2009 Midwest District Student Merit Winner
Kaitlyn Benoit was a product design junkie and didn’t even know it.
“Growing up, I was fascinated with the design of housewares and athletic gear,” Benoit recalled. “I was constantly thinking, ‘This would be so much better if…’”
During her first day of classes as an engineering major at University of Notre Dame, she had an “A-HA!” moment during a slide show chronicling the development of the PT Cruiser.
“For each slide, the professor pointed out which engineering specialty would focus on each part of the process,” Benoit remembered. “Then she showed a slide with design sketches and the clay modeling of the car. I turned to a friend and said, ‘That’s the type of engineer I want to be.’ Our professor said ‘This is the only slide that is not the job of an engineer—I just put it in because it’s really cool.’ Needless to say, I found my way to the ID department.”
After she found her way to design, the 2009 Midwest District Student Merit Winner channeled her passion for working with the disabled to develop a product that would allow a sick or disabled parent to continue to provide care for their families.
“Society often views the disabled as recipients of care—what they are missing that the disabled are often caretakers themselves,” Benoit explained, “My own family has inspired my interest in the idea of the weak and disabled as caregivers—I have seen my dad continue to care for our family through his battle with cancer and my uncle with Down Syndrome care for my elderly grandparents. These situations demonstrate a beautiful human dynamic in that they recognize the ability of the individual to serve as a source of strength for others despite the fact that they bear their own burdens. This product is meant both as a tribute to those who take up the burdens of others in spite of personal challenges as well as an aid to those who do so.”
“I focused my research on multiple sclerosis because it is a disease that manifests itself in a very physical way and it tends to develop during the prime parenting years,” she said.
While interning at Whirlpool Global Consumer Design, Benoit joined a Multiple Sclerosis Support Group in Michigan. Attending the group’s meetings provided the insight she needed to develop a double duty stroller, OBaby.
“I found that many of these parents were in need of walking aids, but were unable to use walking aids and strollers simultaneously,” she reported. “Neither of these products doubles effectively as the other.”
OBaby has been filed for a provisional utility patent, and is currently competing in the James Dyson Awards. After the competition closes, Benoit will begin the next step to getting OBaby to the market.
In claiming this year’s top prize for the Midwest district, Benoit continues an impressive Notre Dame streak—the last three winners have come from South Bend. Benoit attributes their success to the intimacy inherent in the school’s small ID program.
“Our department is very small—about 25 strong—and people often compare our dynamic to that of a family,” she added. “Because they know our every strength and weakness, our families can challenge us in ways that others cannot. Our program as a whole comes to the studio with a spirit that truly facilitates good work.”
It’s a spirit that may one day bring the young designer back to her alma mater. “I’d like to work in the industry for a few years—long enough to get a feel for more specific interests within ID. Then I’d like to get my MFA, hopefully overseas somewhere. Then I want to teach—probably head back to South Bend and teach ID at Notre Dame.”
Kaitlyn Benoit currently lives in Chicago where she is training for the 2009 Chicago marathon and polishing her technical skills while exploring full-time job opportunities within product design. She can be reached at email@example.com.