Making Awesomeness*: How Design Affects Us Every Day

Amanda Ellis

Imagine you’re 5 years old. You need to have an MRI, and you don’t really know what that means.

What you do know is that your parents say there’s a scary machine that’s seven times your size and that goes “boom, boom, boom.” And no matter how terrified you are, you can’t move a muscle, or you’ll have to start over. A kid’s version of Groundhog Day.

Up to 80 percent of young children are sedated for the procedure because they’re too scared to remain still enough. That is — until General Electric redesigned the entire experience into a fun adventure.

They made the MRI machine a spaceship, a safari adventure, a submarine exploring a coral reef, or a pirate ship.

What kid doesn’t want to sail a pirate ship?

But first, let’s get the scariest obstacle out of the way: walking the plank.

“Ahoy, matey!” the technician says. And when the procedure begins, “Hold very still to see mermaids and dolphins leaping over you.”

A scary experience is now less so, maybe it’s even fun. With this approach, approximately zero pediatric patients require sedation.**

“Design changes things for people,” says Leslie Jensen-Inman, Ph.D., after she shares this story with me.

And she ought to know, as the co-founder and Institutional Director of Center Centre, Chattanooga’s user experience (UX) design school.

UX design? What’s that?

User experience designers are tech-savvy writers and storytellers who are experts in design and coding. They combine those skills to give users the best possible experience.

When I compliment her riveting storytelling, she tells me it’s a huge part of UX, and the topic of one of the school’s focused three-week courses. Center Centre students attend school 9 to 5. Their classes, real-life project work and workshops with industry experts happen during those hours to simulate a typical work environment.

“Everything about this program is intentional,” says Center Centre student Ella Nance. “Every step of the way, I’ve felt like someone thought about me and how I would experience this process.”

She’s right. Jensen-Inman says a big part of design is working backward from your desired outcome. What does success look like? For Center Centre, it looks like students who graduate and are not only immediately employed, but an instant asset to their organization.

“We were thinking about placement way before we had students,” Jensen-Inman says.

It’s an approach Nance appreciates. She left her Dallas job, sold her house and rehomed her dog to complete Center Centre’s two-year program.

Intentionality is an important part of solving problems with design.   

Aegle Gear, based out of Hamilton County’s INCubator, drew on the synergy between sports and healthcare to design improved healthcare uniforms that also fight infection.  

George Brown founded the company based on his 20 years in athletic retail and 10 in healthcare technology.

He sees similarities between the two fields. For both, uniforms are important. Both work in teams and have to twist into unusual positions. But every day is game day for healthcare professionals; that’s Aegle’s motto.

In athletic wear, antimicrobial fabric reduces body odor, and Aegle uses a similar treatment, escalated to the point that it kills pathogens, on the fabric for its healthcare uniforms.

“We wanted to provide workers with a uniform to function with them,” Brown says. “There’s a purpose and a design to the pockets, the collar, a thoughtful purpose around designing something that meets existing needs to give healthcare workers something better than they’ve had in the past.”

Aegle Gear features a raised collar so stethoscopes don’t touch the skin, protecting the worker from microbes and protecting the stethoscope from oils on the neck that can break down rubber.

A flap pocket on the chest can store a credit card or ID and some pockets feature elastic for securing small tools.

Unlike traditional pajama style surgical pants, Aegle gear pants offer a gusseted crotch and a real waist that buttons. The Aegle logo on its gear is reflective for night shift nurses who may need to walk in dark areas.

“A student at Chattanooga State who had a set of our gear texted me as he was getting ready for clinical,” says Courtney Lewis, Aegle’s COO. “He told me he’d gotten three compliments and that, as a student, he already felt more professional than his peers in our gear verses what everyone else was wearing.”

Aegle Gear’s design not only enhanced that student’s experience, it boosted his professional confidence.

Designing Our Community

“We have the Innovation District and the Gig in our city, now it’s looking beyond technology and infrastructure,” Jensen-Inman says. “Innovation doesn’t happen without design. If we’re going to be an innovative city, to take the technology where it can go – we need to put intentional design thinking around it– not just for an app, or a piece of software – it’s intentionally designing our community and the systems within our community.”

That can take many forms. For Gabrielle Blades, owner of Blades Creative, a branding and print design company located in the Hamilton County business INCubator, it’s important to value creativity as Chattanooga becomes a hub for creative people.

“We’re a giving place, which is amazing, but it’s also important to respect creative skills enough to ask a photographer, or musician, or designer, for their rates,” Blades says. “Someone may donate their time here and there, but that doesn’t mean they always can or should, especially if their creative skills are how they make a living.

“I wish I could design our city to be more aware of what it takes to be a creative person and respect it as much as an accountant or a psychologist. We’re putting in as much effort into something that not everyone has the specialized skills to do.”

Paul Rustand, Widgets and Stone, and a large local team, faced the design challenge of visually representing Chattanooga’s Innovation District. They engaged people from all over the city to create something that would resonate with everyone and the many things an innovation district could represent.

The colorful branding, unveiled during last year’s Startup Week, marks the walkable quarter mile radius from the intersection of MLK Blvd. and Georgia Ave.

“Innovation doesn’t always fit into tech, though that’s often the first thing that comes to mind,” Rustand says. “So we were creating a logo that symbolizes a lot. Meaning is important, particularly when you’re taking something invisible and making it visible.”

Whether you’re exploring a career path, launching a new business venture or discovering our city, design is everywhere. We’re all designers – think about the way you’ve decorated your home, the outfit you’re wearing, the way your workspace is organized. Design isn’t just a logo, a wedding invitation, the layout of a website or this magazine. It’s solving problems, shaping experiences and making life better.

* ‘Making awesomeness’ is Center Centre’s slogan for the UX designers they’re shaping and the work they do.

** Want to know more? Check out’s article “Kids Were Terrified of Getting MRIs. Then One Man Figured Out a Better Way.”

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