Lydia Swedberg, IDSA
IDSA Midwest Undergraduate Student Merit Winner 2018
IDSA Midwest District Student Merit Award winner Lydia Swedberg, IDSA, spent much of her childhood outdoors hiking the White Mountains or swimming in the rivers and lakes near her home in the rural outskirts of New Hampshire with her parents and two siblings. A natural athlete—she now accredits her competitive spirit, leadership skills and persistence to sports—Swedberg was an artist from an early age. “I loved to draw and enjoyed any opportunity I had to get my hands dirty. I had always loved art, particularly drawing and ceramics. I took art classes all throughout school and was always sketching as a kid.”
Swedberg, who went on to serve as president of the IDSA student chapter at Purdue University for two consecutive years, says that her artistic pursuits in high school were balanced by an engrained passion for geometry. After attending a brief session at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Swedberg understood what path she needed to take in order to accommodate her two passions. “The camp helped me to learn more about industrial design and to decide if it was the right program for me…I felt industrial design was my bridge between my creative side and my more logical side.”
The small, intimate nature of Purdue University’s Industrial & Interaction Design program was especially beneficial to Swedberg, who works best in close working environments. “The small size makes the program feel like family. We establish really close bonds as a class, which makes working together enjoyable.” The connections that Purdue has with other design professionals and companies, particularly in Indiana and Chicago, also establishes a strong network for students, which Swedberg argues is vital for young designers like herself.
IDSA also provided Swedberg with opportunities to meet and maintain relationships with other designers. “IDSA provides so many resources for designers and a vast network of professionals and students. [It] has allowed me to learn about different areas of design, which has helped me find my own passion…Being able to talk to practicing designers, ask questions and gain feedback has helped me to grow my design sensibilities.”
Swedberg’s decision to minor in anthropology while attending Purdue University had a significant impact on how she planned to contribute to the design world. “I believe that the role of the designer today is changing,” she offers. “Designers are asked to be innovators, but innovation is not simply improving products or creating new technologies; innovation is about solving real-world challenges.” These challenges, says Swedberg, can only be solved when individuals see themselves not only as product designers but also as “critical thinkers, empathetic researchers and ethical innovators who can respond to the urgent issues society is facing.”
Swedberg’s ideology translates to her emerging portfolio, with several of her projects designed specifically for Muslim women balancing sportswear with traditional values. These projects include, among others, a workout-compatible hijab with integrated technology that allows women to track their progress and fitness goals; an athletic top with an easily removable hijab fitted with wearable technology that tracks the user’s progress and transmits the data to a mobile app; and a larger, more expansive activewear collection for Muslim women wanting to expand their fitness routine while retaining their modesty.
Though geometric lines are a clear mainstay of Swedberg’s work—fostering designs that seek to render both simplicity and symmetry—the Student Merit Award winner sometimes finds it difficult to marry her passion for mathematics to the subjective nature of design. “I think my logical mathematical side struggled with this [subjectivity] at first because I was looking for a singular solution to multifaceted problems. People have different styles and approaches to problem-solving, and there is always going to be someone who does not like something that you do.” Over time, Swedberg realized that the subjective nature of design is what helps make it so special. “Unlike other fields, design is unique because it requires human emotion, empathy and compassion,” she says. “Everything that we design is somewhat personal. It has a little bit of the designer in it, and I think that is really beautiful.”
Swedberg will begin a six-month internship at GROHE in Düsseldorf, Germany, this July. She is excited to immerse herself in the German culture and, she adds, to “gain new and varying cultural perspectives on design.” Wherever her future takes her, Swedberg is excited to continue broadening the scope of industrial design using a multidisciplinary approach—one that incorporates the fields of anthropology, psychology, engineering, business and anthropology. “The designer,” Swedberg insists, “is a catalyst for social change… I really just hope that 10 years from now I’ll be able to feel like my work is having a valuable and positive impact on our society.”