Olivia Wilmink, IDSA

Olivia Wilmink, IDSA
The Ohio State University
IDSA Central District Undergraduate Student Merit Winner 2018

A Cincinnati native, IDSA Central District Student Merit Award winner Olivia Wilmink, IDSA, credits her passion for industrial design to the summers she spent in her father’s graphic design consultancy as a young girl. Brimming with arcade games and rubber band guns, her father’s workplace combined productivity with entertainment, opening Wilmink’s eyes to the kind of jobs that were available to designers. “At the time, I was so busy cutting out pictures from magazines at the production table that I hadn’t realized my dad not only got to do what he loved every day but he also found his own ways to make it fun.” 

Wilmink’s design process was profoundly impacted by the emphasis her father’s company placed on collaboration. A firm believer in the value of personal support systems, Wilmink hopes to encourage other designers, particularly female designers, to reach out to others in order to obtain their goals. “‘It takes an army’ is a saying that can be applied to just about anything today,” she says, “and as designers we are certainly no strangers to this idea. I think that my love for collaboration could be used to help others achieve their goals as well.”

Upon arriving at The Ohio State University to study industrial design, Wilmink was happy to learn that the collaborative process was already a fixture of the school’s program. This pedagogy, she says, has continued to positively impact her career. “I think being able to learn about the design process in a small community of driven designers has helped me find confidence in my own work and build deep connections that I will carry with me.”

The small, intimate nature of the program helped foster an environment of mutual respect and cooperation and went a long way in pushing the designer past her fears. “In my early years in the design program…I would become discouraged for not having the outcome that I expected of myself, despite all of the time and effort spent on the project. But if there is one thing that OSU has instilled in me, it’s the value of failing quickly.”

Though Wilmink encourages designers like herself to collaborate with peers and instructors in the design world, she also recognizes the importance of seeking inspiration from other sources. IDSA, she says, has made this process much easier, connecting her with men and women with different skill sets and interests. “IDSA was the first website I visited to learn about industrial design. In school, it exposed me to opportunities beyond the classroom, allowing me to step outside of my tight network of colleagues.”

Being exposed to individuals beyond design, she says, comes in handy when the success of your project depends upon how well you understand—and empathize with—the intended user. “Empathy goes a long way in the design process,” explains Wilmink. “I think having a very clear understanding of the people and environment you are designing for can give a lot of insight into the challenges they face with the current products, systems or spaces.”

Understanding the specific challenges of her users has helped Wilmink bridge the gap between her passion for creativity and her more pragmatic ways of thinking. “I think for a long time I was at ends with my love for creativity and my desire to make meaningful things. Product design became a clear choice for me when I realized it wasn’t just about making things. It was about making things in order to fulfill a need in a creative and systematic way.”

Wilmink’s portfolio includes a number of projects that attempt to balance aesthetic and practical application, including a lightweight Yeti-inspired life vest for kayakers that protects valuables and eliminates the excess material found on other mainstream life vests; Sprout, a renewable toy made from recycled bio material that when planted produces a small container garden; and her senior capstone project, On Aid, a customizable bandage dispenser meant to eliminate the frustrations of locating, applying and storing bandages in non-medical environments. Taking place over two semesters, On Aid was largely self-guided, which made the experience that much more rewarding for Wilmink. “I think that freedom allowed me to explore areas for personal growth, especially when it came to sharing my vision through storytelling.”

The IDSA Central District Student Merit Award winner plans to continue collaborating with others as she moves forward, perhaps by building what she hopes will be “a support system for other aspiring creatives and entrepreneurs.” Asked what advice she has for young designers, Wilmink counsels diligence, even when doing so risks disapproval. “Never stop asking how you can make something better. Use older students, professionals, and even friends and family outside the design community...Being able to communicate your idea is crucial, and the only way to practice that is to be constantly open to criticism.”