Jillian Tackaberry

Jillian Tackaberry / University of Illinois at Chicago
2014 IDSA Midwest District Conference Student Merit Winner

Side projects can be like side streets leading to unforeseen, but rewarding professional destinations. For Jillian Tackaberry, the side projects she has pursued have actually created a professional path for her.

Tackaberry began taking creative detours early. “In high school, I was always into art and experimenting with side projects,” she recalled. After choosing to explore visually creative disciplines like graphic design and architecture at Rockford Christian High School, she enrolled in the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) with a soft intention.

“I went to college thinking I was going to double major in graphic design and marketing,” she said. “But because UIC requires all first-year students to take six different art/design electives throughout the first year, I ended up taking an industrial design class and I really liked how ID required you to think in three dimensions instead of just two.”

In addition to the detours that steered her toward industrial design at the beginning of her college career, a late-stage detour cemented Tackaberry’s status as a designer. She noted, “I always wanted to dedicate a project to footwear, but starting off my senior year I realized I had not yet gotten that opportunity. So I decided to do a side project for my Honor’s College capstone—a longer term project parallel to my design thesis.”


Wading through the myriad possibilities offered within an incredibly broad category, Tackaberry identified an opportunity related to her daily commute. “Biking is my primary means of transportation in Chicago, so I developed a brief for footwear for a cycling commute in the rain,” she said.

Her research revealed a market very thin with options for weather-challenged riders. Commuter cyclists could choose between a rain booty to cover work shoes or a cycling boot that would be separate from a work shoe. Of the latter option Tackaberry reported, “Having an entirely different product for the rain is not ideal when you get caught in the rain.”

Tackaberry designed the Urbanized Cycling shoe and brought her idea to life in the form of a discursive 3D model. “I think the biggest challenge I faced was how to communicate the concept in a clear, simple but impactful manner,” she offered. “The 3D model gave me the ability to explain different features. It has been gratifying to see my design resonate with others and create a dialogue.”

Before working on the Urbanized Cycling shoe, Tackaberry used a chair-building project to take on a materials challenge. “I chose to use steel tubing and felt because of the contrast they created and because I had never worked with either of the materials,” she recalled.

The blending of metal, a highly controlled material, with fabric, a material that does what it wants and changes with wear, enabled her to play with the ideas of continuity and suspension in designing the Float barstool.

“Initially, I wanted to make it seem as though the bar-stool was constructed out of one continuous loop of tubing,” she noted. “But in order to minimize the use of unnecessary material, I eliminated the connection between the front feet and the back feet. In the end, the word ‘continuity’ relates to the way the design avoids hard edges in most cases, and the word ‘suspension’ relates to the suspended seating area.”

With a couple of internships at design studios in Chicago under her belt, Jillian Tackaberry’s path seems to be clarifying. An internship with Beyond Design provided a psychological blueprint for practicing design. She said, “I worked on a pretty in-depth research project for about two months early during my internship with Beyond, and I learned how to find the important questions associated with the project and answer them.” Her current gig at MNML is immersing her in the potential variety of professional design practice. “I am just inspired by the variety of work that comes through the studio—how each project has something unique—and how all the designers have different talents,” she offered.

Perhaps a side project in the future will involve an entrepreneurial venture of her own. In the meantime, to see more of Jillian Tackaberry’s work, please visit: