Alumna: Lane Kuhlman
Current Position / Employer: Staff Interaction Designer for Google Cloud Security
Degree with Department Affiliation and Graduation Date: MFA in Design, 2009
Thesis Title: Gesture Mapping for Interaction Design: An Investigative Process for Developing Interactive Gesture Libraries
1. Tell us what you are doing professionally at the current time.
For the last 10 years, I’ve been working as an Interaction Designer at Google. Currently, I’m working as the designer for Google Cloud Security on a product called Security Command Center. It is a tool customers of the Google Cloud Platform use to scan their cloud resources for security vulnerabilities, misconfiguration, or threats. We aim to protect our customers from the types of cybersecurity incidents you read so much about in the news lately. Previously, I worked on developer tools including an internal tool called Code Search that our engineers use to analyze code and find established best practices for writing code. During my first 4 years at Google, I worked on Search Ads tools that were used by some of Google’s largest clients. This was a great opportunity to learn about Google’s Ads business and how it impacts businesses around the globe for the better.
2. What inspires your creativity today?
I’m inspired by Google’s mission to make the world’s information universally accessible. I take that part of the mission statement to heart. What I find inspiring is how many world-changing inventions originate from the desire to overcome physical limitations that prevent people from connecting with others. Alexander Graham Bell was in love with Mabel Gardiner Hubbard who had become deaf as a result of scarlet fever. The desire to communicate with her inspired him to develop forms of long-distance communication via vibrations - explorations that eventually led him to his invention of the telephone. Pellegrino Turri invented the typewriter that would allow his childhood friend who was suffering from the onset of blindness, Contessa Fantoni, to write him letters. When Vint Cerf co-created the internet and email, it enabled him and his wife who both used hearing aids to transition from uncertain voice calls to the clarity of asynchronous text messages. Ray Kurzweil was inspired to create OCR and text-to-speech technologies after sitting next to a blind man on an airplane who explained that his largest barrier was reading printed text. At Google, we often look for ways to create the curb cut effect because although curb cuts are beneficial to people who use wheelchairs, many other people benefit too, like mothers pushing strollers. I find that when we try to design products that are more inclusive of people with disabilities we find innovative ways to improve products for everyone.
3. Tell us one “Aha” moment from your experience of studying, researching, or working at ACCAD.
During my first year at ACCAD, I worked with a non-profit organization called The Solstice Project as part of a graduate research assistantship with Alan Price. This led me to visit Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, to camp with Anna Sofaer, (founder of the project) and other volunteers. I was able to deeply study Chacoan culture from the canyon floor with Anna who published and aired two PBS documentaries about the canyon, The Sun Dagger and The Mystery of Chaco Canyon. Anna has written multiple scientific papers now republished in Chaco Astronomy: An Ancient American Cosmology. Being in the canyon helped me observe how cycles of the sun and moon were foundational to the Chaco Canyon people and their culture. There was evidence they had a deep understanding of these cycles. They created petroglyphs etched in stone which marked patterns of the sun and moon based on light and shadows. The buildings in the canyon were also constructed in alignment with these cycles. It was awe-inspiring to see the canyon with additional context provided by archaeologists, archeoastronomy, and geodesists from the Solstice Project. This experience led me to appreciate cultures via ethnographic inquiry. As a designer, I often find myself studying people, trying to understand their behaviors using these methods. Working in a corporate office isn’t nearly as exciting as being in the canyon, but I still put on my ethnographer’s hat and try to understand people's motivations. I think that trip was fundamental because it helped me develop an interest in research, which is still a big motivation for my work today.
4. What would you say to your “Undergraduate” or “Graduate” self about studying at Ohio State now that you have graduated? Or what advice would you give to current students taking classes at ACCAD?
The relationships you build are often more important for your career than the knowledge or technical skills you develop. Getting out, being social, and creating a network will help you build your career more than book learning or a slick portfolio. I believe my admission to OSU resulted from strong referrals by professors I grew to know during my undergraduate education. I also connected with future graduate advisor, Alan Price, during a study abroad program I experienced as a 4th year undergrad. In graduate school, my first paid role as a designer was working at AOL because of a friend of a friend that I was introduced to at a bar, Rob Strati. We started talking about a topic, rare to most people at the time, called Information Architecture. He invited me to interview for an internship and later referred me to several great freelance opportunities. One of my first jobs after graduate school was working with a former instructor, Peter Gerstmann, who taught an Actionscript class at ACCAD. I was later hired to be an Actionscript developer at the same company where he worked. I found my next job through an Adobe Special Interest Group in Columbus, Ohio via some networking events. Liz Sanders (Design Faculty) was an advisor for my graduate thesis. She later referred me for a contract role at Microsoft working on a secret project (later known as Xbox Kinect). One of her former students told her they were looking for a researcher working on topics in line with my graduate research, accepting the position required me to move to the Seattle area.
