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Morgan Matt: Designing with Empathy

As a student at Virginia Tech’s College of Architecture and Urban Studies, Morgan Matt launched a start-up company, funded successful products on Kickstarter, and redesigned archaic everyday items to be more humane and sustainable. The industrial design major from Canton, Connecticut, is the college’s 2017 Outstanding Senior.

Matt completed her degree summa cum laude in the fall and is already at work in her new job at Insight Product Development in Chicago, where she helps design medical and noninvasive surgical equipment for an award-winning healthcare design consultancy.

She thanks her professors and the School of Architecture + Design’s supportive, close-knit community for fostering her entrepreneurial spirit.

“The talent I’ve seen come out of this college is absolutely unbelievable,” she said. “For me to have been selected Outstanding Senior is humbling. I feel like it’s a way to pay back my professors for everything they’ve given me. They provided a safe place to take risks and taught me how to network and interact with people as an industrial designer.”

Matt’s success as an industrial designer began early in her college career. During her sophomore year, she was selected as part of the first group of students for the Industrial Design Chicago Studio. Working with the nonprofit DesignHouse, she helped design, market, and launch the first in a line of locally-manufactured products aimed at revitalizing Chicago’s manufacturing industry.

In her junior year, she worked with two classmates to design Vàs, an artful, sustainable, modular planter that hangs on the wall, allowing people to grow plants and herb gardens in apartments, dorms, and cubicles. The award-winning product, launched in a Kickstarter campaign, was so successful that Matt took off a semester to manufacture and distribute it. Though she entertained several offers to produce Vàs wholesale, Matt returned to Virginia Tech to finish her degree.

Next, she worked on the “Tilly Tote,” a sustainable gardening kit tote for children, and created biodegradable packaging for a Chicago cupcake maker that sells its goods at Whole Foods and in Chicago stores.

In her final semester, Matt turned her focus to a topic that reshaped the path of her career. For her thesis project, she redesigned the speculum used in gynecological exams. The metal, two-pronged device in use today still bears the 1845 design introduced by a male doctor in Alabama.

“It’s an uncomfortable, taboo topic, but the more I researched it, the more I knew this was something I had to do as a female designer,” she said. “Here’s a device designed for women that shows no empathy. They universally hate it.”

Her surveys on the device garnered 700 unequivocally negative responses from women in 48 hours.

Matt’s speculum, ProSpec, offers a more modern and dignified prototype. The device, along with Matt’s history of bringing strong research, empathy, and entrepreneurship to her work, impressed the management at Insight Design Product Development – one of three job offers she entertained.

Now happily embarking on her dream job in Chicago, Matt says her true home and the roots of her inspiration will always be Virginia Tech.

“I can’t imagine a better place,” she said. “I feel like I have a lot of options available to me and that’s entirely due to the experience I had in the industrial design program at Virginia Tech.”