Product Designer

2 Years

Project Summary

The Scene Shop at California Institute of the Arts is an educational production facility used by faculty and students in the undergraduate and graduate programs in the School of Theater. Being brought in to manage the space and staff, I relied heavily on my background in design to lead teams and invoke change.

How can we improve safety while increasing productivity and learning?


After analysing the shop and its position in the institute, I concluded that they had a very limited safety culture and lacked structure and a platform that would allow reliably sharing and transferring important information.


I spent time learning what systems were in place, and how they worked. But more importantly, I wanted to understand their purpose and make sure the purpose was clearly stated. Many of the pain points I uncovered seemed to relate to a lack of knowledge among the users. Easy access to knowledge became an integral requirement for every solution.

I implemented an iterative design processes that ultimately allowed me to achieve a safer and more efficient workplace and learning environment.

Pain Points


With no public or permanent arena to publish information about the space, everything pertaining to access and rules existed through word of mouth.

They were extremely rigid with one rule in particular (eyewear at all times). Users not in compliance would be scolded by fellow students and faculty alike, although the user may not have been informed of the rule/expectation. This created a hostile environment for new users and a herd mentality that wasn’t very effective as it seemed to result in disregard for other, less asserted, rules.

The rule was unnecessarily strict since there was no immediate need for eye protection when there was no ongoing production.

After mapping out the biggest, most common, safety concerns I created resources for informing the users of the hazards along with the appropriate safety precautions. Relaxing the excessively strict rule for eye protection (use it when you need it – you need it if you or someone in the space is working) resulted in users following all rules more diligently. This development was achieved by greater access to knowledge and making the safety concerns understood, meaning users respected the reason why they were required to use personal protection equipment.

Although I faced resistance from faculty on the idea of relaxing their main safety rule, the results were indisputable. By focusing on why the rules were in place, stating it clearly, and empowering the users with the information to act responsibly, we saw a vast increase in the use of PPE. Additionally, shifting from scolding to polite reminders of genuine concerns for safety, changed the dynamic between students for the better.


With a significant amount of international students, culture had to be respected but also established. Students came from a vast array of backgrounds, but needed to abide by the same rules and take the same safety precautions.

Through observing and developing human oriented solutions, I created systems for learning while also creating strategy and opportunity for success. This included incorporating iconography and visual representations, and not relying solely on language.


Working in a space with potentially lethal tools, my primary focus was to ensure students had easy access to information about safety hazards, injury prevention and safe working practices.

Considering that I was designing for college students, it was effective to uncover outdated solutions and create digital touch points. This gave students continuous access to important information, and increased awareness.

Responsive Website

Rules and regulations only existed through word of mouth.

I established a website to make information accessible about the facility, services and safety training. Since the campus operates on Google Suite, I created a Google Site that the faculty can maintain and update within the existing ecosystem.

Online Training and Certification

Students would forget safety practices and not ask for help.

I replaced photocopied tests from the 90’s, with Google Forms that automates and speeds up the certification of students from safety training. QR codes directs students to tool specific safety tests and an instructional video. Importantly, this allowed students to revisit the training at any time, giving a simple refresher on how to safely operate that machine.

Maintenance System

Issues with machinery did not get relayed to management.

Every tool in the shop got a designated QR code for reporting maintenance needs, allowing users to instantly and easily report issues as they occur. Customizing every form to each tool allowed for common maintenance needs to be reported with a minimum amount of clicks.

Clarifying Procedures

Routine tasks were being neglected.

Discrepancies between what was expected of students and the information they had access to, lead me to design a series of visual components that would allow student to perform certain procedures without instructor involvement. In this example, I designed visuals for a measuring jug to help students mix coolant in the correct ratio.

Points Of Interest

Users were unaware of when to wear the appropriate PPE.

Irreversible hearing damage occurs without pain and is not immediately noticeable. Therefore it was important for me to empower the students with information about when they need to protect their hearing. Noise measuring points informed students of what noise levels were present, and posters educated them on harmful levels.


Increased Reporting

Increased Productivity


My Thoughts

In order to invoke change from my position as a manager at a non-profit organisation, my design skills proved indispensable and imperative in achieving the tremendous results that I did. The upper management were unwilling or unable to spend money on safety systems or services that would improve the students opportunity to learn and work safely. Through a process driven approach I was able to develop and create systems within existing constraints and minimal budget, that transformed the way students learned and interacted with a hazardous environment.

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