Systems Design Thinking Program

'12

Alejandra Castelao

Forward (San Francisco)

Industrial Designer

MFA

After hearing Google and Uber execs were teaming up to reinvent the doctor’s office of the future, Alejandra Castelao (’12, MFA) jumped at the opportunity to join them. She was hired as an industrial designer for their start-up, Forward, to establish a vision for how "new health care" should look and feel—designing both the spaces and devices that live inside.

“I was welcomed to the team while we were still in the planning and research stage, which was amazing because I had the chance to see an idea grow into a full fledged company over a matter of months,” said Castelao. “Today, I get to work with agencies on everything from device fabrication and engineering to architecture, giving me great opportunities to learn from other trades and flex my creative directing and management chops.”

Entrepreneur and ex-Google executive, Adrian Aoun, co-founded Forward as a break from the status quo of how health care is delivered in the US. It is a new kind of doctor’s office, bringing together world-class doctors with advanced technology to manage people’s health and goals proactively. Instead of going to the doctor when they are sick, this new system anticipates keeping members healthy on an ongoing basis.

“Forward stands for better quality, better access, and an altogether better experience,” said Castelao. “We provide a concierge-like type of service for a monthly fee and the fact that we don't accept insurance (although you can pay that fee via HSA) gives us a lot of flexibility and freedom to provide the best service possible without the pressure of insurance companies hanging over our heads.”

Members have continuous access to a medical team via Forward’s app. Baselines are provided during the first visit to better understand each member's medical history and talk about setting health goals for the future. Through the use of AI technology, doctors can spend more valuable time with each person and provide more personalized, proactive care.

“It’s been a crazy ride!” she exclaimed. “Over the past couple of years, we developed our first showroom (where we could test our tech and start seeing members even before opening), our first clinic in San Francisco, a second one in LA, and a few more next year. We’ve also developed a mobile showroom, a custom body scanner, and custom in-room flat screens as well as other devices used throughout the space—all of which are prototyped, tested and built by our internal team.”

Prior to working at Forward, Castelao was an industrial designer at San Francisco-based design consultancy, frog design, where she worked on several products including the REVL Arc action cam and the Meta 2 AR headset.  She has years of experience designing high-end furniture and interior spaces in Mexico.

“Coming from another country and re-starting my career certainly brought its set of hurdles,” she explained. “When I came to the US, I had to start from the bottom of the food chain all over again and work myself up. That taught me a lot about patience and humility, but it also allowed me to perfect my craft and pushed me to try to be better every day.

“Working at a startup has been a definite change of pace, and I get to be way more involved in the whole process of development from concept to launch. There's more responsibility and no ‘throwing over the fence’ when the initial concept is done. You see projects through all the way until actual people are using them. It's exhilarating, terrifying and incredibly rewarding at the same time. In the case of Forward, the rewarding part is double fold since our members and medical team not only use our products but interact and use the space itself. It’s fulfilling to be involved in developing a full-stack, rounded ecosystem like that, from start to finish.”

Castelao decided to earn an MFA in interdisciplinary design (now integrated design) at CCS after discovering that her passion—consumer products—required a new set of skills. She wanted to explore how interaction, industrial and graphic design could be used together to create a more holistic experience for the end users.

“Before CCS, I only had a slight idea about what interaction design and design research were,” said Castelao. “Eventually, they became an essential part of my job. The curriculum complimented industrial design skills I acquired as an undergraduate, providing me with a broader view of design as a whole. My experiences as a student also prepared me for the fast pace environment of a consultancy.

“Being an industrial designer involves a lot of work, and it’s never easy, but this field is incredibly rewarding for anyone who likes the process of creating something. There’s no greater feeling than seeing your design out in the world.”