Lauren Meleney was thinking like a designer before she understood what that was. A Founders’ Medal winner and niner at Fay, Lauren embraced math, science, and art, finding success by mining the rich veins of creativity where her interests and passions overlapped. She continued on to Deerfield and then Stanford University, intending to major in math and follow a pre-med track. The trajectory of her career was transformed by Mechanical Engineering 101.
At Fay, Lauren was an avid reader, bringing a competitive enthusiasm to the annual library bookmark competition. Early on, she noticed that the winners weren’t necessarily the best artists. “It was cool concepts that resonated with people,” says Lauren, “and I found that if I applied my creativity and came up with a clever pun or something, then I could get in the game too.” In the annual science fair, she learned that the strength of her idea was key to the project’s success. “You had to identify a curiosity in the world or a problem that people are struggling with and design an experiment for it.”
While Fay didn’t have a creativity and design curriculum in the early aughts, Lauren looks back and can see themes of design thinking everywhere. When it was time to do the leaf project, Lauren was not satisfied by taking the well-traveled route of gluing some leaves to a poster board. She decided to design a 3-dimensional tree out of wires and attach laminated and labeled leaves to each branch. It was a high-concept design, and she strove for perfection, spending long, frustrating hours wrestling with the project. It was her first lesson in the aphorism that done is better than perfect. “Leaning into and understanding that has been one of my biggest lessons learned,” says Lauren.
In Stanford’s Mechanical Engineering 101 course, Lauren found a place where her interests in math, science, and art converged. It was a playful, hands-on environment focused on applying science and math to creative problem-solving tasks, and Lauren was hooked. A famous project in the course requires students to work in groups to get 100 ping pong balls from one side of the room to the other with the caveat that the floor is made of lava and can’t be touched. Students built mechanisms and tested them, returning to the drawing board when a concept required reworking. Lauren loved brainstorming and the challenge of starting with a blank canvas, and she found that she had a talent for keeping a team from getting bogged down by an idea that wasn’t working.
At Stanford, Lauren was used to hearing about classmates who were working on ideas for a product or company. Three years after she graduated with a degree in product design, Lauren was approached by two of her classmates, Matt Blum and Matt Crowley, with an idea for a startup. Matt Blum had trouble remembering his daily medication and had designed an LED light on a timer that would remind him. It felt like an idea that could have wider application.“I loved my job, but I also knew that if I were ever going to do a startup, it would be with these two.” Lauren and her partners launched Circadian Design and spent two years bringing the Round Health medication app from concept to reality. It eventually became the #1 medication reminder app in the iTunes app store before Circadian sold it to a pharmacy partner.
At Circadian, Lauren found that her strength was keeping the team focused on the big picture. While mechanical and electrical engineers were susceptible to going down a rabbit hole with a cool idea, Lauren was skillful at keeping the user experience and project goals as guideposts. “To use a crew analogy, I see myself as a coxswain. I am the one who knows where we‘re trying to go and can say we need to row more on the left or ease back.”
After Circadian, Lauren stayed in the health technology field, joining AliveCor, which makes EKG products. In 2020, she was lured over to Apple’s Health Technologies Hardware division to work on the temperature sensing feature that was just rolled out in the newest Apple Watch. "At Apple, the scale is so much bigger,” says Lauren. Design, innovation, and revision are still essential, yet require more conviction in order to ripple change through many modules and hundreds of engineers."
While she is unsure what her next project will be at Apple, she suspects it will be something further out in the research and development phase. In the meantime, Lauren is learning how to code! “Coding can unlock design for many abstract concepts,” she notes. “I have a great imagination and an ability to envision concrete things, but in today’s world, there’s so much that’s more abstract.” In many ways, coding offers Lauren the same challenges and satisfaction as her school projects at Fay. “Even if my work is more people-oriented and management-oriented, I can still get that fix of hands-on learning and creating.”