Interview with Sarah Edwards from United States

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Sarah Edwards

Sarah Edwards, a dedicated mental health advocate and an individual living with neurodivergence, is on a mission to blend her personal experiences with her artistic background to raise awareness about various mental and physical conditions.

Interview With The 2023 NY Product Design Awards Winner – Sarah Edwards

1Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your background.

My name is Sarah Edwards and I am a champion for mental health and an individual living with neurodivergence. I’m on a mission to intertwine my personal experiences and artistic background to shed light on numerous mental and physical conditions.

Presently, I am navigating my way through recovery from Harm Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (HOCD), Responsibility Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (ROCD), and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). Additionally, I am striving to find balance in living with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and managing panic attacks. My personal battles with anxiety and OCD are at the forefront of my advocacy work.

Moreover, I am determined to give visibility to physical disabilities and special needs. Throughout my life, I have been wrestling with autoimmune disorders and mild cerebral palsy, causing minor paralysis. I aspire to broaden my advocacy to the disability community, acting as a bridge between public health and creative resources.

I took an early leap from high school because I was very enthusiastic to discover the world. My educational journey took me across many institutions like the Florence University of the Arts in Italy, The School of Visual Arts in New York, where I studied Directing, and Penn State University, where I was a part of the Letters, Arts, and Sciences program. Professionally speaking, I hold the position of Art Director Supervisor within the health and wellness segment of advertising.

2What made you become/why did you choose to become a product designer?

Design is a method of translating problems into solutions. Everyone endures struggle, and sometimes verbal discussions are only a part of progress. Ideating physical change can be a catalyst for healing. As someone who often is sick, I yearn for normalcy and healing.

Normalcy can come in those everyday micro tasks and interactions that many of us can take for granted. If we can adjust and understand those small pieces of day-to-day life, we can heal the world.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

I ventured into the wellness advertising field due to my personal experience as a young patient. I noticed a significant divide between public health and creative approaches. My goal is to identify the often-overlooked and disconnected aspects within this gap through my small business.

My focus is on neurodivergent individuals, isolated young adults, and those on the path to mental health recovery. I design stationery products to simplify daily life and offer masterclasses that impart life skills and creativity in innovative ways. My vision is to expand into an educational platform for those with creative minds, and I provide one-on-one support to those who require guidance from someone with first-hand experience.

4What does “design” mean to you?
Design is the artwork of explaining thoughts and solutions visually. It’s a space to promote new ideas and emotions that might spark beyond just one person. I think it’s an important exercise to grasp the human experience better. I believe everyone is a creative.
5What’s your favorite kind of design and why?
I love design that is centered around education. This takes many forms. Perhaps a physical product, a film or an emotionally provoking visual to create educational ideas and provoke a conversation.
6To you, what makes a “good” design?
A good design has intention. You know why it must be created and its aim to exist in the world. I’ve never been a fan of creating just to create, or just to make a “statement” if that statement is empty.
7Describe your design style and its main characteristics.
Regarding my personal brand, it’s essential for me to spark joy and invite healing. Many people often comment that my colors create a friendship of warmth and excitement. I love things centered around re-growth, nurturing, and the little romantic moments of life.
8Tell us about your design process.

When I start a design, it's usually because I want to solve a problem. I'm drawn to the noisier, more persistent issues—problems that I notice in others or that I keep running into myself. I kick things off by looking at the problem and figuring out how to fix it in a practical way.

Once I've got the logistics down and I understand the "why," the visual design elements start falling into place. All of a sudden, I can see the tone, colors, structure, and things tend to flow pretty smoothly from there.

9Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your design process?

My cultural heritage may not play a significant role, but my personal life experiences have a profound influence. My extensive health journey forms the foundation of my actions and motivations. Having navigated through systemic experiences, especially within the healthcare system, I've become acutely aware of the shortcomings and disparities in our United States society.

The deficiency in mental health education is primarily due to a lack of political consensus and a misplaced focus. I aspire to make a positive contribution to addressing this issue.

10Congratulations! As the winner of the 2023 NY Product Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?
Awards formed new meanings for me over the years. It’s less about the recognition and more about an objective perspective, analyzing if my actions are on the right track or have a good heartbeat in my creations. This helps me improve and know where to focus to make an impact. I appreciate that awards allow us to self-recognize strong direction as designers, as oftentimes, we are too close to the work.
11Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2023 NY Product Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

I was no stranger to doctors as I had a handful of physical disabilities. Returning to the “real world” after experiencing trauma is not typical; many people feel they have no process to turn to. The medical terminology tied around my treatment and the academic-like words I saw in journals and routine planners felt stale and dry. I couldn’t focus or relate to them. I entered the design industry to bridge the gap between public health and creativity.

