IDSA profile of Alisa Rantanen

Author: IDSA

Plenty of great design stories begin as the result of a happy accident. According to Alisa Rantanen’s tale, chance, in its more pleasant forms, can be equally adept at helping to launch a design career. 




As a high school student in Champaign, IL, Alisa plotted her first college visit. Her destination: the University of Michigan. On the eve of her departure, it occurred to Alisa to detour through South Bend, IN on the way to Ann Arbor, MI to see Notre Dame’s campus. “It was last minute,” she remembered. “I sent an email the day before asking if any professors were available. Paul Down and Robert Sedlak both made time for me. I visited other schools after that, but nothing impressed me as much as Notre Dame.”

If you value IDSA’s Student Merit Award program as a metric, “impressive” is a fair characterization of Notre Dame’s ID program. Alisa’s win for the Midwest District marks the sixth time in the last seven years a Notre Dame student has claimed the honor. 

For Alisa, joining that elite fraternity is no accident. Her mother, an architect, nurtured a passion for illustration that eventually became Alisa’s core means of problem solving. “I love sketching. That’s where I have my ‘What if…’ moments,” she asserted. 

At Notre Dame, she explored two design disciplines in parallel. “I love both industrial design and graphic design,” she declared. “I got my degree in ID, but I took almost all the graphic design courses Notre Dame offers. I credit Rob Sedlak for that.”

With her penchant for chewing on “What if…” scenarios, Alisa is a natural storyteller. For her year-long senior thesis, she developed a discursive, conceptual solution for a quickly emerging storytelling problem.  

Of the 3.5 trillion images captured since the invention of photography, 10% were taken in 2012. Alisa wondered, “The amount of digital documentation is growing exponentially, but with the ability to document literally everything, what are we losing?” 

Her research revealed she was not alone in wondering about these things. “What I found in doing a lot of interviews is that people are insecure about all of this documentation,” she reported. “Things live in Facebook and Instagram. They live in the cloud. They’re invisible. The platforms aren’t always tangible. They’re not something you own or can have.” 

Through her work, Alisa asked, “When we can save everything, how can we find anything??

She pursued a solution that would pull from the assortment of digital sources to create one device that could be held in the hand and placed on a shelf. “I explored familiar and intuitive forms for collating memories, from the wallet to the book, to integrate the physical back into the digital,” she reported. 

The project, Amber, arrived in a book form factor to reinforce the narrative aspect of capturing the moments of your life in pictures. As she explained in her thesis, “Amber works by setting the elastic bookmark, woven with conductive thread, on the silver coated margins of any page, completing the open circuit and sending a signal to the hard drive to recall information specific to that page. The interface is designed to showcase your own experiences, making each device truly unique.”

Although she’s had a lot of questions about her thesis project from interested users and developers alike, she’s not currently working to bring it to market. Her more immediate goals concern graduation and plotting the next scene in her journey. 

After previous internships at Beyond Design and Insight Product Development, Alisa has an idea of how that scene could play out. “I really think consulting work is where I’d like to be—for the variety and fast-paced nature of it.”

For more information about Alisa Rantanen’s work, please visit: