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Design Lab Alumnus Perspective

Alumna Nastasha Tan ‘10 on Trends in Design Education

Portrait of alum Nastasha Tan
Nastasha Tan '10

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How can we better teach design? Nastasha Tan was a student in Jim Hollan’s Distributed Cognition Lab before the Design Lab was formed. She majored in cognitive science and focused on human-computer interaction, then went on to earn a master’s degree at Carnegie Mellon in human-computer interaction; she also honed her business focus and volunteered to practice design while there.

Her first job after finishing at Carnegie Mellon was with Samsung, where she helped build the first generation of their now-ubiquitous smartphones. Today, she is Chief Design Officer at Kite, a startup that provides end-to-end AI technology services to personal care brands, supporting them in business needs from branding to supply chain optimization. 

“Design has a huge role to play in defining how [new] technologies are brought responsibly to market,” Tan points out.And she affirms the direction the Design Lab is taking toward design education: more opportunities for students to quickly put their new knowledge into practice. “How do you continue to bring the more entrepreneurial, hands-on, human-centered design to campus?” she asks. “Students in the past said it was hard to go into industry as a designer or researcher coming out of UCSD, and UCSD has realized that; [it’s] why DLab was established.” From her perspective, continuing to bring the industry focus closer to academia is what will help the next generation of students succeed.


She reminisces on her time at UCSD and the way faculty encouraged a culture of staying curious. The exploratory aspects of how tech can improve society and people’s lives were particularly interesting areas of study for her. 

As her career path takes her higher in leadership and closer to the core of business imperatives, Tan’s design practice has grown in scope: it’s about designing a product, a brand, even a business. She continues to apply her design education to help identify and solve the right problems, and brings her human-centered approach to industry to ensure that tech is designed to support people. 

“Design has a huge role to play in defining how [new] technologies are brought responsibly to market."
Nastasha Tan

She leaves us with this tip: “There’s a ton of interest in the Design Lab from those in my network,” she says. “Reach out to UCSD alumni to work on industry-sponsored projects so students can have those opportunities.”

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