Women in Welding Conference Shines a Spotlight on Design

On March 29, professionals from throughout the United States gathered in front of their computers for the AWS Women in Welding: Design in the Workplace virtual conference. 

AWS Publications | June 20, 2022 | AWS News and Calendar
Welding Digest ►  Women in Welding Conference Shines a Spotlight on Design

On March 29, professionals from throughout the United States gathered in front of their computers for the AWS Women in Welding: Design in the Workplace virtual conference. 

The half-day conference centered on the design thinking approach and provided a platform for attendees to hear from women in the welding industry who design and develop products and services. The following summarizes a few highlights from the presentations.


Samantha Farrugia

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Samantha Farrugia is the executive director and founder of Women Who Weld®, a Detroit-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Farrugia’s presentation focused on teaching the concept of design thinking using examples of how she launched the organization. Farrugia defined design thinking as a process that uses a hands-on, user-centric mindset to come up with innovative solutions. She broke down the process into the following six steps:

Empathize: Conduct research to develop an understanding of your users.

Define: Combine all your research and observe where your users’ problems exist.

Ideate: Generate a range of creative ideas.

Prototype: Build real, tactile representations for a range of your ideas.

Test: Return to your users for feedback.

Implement: Put the vision into effect.


Empathize. Farrugia began the process of conceptualizing her business by asking herself specific questions about her audience. This included considering the needs of participants and employers.

Define. Farrugia then gathered all her information about welding career pathways and identified user concerns. She discovered that some women were worried about welding safety and being accepted in a male-dominated industry.

Ideate. Afterward, she brainstormed ideas to address the unmet needs of participants. This included developing and testing different programming and training models, experimenting with markets in different cities, and trying out different messaging and outreach strategies.

Prototype. Farrugia began building real representations of her ideas in 2014. She discovered that the most effective training models were her single-day introductory workshop and week-long intensive training class.

Test. To make sure the program was working as intended, Farrugia gathered feedback on job outcomes from participants and employers. 

Implement. Lastly, Farrugia put together all her ideas and knowledge from the previous stages. 


Gabrielle Shelton

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Gabrielle Shelton is owner of Shelton Studios Inc., New York City, N.Y., which specializes in architectural metal fabrication and sculptures. The studio works closely with architects, designers, artists, and contractors to produce and coordinate each project.

Shelton explained that she started her business without having a plan in mind. She initially just wanted a place to create art. Over time, she intuitively picked up the elements involved in designing products and running a business.

“You learn how to empathize and how to define and how to prototype and test and implement, and it happens naturally as you’re doing it,” she said about the design thinking model.

However, Shelton admitted she wishes she knew about the design thinking model 30 years ago. She recommends that entrepreneurs follow a business model to make things easier on themselves.

“I think it is good to have a general idea about how you want to run your business [and] what your business plan is. I don’t recommend the way I did it,” she said.

Shelton also emphasized the first step of the design thinking model (empathy) by underscoring the importance of listening to employees.

“You become empathetic to the needs of your employees because you need them to be happy,” she stated. “You need to work as a team.”

Although following a business model is helpful, Shelton stressed that being adaptable is key.


Tricia Ruby

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Tricia Ruby is president and CEO of Ruby + Associates Inc. Structural Engineers, a Michigan-based firm that designs and engineers solutions for structural projects. The presentation primarily focused on how empathy is applied at Ruby + Associates.

Ruby explained that the empathize step in the design thinking model moves beyond feelings. It considers the user’s experience, needs, and work process. Because Ruby + Associates empathizes with its clients and builders, she described the company as “empathy in action.” 

“ . . . [W]e engineer for the construction team,” she said. “We ask our people to think like builders [and] think like an ironworker. Put yourself in their shoes when designing. Make it easier for them.”

According to Ruby, it is because of this empathy that the company avoids overhead welds whenever possible to make the welder’s job easier.

“It takes empathy to think like the welder or anyone on the field,” she stated. “When designing connections, we absolutely consider the position of the welder.”


Tina Picciuto-Norris

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Tina Picciuto-Norris is the global product design manager of Carhartt Company Gear, a division of Carhartt that focuses on workwear solutions. The presentation unveiled how the company is inspired to innovate by the end user. Explaining how Carhartt approaches design thinking, Picciuto-Norris provided a summary of the steps involved in the company’s design, several of which are listed below:

Step 1 — Jobsite research: The company learns from its consumers by observing how real people work and researching ways to make products better.

Step 2 — Sketch solutions: The solution process begins by asking questions (e.g., Does this person need a hood for protection? Is this person’s jacket appropriate for the temperature?).

Step 3 — Seek feedback from the field: The company gets input from the user to solve for today while also thinking of future needs. 

Step 4 — Build and fit a prototype: The company continually refines the product until it is approved for wearing.

Step 5 — Field test: The company verifies whether a new concept is performing as planned or if something was missed during earlier stages.

Step 6 — Reiterate refit: The company constantly refits the product to finalize the details. It focuses on empathy by listening to the user.


This article was written by Katie Pacheco (associate editor of the Welding Journal) for the American Welding Society.