is a great source for ideas, he loves brainstorming and dreaming up crazy undertakings as much as I do.
How do you keep focused on doing something unique, creative and true to yourself?
I keep focused by working on a diverse range of projects at a variety of scales – both client-based and self-generated. This combination of experiences and opportunities makes for a well balanced and never boring workweek. I find that I need to push myself beyond my comfort zone and know that I can seek advice when needed and find solutions in a variety of ways. I have the support of an excellent team and strong community and access to any number of makers and contractors. Having questions gives me the chance to reach out to others and learn about new areas of interest.
What sort of skills do you need to do your work?
I’m not exactly sure where it came from or when it started but I find I have the willingness to jump in and take risks. I enjoy learning to work with different materials and getting lost in the process. I also work with a small team of designers (helloweare.com) and have access to a network of collaborators; I find it is impossible to design alone. And I have the willingness to work around the clock. I’m getting better at setting hours, but I do love working so nights and weekends are fair game.
Do you have one tip for other aspirant creative entrepreneurs?
Love what you do. And find a community of people with similar interests and goals whom you can share ideas (and gripes) with. Community is key.