Alumnus Chad Harber speaks to students in the Industrial Design program.

Fitbit Lead Designer Draws a Career Sketch for Carleton Students

By Ariel Vered
Photos by Chris Roussakis

Make sure you love what you do.

That was one of the valuable pieces of advice that Chad Harber, Fitbit lead industrial designer and Carleton Industrial Design graduate (BID/06), imparted to a packed audience of Bachelor of Industrial Design students at a talk organized by the Carleton Industrial Design Student Association.

He used his own workplace evolution – from student to design agency to startup to corporate environment – to impart tips and tricks on life after graduation as students prepare to embark on their own careers.

“Create your reality,” he said. “If you know what you want, make a plan. Visualize it.”

Carleton Professor set Harber on his path

Chad did just that when, on the advice of Carleton Prof. Bjarki Hallgrimsson, he attended the 2007 Connecting Conference in San Francisco, which offered seminars, portfolio reviews, studio tours and many networking opportunities. He made a list of what he wanted to get out of the trip and a prospective job, figured out who to meet and made sure he had a strong design portfolio to show off.

While at the conference, Chad fell in love with the design industry in San Francisco and knew he wanted to work there. He sent followup e-mails to people with whom he had had meaningful interactions. A few months later, Chad got a job offer from New Deal, a San Francisco-based design agency he had visited on a studio tour during the conference.

Chad drew on his experiences working for the agency, a startup (Aether Things) and a corporate entity (Fitbit) to illustrate to students the pros and cons of different career paths. He emphasized the importance of feeling passionate about what you do, but also noted that even the worst projects can be a learning experience.

“My main goal is learning,” Chad said. “That’s what motivates me.”

Main goal is learning

While he couldn’t discuss his projects at Fitbit (they won’t be released for another year or so), Chad brought examples of other interesting projects, including the Lytro light field camera, which allowed users to focus an image after they’ve taken a picture and Aether Cone, a smart speaker system.

Even with a busy full-time career, Chad told students that he continues to sketch regularly because, as a designer, it’s how you have a conversation with yourself and the best way to express ideas to others.

“The most powerful tool you have is the ability to visualize instantly,” he said. “Being able to sketch live is a valuable skill.”

This talk marked Chad’s first time back at Carleton since he graduated a decade ago with a Bachelor of Industrial Design. “Carleton had a huge impact on me as a designer and as a person,” he said when asked what students can get out of Carleton.

“I wish I’d taken more risks,” he continued, pointing out that the Carleton Industrial Design program provides a great forum for aspiring designers to experiment and try new things.

“Now is the time to discover who you are as a designer, what makes you different from other designers. If you push yourself, you’ll learn about yourself.”