Interview with MacKenzie Baker ’16
For me, art is the way you can imagine the world to be… a blank slate full of possibilities… and for a kid, there are endless possibilities. My parents always encouraged my creativity in art, food, and life. I grew up in an Italian family, my mother is from Italy and she influenced my love of cooking and appreciating all different types of food and cultures.
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I believe science and technology turn dreams into reality because you can’t have one without the other. Having a balance of both is how you innovate and create new ideas—you use art and design to inform the direction of your idea and science and engineering skills to create something unique.
When I entered Carondelet I was a quiet, timid 14-year-old. I hadn’t found my voice and had a stutter that shattered my confidence. I was encouraged by my teachers and coaches which helped me become more confident and I learned to use my voice and challenge myself.
I attended USC and was part of The Iovine & Young Academy. The Academy was founded in 2013 by Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. Both men are well known in the music business but they wanted to establish a new school to empower the next generation of thought leaders, innovators, and thought entrepreneurs. The school’s motto, It’s Not What You Know, It’s How You Think.” It was exciting to be part of a new program and it provided me the opportunity to challenge myself and meet new people with similar interests.
USC provided many avenues to test your entrepreneurial skills via class projects. Lavalab is a team hackathon project where you have three months to design and build a product. Funny, we all couldn’t find an ideal time to meet for the project due to everyone’s schedules, so we decided that was our project—optimization software to solve the scheduling issue. Lavalab was also the first time I learned UX (User Experience) Design. I had always thought of myself as an artist because I loved to paint and draw. This club taught me how to use my creative art skills towards building an application. It was so different from creating a piece of art, I had always believed art and design were the same. In art, you create a piece of art and the person looking at it gets to interpret what the artist meant, sometimes for hours on end. Whereas in design, if the end user doesn’t understand it clearly, you have lost the user forever.
My senior year Capstone Project, we designed a product to solve a common problem in the restaurant industry—customers with food allergies and food preferences and the challenges it causes for restaurants. You have eight months to design, test, and build a product that will show the knowledge and skills you have gained during college. We spent the first half of the project interviewing restaurant owners, waiters and waitresses, customers and food critics to hear their feedback. This allowed us to design a product that is in production today at Bacari restaurants in Southern California.
I’m currently working for Bank of America as an experience designer. It blends my passion for art and design with technology to create a user-friendly, intuitive, attractive ‘face’ to BofA customers.