Graphic Design alumna Bethany Sonefeld is a Design Lead for the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) Carbon Design System.

Resilience and Confidence: Graphic Design Alumna Bethany Sonefeld Chases Her Dreams at IBM

Resilience and confidence. That’s what it took for Ferris State University Graphic Design alumna Bethany Sonefeld to find her role at International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) Design.

“When I first heard about IBM Design, I was completely skeptical about the word ‘design’ in conjunction with such an iconic, historic, and global company name,” said Sonefeld. “Typically known for its suit-and-tie reputation, I was curious to know how a company of over 400,000 employees handles design at scale. The initial doubt and skepticism I had has now diminished.”

Sonefeld earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Design in May 2014. After graduation, she moved to Texas and began her job search. The perfect fit did not come right away, but Sonefeld remained resilient and confident.

I chased my dreams and didn’t settle for just any job.

“I was unemployed for 6 months after graduation, but I didn’t let that get me down. I chased my dreams and didn’t settle for just any job. It’s important to find a place of employment that aligns with your values and beliefs, but also that you’re truly excited to work for,” said Sonefeld.

Her first role was at SevenTablets as a UX/UI designer. Then, in January 2015, she was hired on by IBM as a Software Designer. In March 2017, she become the Design Lead for Carbon Design System, the design system for IBM Cloud products.

“I lead a team of designers in charge of creating all the assets and deliverables for Carbon. Additionally, I oversee the user experience of Carbon components and the Carbon website. Most of my job consists of collaborating with Carbon’s Developer Lead to plan sprints, roadmap for product releases, and prioritizing future work.”

For Sonefeld, the most enjoyable part of her role is having the opportunity to work on a team of talented and passionate people. She especially loves watching the junior members of her team grow and advance in their careers. As for the field itself, she loves that too.

“For anyone interested in working in tech, this is a truly amazing field to be in,” she said. “We have the opportunity to change certain facets of people’s everyday lives, whether it’s in healthcare, government, education, or enterprise software. Do your research and find what’s right for you, not just what’s trendy and looks good on a résumé.”

Through one of her high school classes, Sonefeld first realized that she enjoyed both the visual aspect of design, and the underlying thinking behind it. She became particularly passionate about User Experience and using user research to problem-solve.

The Graphic Design program is really what sold me on choosing Ferris for my undergrad.

“The Graphic Design program is really what sold me on choosing Ferris for my undergrad. I got to tour the facilities, see the senior lab, and speak with some of the professors prior to applying,” she said.

Sonefeld believes the College of Business offered her and her fellow students plenty of opportunities, like career fairs, to prepare them for the professional world. As a Graphic Design student, she also had the opportunity to work with real clients in the Design Project Center. One of her clients included the Student Advancement Foundation. Her team helped organize their annual fundraising event, MindShare. This allowed her to gain experience interacting with clients, working on a team, and meeting deadlines. She also learned about proper email etiquette, print and website production, presenting to clients, and producing deliverables. Upon graduation, much of this work went into her design portfolio.

“Working in the Design Project Center (DPC) my senior year allowed for a seamless transition to career life,” Sonefeld said. “It gives students the opportunity to work with real clients, which prepares you to enter the professional world and feel confident in your abilities.”

Head down, keep grinding.

While at Ferris, Sonefeld felt a strong sense of community with other College of Business students. Between working long hours on her projects and her job as a barista at the Starbucks in the Interdisciplinary Resource Center, she spent a lot of her time in and around the Business Building. Over time, the strangers become familiar faces, which she was able to get to know well.

Now, over three years after graduating, Sonefeld would like to encourage current students with a simple message: it’s worth it.

“Any student of the Graphic Design program knows that it is not a program for the faint hearted,” she said. “I want to say, it is worth it on the other side. All the long hours, harsh feedback, and endless design iterations will give you the foundation to be a good designer. Then, it’s in your hands to propel your career to the next level to become a great designer. Find what works for you and don’t let others opinions change your passions. Head down, keep grinding.”

The College of Business at Ferris State University provides career-oriented education, responding for over 100 years to the changing needs of the business world. The curriculum prepares graduates to deal with real issues as members and leaders of tomorrow’s workforce. Their Graphic Design program is one of the only design programs in the nation housed in a business college. Students of the program are taught to think not only creatively but also critically; they have reasoning behind their designs and solve problems.