What happens when you’re the only engineer in the room with a design perspective? You get to work on really innovative projects.
Just ask Alexa Espinal ’16. Since March 2017, Espinal has been working as a field application engineer for E Ink and the experience has taken her to unexpected places: from architectural and design trade shows, to the SEGD conference (Society for Experiential Graphic Design), to NeoCon one of the largest design expositions and conferences for commercial interiors in the US. Her most impressive was the International Interior Design Association New England (IIDANE) chapter fashion show, where Espinal’s design work earned her company the “Best in Show” award. But more on this later.
What’s It Like Working at E Ink?
For Espinal, a JWU graduate with an Engineering Design & Configuration Management degree, working at E Ink is a dream come true.
“I'm getting the perspective of how startup companies work and how much more work you have to put in,” Espinal says. “But, the quality of the work shows how much dedication it takes, and it’s something I really appreciate.”
Assistant Professor Walter Zesk, who recommended Espinal for the job, had a feeling she would be a good fit for the job, challenges and all.
“To be honest, I knew the [job at E Ink] was going to be a really challenging position because they don't normally hire designers,” Zesk says. “They don't have a design manager who knows how to bring someone in and get them up to speed and make them productive.
“The only person I could think of was Alexa.”
“I was really concerned about recommending anyone,” he adds. “The only person I could think of was Alexa because she takes so much personal responsibility in any situation. She’s good at saying ‘how can I control the situation even though I’m not in charge?’ It’s being able to have influence without authority.”
So, what is E Ink?
If you’ve ever used a Kindle, you’ve touched their product. Their big break came in the form of ePaper, that paper-like display technology that’s characterized by high visibility and contrast, a wide viewing angle and low power requirements.
According to Espinal, the company also specializes in plastic films that can be cut into different shapes and sizes, and applied to almost any surface including glass, plastic, fabric or paper. She also noted that E Ink is now expanding into the architecture and design industry.
Espinal works primarily on products to promote and integrate a film called E Ink Prism™. “Not only am I a designer here at E Ink with the architecture and design team, but I'm also working with customers. I pretty much travel to different trade shows to introduce what E Ink Prism™ is and how the material can be used by architectural and design companies,” Espinal says.
Espinal is the first and only engineer with a design perspective working at E Ink.
The Only Designer in the Room
What makes Espinal’s role at E Ink unique is the fact that she’s the first and only engineer with a design perspective.
“E Ink is a strong engineering focused company,” says Espinal. “One of the challenges that I had to overcome was finding ways to communicate the key elements of design and adding design values into projects.”
“One of the challenges I had to overcome was finding ways to communicate.”
“Presenting conceptual designs for a project involving engineers has not been the easiest thing to do. I’ve dedicated my time to building relationships with people within the company and found different methods to pitch my designs,” she adds. “Even though it has been a challenge, I’m honored to be the first hire with a design background to really understand the perspectives from engineers and finding ways to compromise to meet our customer's needs.”
During trade show season, which starts in June, Espinal designs various concepts to demonstrate how the company’s materials can be integrated into different applications. To design her work she uses InDesign, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, laser cutters and 3-D printers, among other programs and software.
All in a Day’s Work: Sample Projects
“This year’s tradeshow was special because E Ink Prism™ launched 7 new colors into the market. Using Adobe Illustrator, I had the privilege to design a series of icon concepts to represent the names of all 7 colors. These icons were the centerpiece of the t-shirt designs that supported this launch during the tradeshows. In this image, my colleague is wearing the “Zest” t-shirt.”
Glass Marker Boards
“These designs were shown at an architecture and design tradeshow. I designed the pieces of Prism™ film to change from one state to another. The overall feedback from the attendees, was extremely positive, as the designs demonstrated how to integrate technology and art in a very innovative way. They’ve now been installed in our office in public meeting room spaces,” Espinal adds.
“E Ink and 3form worked together to integrate our Prism™ film into their static Wovin Wall concept. I helped create different color schemes that would “pop” and attract visitors to our booth. We added a sensor to it, so when anyone walked by the booth it would trigger the interactive wall. People could literally pass their hand in front of the wall and it would change color. I got to design the enclosure for that sensor as well,” says Espinal.
Laser Cut Designs
“I created these designs that pushed our team’s understanding of the complex laser cutting capabilities of E Ink Prism™ products,” adds Espinal.
Best in Show: IIDA NE Fashion Show Designs
“E Ink and Bergmeyer partnered together for the IIDA NE Fashion Show 2017. Earlier this year, Bergmeyer E Ink approached E Ink for assistance in a novel project they were working on. They were competing the IIDA NE Fashion Show, and their challenge was to create fashion designs using only 10% traditional textile materials. I worked closely with the designers to help them understand how to use our Prism™ material, and to take their design concepts and manufacture them from our film. The team won “Best in Show” for their three designs at the October fashion show.”
“All the hard work definitely paid off. Everything’s happened in a pretty short amount of time, and it’s been a great experience.”