When all’s said and done, Alexa Hanna (Industrial Design, 2017) will have four patents in her name — not too shabby for someone who hasn’t yet earned her undergraduate degree. (She’ll cross the stage at graduation this spring.)
Her drive has been apparent for quite a while. Hanna started a pet photography business at age 16, and as a first-year student at The College of Wooster, earned all A’s.
CCAD Industrial Design student Alexa Hanna
Despite her stellar grades at the liberal arts school, the Seville, Ohio, native felt like something was missing. As a photographer, she’d been part of a thriving creative community, and at Wooster, “I really started to miss that,” she recalled.
And so she decided to transfer, starting her second year of college at Columbus College of Art & Design.
Initially, Hanna was “very intimidated.”
“I had never done anything even mildly artistic, other than photography, so I felt like a total underdog, coming in with the freshmen year CORE classes,” she said.
For instance, painting, she recalled, was tough — she got her first-ever B’s in the class — but the rigorous curriculum was just what she’d been seeking.
“I missed being challenged and being in a creative environment more than it scared me,” Hanna said. “And I’m so glad … I genuinely feel, especially now, senior year, that I made the absolute right choice, no doubt about it.”
This class project saw Alexa Hanna design an eco-friendly package for an existing product
A founding member of CCAD’s Industrial Design Collective, member of the college’s Women’s Leadership Institute, as well as member of Ohio Industrial Design Students, Hanna saw her sense confirmed last year in her seven-month internship with Mary Kay cosmetics in Addison, Texas (near Dallas).
“This had been my dream internship since my first year at CCAD,” she said. Back then, CCAD alum Jenny DeMarco Staab (Industrial Design, 2006), a Mary Kay employee, visited Hanna’s Industrial Design class to talk about jobs in the field.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do,’” said Hanna. “So throughout those classes, I would always focus and make sure my portfolio would be something Jenny was interested in when she eventually came back. My junior year, I interviewed there, and then I was there first semester of senior year.”
“I absolutely love cosmetics. And then I love packaging, because what really draws me to industrial design is the intersection of frivolous, pretty things, and smarts. And that’s where some of the best designs are, when you can make something that looks absolutely beautiful but then it’s also really smart and really functional,” she said.
For this class project, Alexa Hanna created brushes for makeup artists that would be friendly to both the environment and their pocketbooks
Hanna’s seven-month co-op with Mary Kay also provided her the opportunity to work with vendors, and to eventually work on a design that will be in 35 countries when it launches next year — “Which is a crazy and amazing opportunity for someone who’s still in school,” she said.
Hanna worked on two compact projects and a fragrance project (plus another project that was also ultimately canceled). “I’ll have four patents when this is all said and done,” she said.
That’s not all she’s up to.
A recent winner of the Industrial Designers Society of America's Student Merit Award, Hanna has brought her industrial design expertise to Aunt Flow, a Columbus-based subscription service for 100% cotton tampons and menstrual pads that donates a box of tampons or pads to women in need for each box purchased. (They expect to donate more than 150,000 tampons by October, which will mark the service's first year, said Hanna.)
Aunt Flow promo video
“I first found Aunt Flow and (founder) Claire Coder, my business partner, through Elaine Luttrull,” Department Head of Business & Entrepreneurship at CCAD, she said.
Hanna didn’t yet have a senior thesis project, and working with Aunt Flow was just what she was looking for.
Hanna is working on the design for a menstrual products dispenser that could be installed at businesses and in public restrooms. The hope is that more businesses will offer such products for free, just like toilet paper.
(Perhaps counter-intuitively, businesses can actually save money by offering menstrual products for free, as the cost of auditing vending-machine sales is often greater than their revenue.)
Hanna’s thesis work has included a case study at John Glenn Columbus International Airport, as well as interviews with more than 50 businesses in the Short North. She also conducted an online survey that netted more than 750 responses.
She said she hopes to keep working with Aunt Flow after graduation, and is interested in working for a corporation, or a design firm. “I know what makes me happy is working on projects with cosmetics, or anything to do with women, animals, or food. If I could work in a firm that has anything to do with those, that’d be cool.”
Another class project saw Alexa Hanna designing a Girl Scouts of America-branded backpack for Rocky Brands
“Industrial Design is not something you can go online and teach yourself. You really need people who know what they’re doing. Everything I learned related to Industrial Design has been a direct result of CCAD,” Hanna said.
And one of her biggest classroom lessons is one with personal and professional impact: embrace ambiguity.
“Every time our professors come to a project, that’s their internal debate, ‘How much ambiguity can we throw at them?’ … They want to push us to the edge,” she said.
“Before I came to CCAD, I was the kind of person who wanted to have a plan for everything. And I’m still a little bit of that person, but I’m OK with knowing that not every part of that plan may be concrete. And it’s good that it can’t be, because that’s how some of those magic moments in design or life happen — when you have to make some changes you weren’t expecting, and you don’t know how that’s going to work out.”
Click here to try your first month of Aunt Flow for free.