Hana Tanimura has never been afraid to make a big decision. Born in Australia, her family moved to a small village in Switzerland when she was eight and she enjoyed an idyllic childhood in the countryside outside Geneva.
“When I had the opportunity to decide where to go to university, I decided I wanted to experience life somewhere very different to what I knew,” she says. “And so I moved to New York to attend NYU. It was pretty overwhelming at first, a tough adjustment. But it was the best thing I could have done for myself as it expanded my horizons in every direction.”
Four years later as she neared graduation, she surveyed her options. She’d focused on Fine Art and Journalism at NYU, but decided neither career was for her.
“Through my side-jobs in galleries, magazines, and bookshops I was beginning to understand that something called graphic design existed, and felt curious about it because it seemed to me a less open-ended kind of visual communication.”
And so, with her US student visa running out, she upped sticks again and moved to London, to study design at Central Saint Martins.
“It was heart-wrenching at the time because I still felt I had more to learn and do in New York, but life had other plans!” she says.
Now settled in the UK, she works at Google’s Creative Lab, the tech giant’s innovative playground which is tasked with “coming up with interesting, creative ways to bring Google’s many products and platforms to life.”
The Lab’s close-knit team of 30 includes designers, writers, filmmakers, producers and creative technologists, but in such an intensely collaborative environment, people’s roles are pretty fluid.
“You have to be willing and able to stretch outside of your comfort zone which could be daunting, but there’s a strong sense of community in our little team,” she says.
That shared trust is key to encouraging each other to take risks and keep the Lab’s work fresh and exciting.
“There is no mission statement etched in stone because we like being able to flex and evolve with the times, but one guiding principle I return to often is know the user, know the magic, connect the two.
“It’s dead simple, but also really powerful when done well. People are capable of incredible things, and we have some tech that can help amplify their awesomeness by removing barriers, by scaling their reach, etc.”
No two projects are the same, but some of Hana’s previous work includes a mobile site aimed at informing and educating refugees who’ve arrived in new countries, a program to get Indian women online, a digital toy to teach children computational thinking and a dictionary that takes obscure tech terminology and translates it into everyday examples.
She sums it up pithily on her own website – “I like making good things with good people, for good causes.”
The Lab is a good fit for Hana’s creative energy and her willingness to play different roles, using different skills and thinking in different ways. It mirrors how she sees the design world changing, and with it the role of designers.
“The world is moving quickly, and things are changing all the time. Until recently we were mostly designing for desktops, phones and tablets. But now we also have to think about designing for watches, cars, and invisible voice-powered interfaces. Then there’s other things like augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“What will enable most creatives to endure in this environment of rapid evolution isn’t deep knowledge in one of these areas, it’s their ability to flex and adapt to entirely new sets of circumstances. For me it’s about embracing a design approach that is less rooted in traditional practices, and more rooted in the realities of human experiences.”
And while she continues to push herself and her work, Hana also wants to help and inspire younger creatives. She’s worked with initiatives like Who’s Your Momma and The Girlhood and takes the responsibility of being a role model very seriously.
“I think role models are really important in general, not just in the creative industries,” she says.
“Professionally, as a mixed-race, LGBTQ woman I’ve rarely had the privilege of having someone I felt understood or represented my experience to look up to or seek guidance from (which is not to say I haven’t had incredible people help me along the way, because I have).
“But the fact is, if you can’t see an example of the thing you would like to become, it becomes much more difficult to imagine yourself becoming it. Having visible role models can really make a difference.”