I wanted to create something personal and that was not just another template-like product. I decided to design a new way of thinking and planning. A way that considers mental health like no planner has done before. A process that took into consideration my very human limitations and limiting beliefs.

I then taught my method to over 3,000 individuals online and in 1:1 coaching, and I've been able to help many people across the world of all ages, genders, and backgrounds find balance.

Where The Wildflowers Grow uses garden and nature analogies to walk a user through 35 pages of mindset shifting followed by a daily plan of 365 pages that puts those learnings into action, this daily planner encourages you to focus on priorities, make healthy goals and success statements, reflect and be aware of limitations and limiting beliefs, and plant daily happiness, learnings, nourishment, and even medication.

12What was the biggest challenge with this project?
Designing something that caters to a broad audience while addressing specific and niche concerns can be quite challenging. Striking a balance between this and the practical aspects of design, such as paper types and hardcover options, requires an unusual approach of considering the consumer's overall experience.
13How has winning an award developed your practice/career?
It confirms that I'm applying my skills effectively and moving in the right direction! I'm grateful for the recognition of both the hard work and the underlying concept. It motivates you to keep pushing forward.
14What are your top three (3) favorite things about our industry?

- I love the sandbox. Design really is one of the few spaces in the world where concepts and creation are practically limitless.

- We've stepped into an era where many individuals are deliberately slowing down and savoring the art of design. They are linking designs to their emotions, pondering how creative work can transform or evoke feelings within them.

- We are constantly inspired and influenced by our surroundings (other great co-workers, products and ideas). I think that level of inspiration in an industry is rare.

15What makes your country specifically, unique in the design industry?
The land of opportunity. It takes great sacrifice to maintain our freedom, and I don’t take it for granted.
16Where do you see the evolution of design industry going over the next 5-10 years?
I love that design is becoming more of a language than a skill. I love that design encourages the cross-contamination of skills and cultures. It’s a melting pot of endless possibilities (in technical and in ideas).
17If you were a student entering this industry or an aspiring NY Product Design Awards submitter, what advice would you give them?
Start with your why. Don’t start with shiny object syndrome or an idea you haven’t connected to cause and effect, solution or problem. Colors, fonts, and so on are fascinating, but the surface of the living and breathing work is not the main event.
18What resources would you recommend to someone who wants to improve their skills in the design industry?

The internet has a million free resources to learn skills. But I love the motivation of inspiration, social media, Pinterest, and YouTube, and just feeling a spark behind the style or method of creating is the first step to increasing skills.

What inspires you? What media or other artists? If you start there, you'll go down an excellent rabbit hole, and suddenly, 5+ years will have gone by. I love this method because it marries where you are at that moment (in life experiences, interests, and so on).

19Tell us something you have never told anyone else.
I used to hate design and graphic design. The technical side was so dull to me and frustrating. It took about 2 years of forced learning to finally catch up to the work I was falling in love with. It’s okay if you feel the growing pains. Don’t let that stop you from eventually creating your dream ideas.
20Who has inspired you in your life and why?
This isn’t a “who” or a physical person. I’ve been inspired a lot by studying suffering. Suffering is a universal shared experience as human beings. It touches all lives across generations and cultures. When I study suffering, how it is created, its impact, and how often it occurs in human beings, the more ideas I have and the more solutions I want to create.
21What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

Study project management. Become organized. Have a plan and a process (I teach creatives this for a living). This will change your dreams and your creative goals. Stop buying into the belief that just because you are creative, you are unreliable, don’t finish work, or are emotional. These are stereotypes. If you face these, it just means you haven’t found the right process yet.

Learn from producers and managers, watch them carefully, and apply it to your goals. Keep your head down and focus on the day-to-day small steps; suddenly, you’ll be at your finish line.

Winning Entry

Where The Wildflowers Grow: Daily Planner | 2023

Where The Wildflowers Grow: Daily Planner | NY Product Design Awards
While in intensive treatment for my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), I yearned for little bits of …
(Read more at NY Product Design Awards)

Sarah Edwards

Sarah Edwards, a dedicated mental health advocate and an individual living with neurodivergence, is on a mission to blend her personal experiences with her artistic background to raise awareness about various mental and physical conditions.

Read more about this interview with Mohammed Shais Khan from the United States, the Silver Winner of the 2023 NY Product Design Awards.