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Ideas

Interview with Allie Ball, Head of Design @ Tia
Todd Torabi

written by Todd Torabi

Interview with Allie Ball, Head of Design @ Tia

Let's start with a quick bio: What you're working on + interesting fact about yourself.

Allie Ball is the lead of the creative team and vision for Tia — the modern medical home for women where we combine gynecology, primary care, mental health, and science-backed wellness services for truly whole-person care. As a team, we’re focused on Tia’s expansion — in services, locations, innovations, and audience. It’s an exciting time! However, as the person overseeing creative across platforms and experiences, it’s also a time to tighten up our systems so that expansion can happen seamlessly — our current focus on the Creative Team (which I geek out over! I love systems.) A fun fact (in addition to my love of systems) is that I was training to be an Olympic rhythmic gymnast at one point in my life.

What inspired you to become a designer?

I grew up in the studio art world. I did everything from drawing, ceramics, printmaking, painting, photography, sculpture, mixed media, etc. I was always drawn more towards mediums, which required problem-solving steps to arrive at an outcome that I had less immediate visual control over, like printmaking or photography. I also really loved people, learning, and business and didn’t like the idea I had in my head of an artist creating images alone in a studio all day. I eventually found my way to design in college, and it just stuck. I fell in love with solving real problems through artistic means with other people to tell stories and create experiences in which people could participate.

One of our beliefs at Wolf&Whale is that "great design is a force of nature." What does great design mean to you?

I’d be very curious to hear more about what this line means to you! Sounds fascinating! I still and likely will always fall back on Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design. I’ve found it to be a fantastic sounding board for whenever I’m debating creative decisions. Also, my favorite professor used to say, “How many choices are you going to make? You only get 3.” He meant: less is usually more, make your choices systematic, and don’t add ornamentation unless you can validate the choice holistically.

However, at the core, I believe great design results in participation between maker and audience. It meets then exceeds its goal causing the audience to have a response. It tells the story and leaves the reader with lasting emotion and experience. It connects time, place, technology, and people to solve problems. Technically speaking, I also deeply believe proportion and hierarchy are the hardest things to get right, but the most important for the output.

Can you point to an experience or product that reflects your ideas of 'great design'? Feel free to share links to the work!

Lately, I’ve been interested in the work of the WPA and The New Deal during the ’30s and ’40s. The economy was reeling from the Depression, and people were scared, jobless, and poor. By designing government-sponsored programs that encouraged the physical rebuilding of national institutions — people could quite literally, collectively, participate in the reconstruction of their nation. They could see the results of their labor in the buildings and programs they were constructing. Also, the architectural style was nostalgic and grand in that it referenced “high design” neoclassical elements, but was made with cheaper materials, making it more “everyman” and accessible. It’s such a fascinating example of solving a business or economic problem with artistic and design choices while encouraging people to participate, altering their position and point of view towards optimism and hope.

I also love reading old science fiction novels to help us understand the impact of our current reality (and designs). For example, George Orwell’s 1984 essentially predicted The Internet and smart technology. I think watching and reading things like this helps us understand what “great” means in our society, which then helps us understand how to design for it.

Which industries and/or societal movements do you think design can create the biggest impact?

I’m biased, but I think we’re on the precipice of a massive change in healthcare. Healthcare has been such a complex industry to innovate in, essentially and appropriately, because of liability and responsibility! People’s lives are at stake, and that’s scary. However, COVID has shown us another ugly side of that equation — if we don’t innovate, people’s lives are also at stake. We have lost thousands of lives because of old technology, outdated processes and communication systems, and bad policy. It’s an egregious wake-up call, and there’s a LOT that can, should, will, and is already being done. Working at a startup that values experimentation and innovation has been such a motivating force for me during this time. Because we’re not a large bureaucracy like a lot of healthcare institutions, we were able to do things like experiment with telehealth at the onset of the pandemic (we now conduct more than 50% of services via telehealth), and develop an entire mental health program to complement our existing gynecology and primary care services that women were and are are so desperately seeking. I think were about to see big change in healthcare, and I’m very happy to be using my time and skillset to be solving problems that so deeply need innovation.

What have you found to be the biggest obstacle in creating your best design work?

