Food for Thought: EAT Club Creative Director Mara Behrens Serves Up a Lesson in Design Thinking

If you’re reading this on a laptop or a phone screen, then you are directly engaging with the work of a creative director just like Mara Behrens! Mara describes a creative director as “a key role to help a company have a creative vision, a brand personality. [She] shapes companies’ ideas and pushes them to a new level.” Mara is the creative director at successful Silicon Valley start-up EAT Club, a “virtual café” that provides eighteen to nineteen thousand lunches to employees at businesses in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area everyday. EAT Club’s mission is to help every company boost its productivity by keeping employees happy, healthy, and energized throughout the day, so that they can be more productive at work. At EAT Club, Mara oversees the whole experience: “As a creative director, I touch everything which is really fun. I work entirely on the branding; I work entirely on the user experience; I work with everybody here at the company, touching different aspects of what has to do with design. That’s quite personally why I like it so much.”

After years of experience in design, from working as an art director at Harper’s Bazaar Mexico & Latin America to co-founding and serving as Chief Creative Officer at ModeWalk, a luxury fashion e-commerce company, Mara truly understands design’s importance in a company. “Design is a super powerful tool to make a distinction of who you are from who everyone else is,” Mara says.

A standout designer for Mara would be Apple’s Chief Design Officer, Jony Ive. “He really transformed design’s shift into technology. He humanizes the experience which is so difficult to do,” Mara says of Ive’s work on Apple’s products. There’s a reason that Mara admires the designer of a technology company. “Today if you want to be a designer, you have to understand technology,” she says. “I embrace it!” Humanizing an experience through design can be accomplished by empathizing with the user, figuring out how they engage with the product and giving them the best experience possible.

Design’s consideration for the user is what makes it different from art. Mara notes, “If I have a strong opinion and I really want to put it out there, to me, that’s art and that’s totally fair. Your design is like a piece of you because you put in a lot of love—but you should be able to comprehend and understand that it’s not about you.” That is, design’s purpose is primarily to serve the brand, the product, or the user. To achieve good design, Mara implements lessons in design thinking that she learned at Stanford University’s d.school. Here are her top five tips for successful design thinking!

1. Think BIG. “Think outside the box. If you constrain yourself at the beginning, you won’t have the capabilities to push yourself further.”

2. “‘Empathize with the user,’ is the number one thing you have to think. Really be in their shoes and make sure that you’re covering for them and listening to their needs so that you’re doing something better for them.”

3. Ideas come from everywhere and anyone. Mara gives the example that if someone suggests a different font for your design, it doesn’t necessarily mean that his or her font is better. However, they are communicating to you that something is off about the design, and you should hear that, and take a second look

4. Iterate fast, prototype fast and fail fast. “Sometimes what happens with designers is…they fall in love really with their projects and it becomes harder to let go,” Mara says. It is crucial in design that you test lots of ideas so that you get to the best one as soon as possible.

5. Don’t be afraid to fail. “If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re never going to move on. Failing actually helps you to keep going.”

Finally, Mara encourages looking for inspiration everywhere, something she did when she was younger that she says helps her in her career today: “Don’t be frightened. Always be open to try new things. From technology to photography to cooking classes to dancing. All of them bring inspiration in different ways. It really comes together in the end.”

Contributor: Rachel Savage

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