Five Questions with Céline Thibault

By Céline Thibault


Five Questions is a monthly series profiling argodesign creatives, highlighting their influences and inspirations.

How do you Think by Making?
Making is often an activity that helps me make sense of what I need to design. I might make a diagram to make sense of relationships between different pieces of information, a journey map to illustrate a challenging workflow, or artifacts that articulate how people approach search. I’m typically not the only one to benefit from these visual modes of sensemaking and communication. Something I’ve gained in working at argo is simplifying the practice of making, not putting so much formality around it. The goal is to understand instead of to wow. That shift really changed the way I approach my work and collaborating with stakeholders.


What’s one of the gnarliest design problems you’ve ever solved? 
Gnarly can mean so many things. I received my design certification through the Austin Center for Design where I was introduced to the concept of “wicked problems,” a concept popularized by the late Horst Rittel, a design theorist and university professor from Berlin, Germany. My work often deals with technically complex problems such as understanding a person’s goal and perception, structuring information to match that perception, and designing capabilities to help them achieve that goal more easily. Sometimes I work on wicked problems that do not have a clear solution, only better or worse options. Last year I had the chance to work with two argo designers on an inclusive travel concept. Our goal was to propose ideas that improve air travel for individuals with disabilities. There’s a significant market opportunity (27 million travelers with visible and non-visible disabilities flew through US airports in 2019) as well as the desire to provide a positive experience for each and every person. The complication is in the fragmented provider ecosystem: airline employees, airport employees, third party airport operators, and assistive service providers all operate separately with different tools and data access. Significantly improving travel for people with different needs requires understanding those needs and sharing a common language and approach. That is a gnarly challenge. We designed a service that attempts to bridge the gaps and brings in that understanding and language and creates a more fluid and aware experience throughout a traveler’s experience.

What’s your current obsession?  
I’m an Aquarius and generally unconventional. I feel excited when I discover something that is a beautiful or thoughtful expression of our current social context or the people and things we love. I have a textiles background and textiles have long been a method for visualizing the things that matter to us, our material knowledge, and our relationship with the past, with nature, and with one another. There are a lot of fashion brands experimenting with these sorts of expressions. One is Anntian, whose approach to making is asserting “a position to counter fast fashion and fast life - the loss of Individuality, Personality, Morality, Plurality and personal time.” (source) They combine printed wovens with embroidered work and locally produced textiles to create really fun and expressive works. Another is Osei-Duro where an American-African designer and mostly Ghanean team collaborates on fabric design and block-printing methods, style, and product naming.

If you could remove one word from the design dictionary, what would it be? 
I don’t take issue with the language we use to do our work. Words are a way for people to express themselves and their ideas. Sometimes we over-rely on specific words when we don’t know a lot about a certain practice or area of study, myself included. As designers, especially in a consultancy setting, it’s important not to lean on assumptions. If there’s something that keeps coming up, like “dashboard”, I can be quick to assume I know what is being asked for. The details are where the magic is, and I try to ask questions or add definition to descriptions if I’m tip-toeing into that vague territory.

Who is your design hero? Why?
Heroes don’t design and build products or services. It takes many people working together and, more importantly, a group of people with different sets of competencies, talents, personalities, and experiences. Designers I enjoy working with are willing to take risks. Some dig in and get to know their tools so well that they can exploit them to make the tool work better or to produce something beautiful that was previously impossible. Some are highly analytical and good at seeing scenarios from different perspectives. Others show up to the studio and invest their energy in the work we do together regardless of the subject matter.

Céline Thibault is a designer and researcher based in Austin, Texas currently working at argodesign. Previously, Céline was a Design Lead at Image Relay, a Senior Designer at Handsome, and Innovation Consultant with the City of Austin where she worked with small teams to create products and services in preventative health, financial services, digital payments, mobility, and government.