Women have long played a central role at Ruffwear — on our leadership team, as gear testers in the field and in our product development room.
Of our five product designers, two are women: Monica and Liz. They work in a field that traditionally has been predominantly male.
In honor of today, International Women’s Day, Monica and Liz share how they got into product/industrial design and how their perspective shapes Ruffwear products.
Q: Were you interested in product design when you were little?
Monica: I was always into art as a kid but never wanted to be a painter or the like. I was also always taking things apart. I wanted to figure out how things work. My sister and I liked to do this — now she’s a mechanical engineer. Those experiences still influence me a lot. When we’re trying to solve a problem in the PD room, we sometimes look at how a completely different product works from a completely different industry. “That’s how a pen works. Let’s try it!”
Liz: My dad was always working on projects, from building tool sheds to building our home, and I was always there with him surrounded by tools, building and painting things. Through the years, I came to see it as fun. As a kid, I went to Women in Technology conferences where we played with circuit boards and did science experiments. I was in engineering clubs in middle school and high school. I also would reengineer products — when I was 10-ish, I velcroed a shower curtain to the inside of an umbrella because growing up in Hawaii, it always rained sideways. I can’t believe it hasn’t caught on yet!
Q: How did you land in product design for Ruffwear?
Monica: I’ve loved the outdoors ever since I was a kid. Our vacations were always camping and hiking and visiting national parks. So in college, I figured out that I could combine my passions and work in product design for the outdoor industry. Then a job opened up that would also incorporate dogs! I feel very lucky.
Liz: I was majoring in dance. A year in I started thinking about what else I could do and what I like to do. It brought me back to all the time I spent building things as a kid. I chose product design over engineering because it feels more human to me. You’re designing for people and experiences, not outcomes. After college, I started freelancing for Ruffwear. Then I was brought on full-time.
Q: What does being a woman bring to the table for you in your work?
Monica: I think having a balance of people in the PD room makes for better gear. We all use products differently. Having variety in our team allows us to share different experiences and quickly make decisions that make our products better for a wider base of customers.
Liz: A female perspective helped conceptualize two of our new products this season, the Treat Trader™ (a waist-worn treat-dispensing tool) and the Stash Bag™ (pick-up bag dispenser attached to a leash). When we were talking about these two ideas, the initial reaction of the men on the team felt like it was easy enough to throw treats or pick-up bags into their pockets. But women are more likely to be wearing clothing without pockets! Our input and experiences certainly do inform products.
Q: What do you see for the future of women in the PD room?
Monica: For Ruffwear, I feel like we’ll continue with a culture of encouraging women to be bold. I’ve always been encouraged to ask questions and to put things out there. I don’t see that changing any time soon.
In general, it seems to me like society is shifting in a way that really encourages ambition in young women. Despite product design being an industry consisting of mostly men, I think that as it continues to gain recognition as a career path more and more women will be drawn to it. I hope so!
Liz: The future seems bright for young girls and women alike. I definitely see more women in the PD room, because I think that more women are finding courage within themselves and are being encouraged by others to challenge the status quo.
If I were advising a woman thinking about product design or engineering, I’d tell them to find a female mentor in the field. You can learn so much from the women around you, and from the women that you admire. Mentors help you propel yourself forward and connect with women who have similar interests. I know that I wouldn’t be where I am now without the women who helped to get me here.