This is a tricky question! If I’m being honest, myself. I like big ideas, big picture thinking, and solving big problems. I like being in the clouds and strategizing, and I love a blank page. I’m not so good at developing the incremental details that make things actually come to life, yet I deeply value people who love operating in that space and seek them out as partners. In my career, I try to surround myself with people I collaborate well with, where we can support each other’s strengths and weaknesses, whatever they may be!

Let's discuss the impact of where you live: New York City. How did you end up in NYC? Why do you continue living here?

Unfortunately, I do not officially live in New York anymore, though I can say with absolute honesty that New York raised me as a designer. I came to New York to go to grad school at Pratt for graphic design. I immediately found the creative family and like-minded friends I had been searching for my whole life — people who loved to learn, had ambition to spare, weren’t afraid to try and fail over and over again, and were drawn to the energy of the city, and saw every little bump in the road or chaotic moment as an experience and opportunity to learn. I had plenty of friends leave after a year or two due to bumps in the road or struggles, and I do not judge them at all. New York takes a certain attitude towards these inevitable struggles — where, instead of struggles, you see them as opportunities and potentially exciting moments to adapt and try yet again.

After 10 years in NYC, I left primarily because of family reasons and COVID. I’m excited to experience something new and keep learning in new and different ways (and places!). Thanks to our flexible remote-first work approach at Tia, I still come back to New York about every 4 months to collaborate with teammates, though it will always be home.

Where in NYC do you go to feel creatively inspired?

Obvious answers: The Met, The Whitney, lectures (usually free!!) at Cooper Hewitt, The New School, or Cooper Union, and galleries. One of my biggest points of inspiration was all the torn and half-still-remaining posters and advertisements on the scaffolding, subway, and walls all over the city. If you start looking, you can find fascinating little compositions out of the irregular shapes, partially-visible images, remnants of old typography, tear marks, and scribbles. It starts to feel like this collective public art piece that’s constantly changing, and if you blink, you’ll miss it. I also loved sitting in Union Square or Washington Square Park and people watching.

How has living in NYC shaped your abilities and beliefs as a designer?

As a designer, NYC gave me thick skin, the ability to balance patience and ambition, opportunities to make friends with people from all over the world that I would have never met otherwise, direct access to people at the center of it all, endless inspiration, and so much else.

What is your most memorable moment as a New Yorker?

I really can’t pick just one. Two that stand out: I was in Times Square when I found out my grandma died, and I broke down in hysterical tears right in the middle of it. For some reason crying amongst a sea of strangers was exactly what I wanted at that moment. I also will never forget the elated butterfly feeling of walking through the “Brambles” section of Central Park with my then friend, who I knew was “the one.” He’s now my fiance. (He’s also a designer, and yes, we met at a design event in NYC!)

Any favorite spots in the city? These could be restaurants, coffee shops, bars, museums, parks, etc.

I love an afternoon spritz and snack at Untitled, the restaurant in the Whitney, at the end of a good museum day. Any bar in meatpacking is usually a nightmare, but Untitled never usually had a wait and is a delightful quiet respite away from it all.

Konditori is still my favorite coffee, but I can’t tell you how many coffee meetings I had at La Colombe (any location) and Stone Fruit in Bed Stuy.

● I lived around the corner from a lovely neighborhood cocktail bar, The Dancer, on Clinton St. in the Lower East Side. You could always get a table or a seat at the bar, but it was also never empty. It was perfect.

● I also used to live not too far from Do or Dive in Bed Stuy that was a perfect divey haunt to run into old friends, watch Jeopardy, and drink cheap beer.

● Unfortunately, one of my favorite restaurants closed during Covid, The Finch, in Clinton Hill, but another favorite is open and has expanded, Chilos! They make excellent tacos (some of the best in New York IMO!), and is a great place to grab a bite and hang out after a long day in the city. Calaca (not sure if they’re still open!) is another excellent homey Mexican place that has a perfect shabby-chic, but in a good way, vibe with fantastic tostadas!

● Not exactly a “spot in the city,” but Typography Summer School was one of the best programs I ever attended, and one of the best recommendations I can give (specific to recent design school grads).

You can learn more about Tia at asktia.com and more about Allie at allieball.com