A look at how CCAD's MDes program helps Priya Mehta understand the why behind design

priya mehta

Priya Mehta (Master of Design, 2019) is a design researcher and a visual designer at McDougald Research, a design research and strategy agency that takes on projects in the financial, health care, and other various industries.

It’s not always easy to find a job right after graduation, but Mehta landed the position at McDougald in August 2019, four months after completing CCAD's MDes program, enabling the native of India to remain in the United States. She was helped in that endeavor by CCAD Assistant Professor Sapna Singh, Department Head for Business, Math & Entrepreneurship who mentored Mehta and used her industry connections to help introduce Mehta to McDougald. Leah McDougald, the agency’s principal, and Mackenzie Shaw, its Senior Director of Customer Experience & Strategy, saw potential in how CCAD is developing its students in the field of design research and strategy. 

McDougald uses qualitative research methods to help marketing and design teams align their research initiatives with strategic business goals to achieve big outcomes. Mehta likes that it’s an intentionally small agency with a four-person team. She appreciates, too, that the agency’s approach encompasses both human-centered design and generative design, both of which she studied while working on her master’s degree.

“Starting somewhere small, you get to do a lot of different roles, you get to learn a lot of things,” Mehta says. “I’m taking all of my experience and applying it here. I can understand both the research side and also tell the story visually.”

Mehta came to the MDes program with experience working in the advertising and graphic design industry in Mumbai. There, she did a lot of production design and international communications work but didn’t always understand why or how the work she was doing was beneficial.  

priya mehta working

“I had a hard time understanding how what I was doing was really impacting the business of the companies,” Mehta says. “I was really struggling with why the companies were doing it this particular way. I knew then I needed to study further, to broaden my knowledge.”

Mehta was ultimately drawn to CCAD’s MDes program because it provides a broad exploration of both design and business.

Often, in Mumbai, Mehta says she would be pulled into a project late in the process and asked to make it beautiful.

“Now I understand, why do you need to make it beautiful?” says Mehta. “I understand what happens behind the scenes to really get to that place.”

Mehta completed her thesis project in design research for Cardinal Health, working with the company on developing methodology for research so the company could better understand the end-users of incontinence products, which resulted in several innovative design concepts (an effort featured in Columbus Monthly magazine).

Mehta plans to continue pursuing opportunities in the design research field, which investigates human experience and behavior and inspire businesses to integrate design that’s responsive to the end user’s needs. Being a design researcher is all about understanding who the end-user of a certain product is, Mehta says, and making suggestions to an organization about what is driving the end-user to make a decision, how to make it easier for them to navigate through a service, and helping them to develop new strategies for the future.

“I really enjoy working with a lot of different topics,” Mehta says. “With an agency, you get this diverse experience with diverse clients whereas if you’re working only with an organization, it’s only top down or bottom up.” 

In CCAD’s MDes program, Mehta says, she learned about research and strategy, when you need to analyze and when you need to synthesize, and how that can be applied across different industries.

A lot of the design projects she worked on at CCAD centered on generative design, with the big question of “How do you uncover and communicate what the user needs?”

Interpreting what the user needs requires design research skills in human inquiry, generative design, analysis, and synthesis. Strong visual communication builds empathy among stakeholders and influences them to make connections and think of the end-user first when designing or developing strategies for them. Mehta brought her strong graphic design skills to a program at CCAD that gave her a wide breadth of experience in design thinking.

“Each project required different capabilities, by the time you reached the end, that you didn’t think you had,” Mehta says. “It doesn’t make you an expert but it gives you a glimpse into whether you’re interested in pursuing this further or not.”

Learn more about CCAD's Corporate and Community Projects or apply here.