Employer Spotlight: Bridge Design, San Francisco

Bridge Design sees their work as creating delightfully integrated user experiences, rather than just exercising the sum of their collective disciplines. They excel in industrial design, design research, engineering and user-interface design for medical and biotech products. As you can see, this isn’t your typical design/innovation firm, so to get the full picture of what it’s like to work there, I asked just about everyone on the Bridge Design team to answer some questions about why they love working there, what their clients say about them, and… what’s in their fridge.

Outside of your standard boiler plate/elevator pitch about Bridge Design, how do you describe the company to others?

Chris Wilson (Senior Industrial Designer): Bridge is a small, close-knit team of highly motivated people who truly care about providing the best solution for the client and end user.

Pete Gleason (Senior Product Design Engineer): Bridge really is like a family. The amount of support, flexibility, fun, and camaraderie is outstanding, and it is the main reason I came here in the first place. (I recognize that "culture" is part of some companies’ elevator pitch...but have never experienced it like here.)

Bill Evans (Founder and President): Bridge is a firm focused on the design of life science products, mainly medical but including the scientific instrumentation that gets used in a lot of biotech research. Just because it’s medical doesn’t mean it isn’t consumer. About half our medical products are for direct use by patients, many of whom have chronic illnesses that they would rather not make a project out of managing. These kinds of medical consumer products present some really challenging multi-disciplinary design problems.. I can genuinely claim that many of our designs for these kinds of patients have made a considerable difference in their lives. It is very satisfying for our team to read personal accounts on patient advocate blogs that cite the usefulness of specific design features we fought to have included in the product.

Some past and present Bridge designers at our 20th anniversary party in 2012

What motivated you to found Bridge Design?

Bill Evans: In a way I am an accidental businessman. Before I founded Bridge I was trying to get a product-based company off the ground, and while I worked on that, unpaid of course, I was working as a freelance designer to pay the bills. The product company never happened. I looked at what I’d earned as a freelancer and thought, “I could make my living doing this. Why don’t I give it a go as my main focus?” Invigorated at the prospect, and an entrepreneur at heart, I threw myself into making a go of it as a freelancer. This was a little risky, as my wife was pregnant and I didn’t have a “proper job”, so to speak.

A few weeks after making this decision, I ran into an old client who suggested I visit him the next week to check out the venture capital-backed medical start-up he had just become CEO of.

Shortly thereafter, I landed an ambitious, sizable project from his start-up to develop a new medical laser and the rest, as they say, is history. Within several months I had rented an office and hired my first few employees, growing so rapidly I never really had a chance to look back and stop and think about it, I just did it.

In a way, the motivation to start the company was an extension of the reason I came to the Bay Area in the first place. I was drawn to the culture of the region and its dynamic creative spirit that is still very much alive today. Being an immigrant, especially one who arrived alone, visa in hand for a new life, demonstrated my willingness to take risks and give it a go. So in a way it was inevitable that I would found my own business. As a freshly-minted businessman my instinct was to found it on the principle of creating a culture where employees are valued on their merits and excellence is expected. I also thought it was important to create an environment where we could have a casual atmosphere and respect for a realistic life-work balance. It’s just who I am as a person that motivated me to do it this way.

Phil Halbert rounding up anyone who wants to accompany him to our local eateries for lunch

Why do Bridge Design Employees love coming to work?

Bill Evans: I’ll let our employees answer that.

Diana Greenberg (Bridge’s Director of User Experience): We all truly enjoy each other’s company (that goes for both coworkers & clients); we get the gratification that comes from flexing brains to solve hard, interesting problems; and gain the deeper fulfillment that comes from doing this in service of creating things that truly improve or save lives.

Andy Santos-Johnson (Senior User Experience Designer): Bridge respects its designers and the balance between work and life, which is a big plus, especially in a city where a lot of startups work designers long hours. This coupled with the fact that every member at Bridge is motivated to develop successful products is what keeps me coming back every day. Another great aspect of working here is the cross-discipline collaboration on projects.

Chris Wilson: Bridge constantly provides the opportunity to work on juicy usability problems. The team is very supportive of each other and the political nonsense that you might uncover in a larger company does not exist.

Phil Halbert (Bridge’s Director of Engineering): We get to work together on challenging problems and be creative. We respect the work-life balance. We all get along and have fun at work. Our studio space is awesome.

Pete Gleason: The people. Everyone at Bridge is easy going, easy to work with, and interesting. The office is large, well lit, and fun to be in. We get a lot done, while having fun, which is very satisfying.

Jonathan Hsieh (Senior Product Design Engineer): For me it's the people and the work.

Does the Bridge Design team do anything as a group outside the office to stay inspired and creatively energized?

Bill Evans: Yes, from time to time we’ll do a group activity. Those have ranged from attending an exhibit of plasticized human bodies to kayaking across the bay.

Bridge’s Director of Engineering, Phil Halbert, dancing at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in a critically acclaimed production pairing choreographer Ronald Brown with costume designer Nick Cave

What do your clients say about you?

Diana Greenberg: We care a LOT. We push back when we feel it's important to, and fight hard for the right design process to get to the right design. They probably say that's annoying sometimes.

Chris Wilson: We are motivated to please but unafraid to challenge the client if we feel that it is in the best interest of the user.