While preparation and research are important, opportunities won’t come your way unless you get out of your house, step away from your desk and connect with people about topics you’re interested in. It’s when you find a way to connect with people about what you’re doing and they can see how your eyes light up about certain topics that they will want to help you. If you want to find your dream job, the most important thing is getting out there and connecting with other experts in your field of interest. Then the path forward to your dream job becomes a lot clearer and doors will start to open.
5. How could Ohio State better prepare people for a career that combines art, design, computer science, digital media, and new technologies?
During school, I explored many different disciplines and imagined I'd be able to work in multiple disciplines simultaneously during my career. My experience in industry has been different than what I expected. Within big corporations, being interdisciplinary often means collaborating with other roles that have distinct domains of focus. I had a few interdisciplinary classes in graduate school where I worked with engineers, but nothing was quite like the experiences I’ve had since. During graduate school, I imagined wearing multiple hats and playing multiple roles. I thought I would do a little bit of everything: Research, Design, and Engineering. I have found this much harder to do in a larger corporation because the corporate ladder pushes people to hone their skills in specific domains. This also causes people to be territorial in their areas of expertise. Career ladders in larger corporations are also more aligned to specific roles like researcher, designer, or engineer and are evaluated by very different objectives. Trying to switch between too many things can slow your career advancement. The roles which have been most interesting to me have allowed me some flexibility to use an interdisciplinary skill set.
Early in my career, I switched roles from developer to research to designer, but I was always practicing each discipline as much as I could. For the past 10 years, I’ve settled into design, but find I do my best design work when I work closely with a strong interdisciplinary team of subject matter experts. As I’ve advanced in my career, my experience in multiple disciplines has helped me become a better designer. I have enough knowledge of other domains like research and engineering to be able to influence stakeholders in these domains and collaborate more effectively with them. We all have better outcomes through combining our unique, distinct skill sets. We can do more by focusing on our individual expertise, then collaborating and relying on each others’ unique domain expertise. I think that collaboration requires practice and is a skill which can be honed in and of itself. I used to hate doing collaborative group activities in school because it was harder for me to collaborate vs taking the lead and doing things myself. It was hard to see things from the perspective of others, it was easier to focus on making my ideas a reality. While I was in school, I wanted to do fewer group projects, but now that I’m out of school I think the university could help students be more prepared for their futures if they pushed them to do more group activities. It would also help if there was more focus on the value of developing emotional intelligence within these types of scenarios vs simply focusing on building your STEM IQ.
6. What most helps you to balance life and career expectations? How do you relax or de-stress?
I think that it’s very important to take time to unplug and get as far away from wifi or cell phones as possible. I love living in the Pacific Northwest because it’s a beautiful place to live offering lots of great outdoor scenery to explore. One of my favorite ways to disconnect is sailing. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to sail with friends in some of the most beautiful places including French Polynesia, The Sea of Cortez, Sydney Harbor, and Vancouver. I’ve also done extensive sailing near where I live within the Puget Sound including some epic trips to the San Juan Islands. I find sailing a fantastic way to disconnect and reset. I also recently moved to a new house with a yard and find that I love to destress by pulling weeds, caring for plants, and tinkering around in the yard.
7. Tell us a fun thing (or something) most people don’t know about you?
I love to bake. In 2016, I visited Paris with my husband, when I had my first Parisian macarons, I became enamored. As a Valentine’s present the following year, my husband gave me the gift of cooking lessons with a French baker who taught me how to make Parisian-style macarons, which are very different from the typical Italian style that are sold in stores in the US. Ever since taking this class I’ve been slightly obsessed with perfecting my macaron-making techniques. My sister jokes that the perfect macarons are my white whale because I’m always pointing out the tiny imperfections or things I could do better next time. My family and friends are appreciative of my pursuits of the perfect macarons which tend to pick up around the holidays.
8. What would an alternate career choice be, if you could go back and choose a different path?
I often wonder what it would have been like to work in a smaller company, a start-up, or a non-profit. I think that working for a smaller company might have allowed me to continue practicing multiple disciplines as opposed to narrowing my focus within a larger corporation. I’m also curious about what I would do in an environment where there is less existing infrastructure. I’d be very curious to see how differently things play out when you are building a lot more from scratch with a smaller, scrappier team. I think it could have a lot more challenges, but it could also be truly exciting to grow something from scratch.
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