SOLIDWORKS Women in Engineering Series: Kat Ely


Kat Ely is one of the founders of CLEAR design lab, a design prototyping lab located in Boston, Massachusetts. Kat earned her degree from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. Her background in fine art, prototyping and short-run manufacturing gave her the passion to start her own design lab where she enjoys working with startups and looking for new project ideas.

Helping Startups: After college, Kat started working in prototyping and short-run manufacturing. She then moved to sales before starting her own design & prototyping company. “I really like working with startups because I like working with new ideas. They always have new ideas on technology problems that I think is really interesting.”

Rapid Prototyping“I think rapid prototyping allows products to be developed a lot more quickly, which saves money. Time and money are two resources that are scarce for all companies, but especially startups. Rapid prototyping technology allows product development to happen much more quickly.”

New Project Selection: When CLEAR design lab is considering taking on a new project, the team considers several different aspects. “We look at the team to see if they have what it takes to develop the product in terms of skills, feasibility, and viability. We ask ourselves and the team if it is realistic. We also take on jobs based on our own personal interest level. We are most interested in new product categories, things that have environmental or social benefits (like a medical device), or things that help the developing world to make a difference or impact. I am not necessarily as interested in restyling a product to sell the ‘2016 style’ version. I like working with something that has more of an impact on the world.” 

CLEAR design lab - Resolv Fitness2
Resolv Fitness is a connected resistance band that syncs to your smartphone and tracks your workout.

SOLIDWORKS in Product Design: While Kat did not have any training in SOLIDWORKS during college, she took an evening class and continued to practice. She would also go to Artisan’s Asylum to use licenses members could access. Artisan’s Asylum is a non-profit community fabrication center whose mission is to support and promote the teaching, learning and practicing of design and fabrication. “Once I got more accustomed to it, I bought a license, and then we bought a second one, and we are planning to buy a third right now. I continued to learn by watching video tutorials. A few years and many hours later we’re really good at it. We can do complicated surface modeling & mechanical assemblies in SOLIDWORKS which can be pretty tricky. We definitely support SOLIDWORKS and talk frequently about its value and make any designer we hire learn SOLIDWORKS.”

SOLIDWORKS in CLEAR design lab: SOLIDWORKS plays a critical role in CLEAR design lab’s design process. “SOLIDWORKS is very helpful, it is a lot faster. Some industrial designers design using other programs where they are just modeling skins, but then you have to completely remodel it in SOLIDWORKS to design the internal structure and all of the design for manufacturability. We model everything directly in SOLIDWORKS. Sometimes we can get a project done in half the amount of time compared to somebody else who is using a modeling program that isn’t editable or that just uses surfaces. We have actually worked with clients fixing other people’s model or remodeling something in SOLIDWORKS that another designer created in a different program. I think designing in SOLIDWORKS really helps save a lot of time and money if used from the start.”

SOLIDWORKS for Artistic Pieces“At CLEAR design lab we pride ourselves on designing in an artistic way which often means outside the limits of the basic functions of extruding, revolving, lofting, etc. It takes a little more thinking and planning so we always start with pencil and paper or clay and use complex surfacing to get the form we are looking for. SOLIDWORKS is a really powerful tool that facilitates designing complex curves with surfaces and has all the engineering functionality so the design is not diluted by transferring between software packages.  It keeps getting better every year too. Variable fillets are my favorite new function in 2015.”

“I also make sculpture in my free time and find that SOLIDWORKS has influenced and sped up my creative process. Often I use SOLIDWORKS to visualize a piece before creating it although no one would be able to tell from the work.  I work with a lot of organic materials which I manipulate, make molds of and cast in other materials. Eventually I have these oddly shaped forms that need to be attached together or hung on a wall somehow so it’s fast to model & 3D print a jig for gluing pieces together, drilling a hole in something, or making a bracket to hang it on the wall.”CLEAR design lab - wireless charging self 3

Future for Women in the Industry: “There aren’t any roadblocks in women applying for product design jobs. But, there does seem to be fewer women than men actually in these roles. There are plenty of female graduates but despite that, most industrial design firms are majority male. I’m not sure at what point that happens, maybe its bias in the hiring process or maybe they don’t feel welcome on certain teams. We do see a lot of very qualified female applicants so I know pipeline is not an issue. Hopefully the gender balance is changing to be more reflective of the world we all live in.”

Advice for Women Going Into the Product Design Field“Apply for jobs you aren’t qualified for because men do it all the time.I was working for probably 8 years before I realized men do that and a lot of women don’t. I would only apply for positions where I thought I was 100% qualified. If the job position said 3-5 years’ experience and I only had 2 years I would think, ‘Oh, I’m not the right fit’ or ‘Oh, I shouldn’t apply to that.’ But, a lot of men will do that and they will get those opportunities because they stretched for it. I always tell women that there is no harm in applying for things, so apply for everything you can, even things you aren’t qualified for. It can’t happen if you don’t get the opportunity, but eventually you will.”

CLEAR design lab - Kat's dogCoolest Prototype That Has Gone To Market: Kat’s team is working with a robotics company that just finished a big round of funding and are successfully selling themselves to research institutions. We originally started off making a couple of really tiny prototypes; we would do a single robotic hand and now they are really growing in production, so that is really fun to see.”

What do you do for fun“I do work a lot, but I also rock climb and I love my dog!”







Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp. offers complete 3D software tools that let you create, simulate, publish, and manage your data. SolidWorks products are easy to learn and use, and work together to help you design products better, faster, and more cost-effectively. The SolidWorks focus on ease-of-use allows more engineers, designers and other technology professionals than ever before to take advantage of 3D in bringing their designs to life.