Phil Halbert: (In reference to the fact that much of our work is repeat business from clients,) …those guys/women are really good. Let's hire them again and again!

What's the most unusual thing/object/practice I'll find in your office?

Diana Greenberg: There are a lot... rubber mouse with tumor cast from actual mouse with actual glow-in-the-dark tumor? Cast-aluminum urinal-looking console as one of a series built and installed as Internet kiosks in the early days of the 'net? 10 foot high slowly leaking water column being graphed this very moment in the kitchen? Pig veins in a refrigerator for coronary bypass device testing? (Not the same fridge as the milk!)

Andy Santos-Johnson (Senior User Experience Designer): For every project we do a fair amount of design research, which usually leads to some sweet office toys. My favorites are still the fully adjustable patient chair sample that one of our designers now sits at his desk with, or getting to test out RF ablation on chicken meat so I could help design a better user interface.

Chris Wilson: We have a piece of art on the wall in our kitchen purchased by our founder while mildly tipsy at a charity auction. This is somewhat evident from looking at it.

Just another day in the Bridge Design machine shop

Are there any office dogs/plants or occasions when little kids are running around?

Bill Evans: We’ve certainly had our share of small children in the office, especially when parents find themselves with a last minute childcare issue. Thanks goodness for the Wii we have set up in the conference room to amuse them for a while.

Phil Halbert: Plants, yes. One of our UX designers used to bring a charming pug named Martian to work when he was dog-sitting. The pigeon that made a nest inside our shop is not welcome!

Martian, the charming pug that visited the Bridge Design office for a stint.

Beyond the basics, what perks and benefits does everyone enjoy the most?

Andy Santos-Johnson: Every employee has access to all the design tools in the office (3d printer, laser cutter, full machine shop, photo studio) and we are encouraged to learn the tools and use them in our spare time. Flexible hours allow me to enjoy a lunchtime rock climbing session at Mission Cliffs from time to time.

Chris Wilson: The finest perk that there is from a company: respect of the work/life balance.

Bill Evans: All of our staff takes it in turn to run our weekly staff meeting. This includes choosing the food that is served. Each week staff vies to come up with the most unusual or thematic food to bring. Just last week the person running it picked up some gourmet weird flavored donuts from Dynamo Donuts in the Mission, including “Hibiscus Heart Beet” (actually tasted OK). We also encourage people in these meetings to share their out of the workplace adventures of all kinds, backpacking the Cascades in the snow, trips to exotic islands, and the inevitable in San Francisco; pictures from Burning Man. Sometimes the food theme matches the slide show.

What question or questions do you most enjoy asking potential hires during interviews?

Bill Evans: If I told you this I’d have to shoot you, as half the point of being an interviewer is to ask the unexpected and to try not to hint in the question at the answer you might like to hear. Having said that, the people we have ended up hiring have been comfortable in interviews in revealing both their professional and personal passions and being straightforward about successes and failures. I joke that birthing products is like birthing children: nine women cannot have a baby in one month; the birthing process itself is usually a combination of pain and joy; but the couple usually look at what they’ve created with affection. It’s corny, but true. So the more candid our interviewees are about describing the projects they’ve worked on, the better able we are to see if they will fit from both a design skills and cultural point of view.

The inevitable in San Francisco: Burning Man pictures shared as part of our staff meetings along with other out of the workplace adventures of all kinds. (Photo The Playa Wedding Procession by Bill Evans)

Tell me about the Senior Industrial Designer you’re looking for.

Bill Evans: We are always on the lookout for good talent. For this job we are looking for a designer who has demonstrated a command of the fundamentals of design and presentation, and can show some serious usability problem-solving chops coupled with a good command of organic forms to make them elegant. We do so many handheld and ergonomic forms that we need to see that this is something a candidate can do, but the example they might show does not even have to be in a handheld or medical project. This is also a job that would suit a designer ready to step up to a senior designer role. We offer a supportive environment for people to grow professionally and provide more exposure to the business and project management aspects of consulting than might be found at a larger firm.

Why should the best designers and thinkers in the country come work for you instead of another firm?

Bill Evans: Jonathan Hsieh is our most recent new hire. He is a product designer from MIT who moved from New York to work here. He had this to say about his choice of working at Bridge: “I interviewed and toured the office over video chat from across the country, and when I showed up for my first day of work, the founder was at Burning Man for the week, and another engineer was on paternity leave. And an hour after I get there I'm off to a client meeting. I think that's awesome."

Is there anything else you want potential hires to know about what it's like to work at your company?

Diana Greenberg: The design we do is very driven by problem-solving to make complicated, critical things highly usable when it matters. It is terrific work for the right kind of person—it isn’t for everyone; check your ego at the door. Despite the seriousness of projects we take on, the office atmosphere is very informal, personable, and relaxed. Most people who work here have passions they pursue avidly outside of work, and sharing those with office mates is very much part of Bridge's culture.

I am so grateful to the entire Bridge Design team for sharing all their stories about this fascinating company. Make sure to check out the Senior Industrial Designer role at Bridge Design.

If you’d like to see your company featured here on the Employer Spotlight, please send me a note at hillary.okeefe@coroflot.com. I look forward to learning why your company should be featured and what kind of talent you’re looking for.

Employer SpotlightBridge Design

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