In the two decades since she graduated from ArtCenter with a degree in Transportation Design, Tisha Johnson has blazed trails for female design leaders in industries dominated by men. Her success has been propelled by her genuine passion for each phase of the design process, from research to experimenting with materials to aligning aesthetic beauty with human need.
The results of her efforts are written into her ever-evolving career, which includes transformative stints heading up design teams at Volvo and Herman Miller en route to her current role as head of global design at Whirlpool. Tisha’s growing list of achievements has done little to dampen her palpable excitement for the fundamentals of a job she views, in its simplest terms, as making things that make people’s lives better. In order to do that well, she’s committed herself to a lifelong learning process as a designer and leader, both in the studio and out. In fact, she’s even been known to use her twin passions for surfing and motorcycling as laboratories for design thinking and doing.
For Tisha, good design is a feeling. And that feeling, in a word, is freedom. It’s part of the purity of spirit and infectious enthusiasm she brings to everything she does. Even now, from her perch atop the upper rungs of corporate America, she speaks of her new role strategizing future generations of home appliances with the reverence and excitement of someone who has just landed her first job.
I was particularly taken by Tisha’s description of the design process as a dialogue between materials and maker, which echoed themes in my book about the discoveries that happen through physical engagement. Over the course of a conversation that felt at times like a masterclass on design strategy, we also covered her thoughts on how research and careful listening guides the teams she leads, the role of empathy in design and how her work at Whirlpool in connection to what she calls “the hearth of the home” can move her to tears.
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