The Intersection of Healthcare + Business + Design

September 28, 2017 | | View Comments

Nike Senior Color Designer Jenn Scholes had a life-changing design experience with the Doernbecher Freestyle project.

The Story

2013 was a special year for the Doernbecher Freestyle project and Senior Color Designer Jenn Scholes and alike. It marked 10 years at Nike for Jenn, as well as the 10-year anniversary of the Freestyle program. It was the first year the program welcomed twins, teenagers, and mental health patients – all of which were represented by Kira Smith and her twin sister Kate. The sisters both suffered from extreme OCD, which manifested itself in many ways often dismissed as syndromes of teenage girls – competition, extreme emotions, and eating disorders. Doernbecher was a relief to the family as the first to identify the condition for what it really was, and the twins were admitted to the hospital and both participated in the Freestyle program.

Jenn felt that her placement in the program at that particular time, with both her own milestone and the leaps of the program, was fate. The opportunity to shake up her design routine while making a huge impact on a dynamic and talented individual was life-changing, and to this day she constantly encourages her fellow Nike designers and producers to take part in the program as well.

Jenn shared her experience and takeaways at Design Museum Mornings this September, and her insights were quite astounding.

Expressing individuality is challenging, yet essential

One of Jenn’s greatest challenges in working with Kira was to identify her individuality; something Kira battled with for years as part of her mental health struggle and close sisterhood. After many ideas that didn’t seem quite “Kira,” Jenn set her on a mission: dress up for a photo shoot to express her fashion style. The real Kira was finally unveiled in black, red, and white Victorian-inspired attire with touches of bows, ribbons, and feminine flair – this is what Jenn had been waiting for. Taking these fashion inspirations and adding Kira’s constantly-recited favorite author, Lewis Carrol, Jenn and Kira designed a superbly unique Alice-In-Wonderland-Meets-Victorian-Fashion shoe that was uniquely Kira.

Mentor/Mentee relationships benefit both parties involved

The positive impact of mentorship during a development period, be it personal or professional, is not a secret. What is often missed, however, is the influential experience of taking on a role as a mentor. Though the pressures of a fast-paced job and obligations of life and family did not let up, Jenn’s participation in the program was one that gave her an unmatched reward, even reinvigorating her passion as a designer. The stark contrast between the demands of a corporate design job and working one-on-one with a fashionista fighting OCD broadened Jenn’s outlook on the possibilities of what design can mean to people from all walks of life.

Designing for one does not equal designing for masses

Nike apparel is used by people of all genders, physical abilities, and ethnic backgrounds. Designers are typically working within a “bucket” to design a particular item – one large bucket consisting of millions of people. The drastic difference for Jenn when working with Kira was designing for one person, which meant approaching the design in a completely new way. Once Kira’s unique style was identified, Jenn had a field day with colors and materials, pulling out fabrics of lace and patent leather that typically sat untouched; unusable for the “bucket.” This special situation of designing one shoe with – not for – one person allowed Jenn to think in ways she hadn’t for years; the experience that designers and artists reminisce on and crave once they hit the “real world.”

The power of community

Perhaps the most important component to the story of Jenn and Kira is the story of now. Almost five years after her participation in the Freestyle program, Kira is a college graduate pursuing a career in fashion design of her own. While her interest in the industry might have flourished independently over time, the intense satisfaction of seeing an creative idea come to fruition was offered to Kira at a very young age with the support of a major organization. Every patient that participates in the Doernbecher Freestyle is also exposed to the powerful impact of community; after the design and production takes place, the program hosts an annual auction for that year’s sneakers, sometimes resulting in $60,000+ bids. Portland is uniquely positioned to allow for a top international brand to partner with a local, nationally-ranked hospital to impact the lives of patients through design.

A huge thank you to both Jenn Scholes and Wacom Experience Center for this wonderful event!


Design Museum Mornings happen every month! Join us for VR For The People with Shelley Midthun on October 20th!