Fjord Faces: Martha Cotton

The Fjordian talks band life, J.K. Rowling and the similarities between theater and design

Role: Group Design Director

Studio: Chicago

Years at Fjord: 1

How did you end up in this role? What do you love about your career choice?

My career is fabulous. I am so lucky to be doing what I am doing! It is endlessly interesting, and I get to meet people all around the world.

I found it by accident: I was an actress/singer growing weary of the grind of that life and decided to see if my graduate degree in Performance Studies (sort of a combined anthropology/theatre degree) could lead in more directions. I landed what I thought would be a six-month gig as an ethnographer at a design firm. That was over 20 years ago! Without knowing it, I had found a career for me to love: creative and collaborative (like the theater), combining with my love for understanding people and cultures (like anthropology). Add in all the organizational skills I learned as a theater producer, and you have a design researcher consultant!

Where do you find inspiration?

This might sound cliche, but I really am inspired by the everyday people I get to meet in the course of doing my job. I am always struck that — even with all the insanity happening in the world — when you meet with a family in their home in any town, in any country, they all want the same things: for their children to thrive, for good food at their table, to find joy in the everyday, and to live in peace.

If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be and why?

J.K. Rowling. Because her personal story is inspiring, her writing for children is perfection, her writing for adults is insightful and fun, and she is a total badass woman.

What’s the weirdest or most unexpected thing that’s happened to you on the job at Fjord?

Because I joined the Fjordinary Heroes (Chicago Fjord’s band), I had the incredible opportunity to sing on stages of both the Chicago Theater, and the House of Blues, all in one day! Weird and amazing!

What are your favorite things to do on the weekend?

  1. Cook with my daughter

2. Watch my son play endless sports

3. Take the dog for a walk with my husband (or is it take my husband for a walk with my dog — ha!)

4).Reading and wine

How does your work affect your life outside of the office?

Much to my children’s endless embarrassment, I talk to everyone. People in the elevator, the waiter, the barista. I’m just curious about people and I talk to them. This is definitely a by-product of my job as a design researcher.

What are your three must-haves for a successful workday?

Exchanging ideas and collaborating with colleagues; getting a breath of fresh air (either literally or figuratively); laughter

What’s been your favorite part of working at Fjord?

The resources that come from being part of a global network of designers; the passion for learning new skills and always striving to make the work better; the curiosity that is allowed to flourish and drives our thinking; having a job that allows me to teach people to be amazing researchers.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing?

In my fantasy, I would be a Food Network star; in reality, if I didn’t have this job or this career, I would probably be a drama teacher.

We’re always looking for smart, talented and passionate people like Martha. Want to join the team? See all open positions and find out more about why it’s good to be a Fjordian here!

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