Hannah Williams ’10: From Colorado Academy to IDEO

Hannah Williams ‘10 believes that design thinking, a human-centered approach to innovation, is eventually going to be a part of nearly every industry. Recently, she’s had a chance to be a part of that evolution.

“It’s exciting to look through the lens of someone else and figure out what they need,” says Williams, a Business Development Lead in IDEO’s Health Studio, where she’s been since 2016. Based in Silicon Valley, IDEO is the global design company famous for creating the Apple mouse in 1980, and today designs much more than just physical products. Its first CEO, Tim Brown, is widely regarded as the father of design thinking.

“The positive change that the design-thinking process can have on how people think is a lot like Colorado Academy,” says Williams. In fact, Williams felt that optimism from the moment she first visited the campus as a prospective Ninth Grade student. “It was like paradise,” says Williams. “CA offers the ultimate conditions for learning.”

La La land

In January 2015, Hannah Williams arrived in Los Angeles with wide-eyed enthusiasm. With a degree from Dartmouth College in Government and Digital Arts, she landed a job at Walt Disney Animation Studios as a production assistant. She was ready to take on LA. In fact, she launched her career there working on two films with strong female characters, both of which she identified with from the get-go.

“I felt like Judy Hobbs from Zootopia,” says Williams, referencing the determined, female rabbit police officer. “She wanted to change the world like I did.” Unfortunately, La La land lived up to its reputation, and Williams found herself “trapped in a very hierarchical organization.”

That’s when she began looking for a job that paired well with women’s issues and health care, two subjects that have always held her interest, particularly when she was at CA and Dartmouth. Extracurricular clubs like AfricAid, Peruvian Hearts, the Gay Straight Alliance, and Kokopelli left an indelible mark on her.

“The global-focused clubs made you realize the impact you could have on people all over the world,” says Williams. Her desire to have an impact motivated her to apply for the Jennie Wu Memorial Fellowship, which is awarded to a CA Junior, enabling that student to pursue a summer project before Senior year. When Williams received the Fellowship, she recorded a video lesson on how to crochet a hat, had it translated into Swahili, and sent the video to Tanzania along with the necessary supplies. She then purchased the hats back to sell in the U.S., recycling funds through more supplies back to those women. The “Head Plant” business gave Tanzanian women the opportunity to start their own business—selling goods—rather than relying on charity.

“It was a ‘teach a man to fish philosophy,’ ” says Williams.

 Packing a punch

Williams remembers that her CA courses on the Cold War, Russian Literature, and AP Literature were “inspirational,” so much so that she considered majoring in comparative literature in college.

“I’m a total nerd,” says Williams. “I love the idea that everything an author writes is intentional and means something bigger.”

Studying works by Pushkin and Dante at CA “packed quite a punch for me,” she says. “They were some of the coolest classes I’ve ever taken.”

Beyond the classroom, Williams was an athletic wunderkind. She played Soccer for four years, Basketball, Volleyball, and Ultimate her Junior and Senior year. When she arrived at Dartmouth, she was surprised that not all of her classmates had had the chance to dabble in such a wide variety of sports, arts, and clubs.

“I loved that CA pushed me to try new things,” says Williams.

Design time

Looking back, Williams believes that her experience with CA’s Global Leadership Development Program, the prequel to CA’s current REDI-Lab program, set her up for her career in design thinking.

“It was the chance to think about global human needs and how we could solve them,” says Williams. Those lunch-time talks were not that dissimilar from her current work, creating IDEO projects such as transforming medical waiting rooms to make female patients feel empowered and supported during what can be emotional visits. Williams also volunteers at the iconic Women’s Building in San Francisco, doing graphic design for the women-led community center.

Williams credits CA with playing a “powerful” role in the career she has today. “My life here was really set up by the foundation CA gave me,” she says.