Skip to main content
Northwestern University

Segal Design Certificate Alumni Spotlight: Karina Patel

Karina Patel’s experience in Segal design courses drives her contributions in the theater world.

Theater, history, and design might seem like divergent, distinct academic fields, but Karina Patel sees the similarities and embraces the synergy.

A 2022 Northwestern University graduate, Patel paired a BA in theatre and history with a certificate in design from the Segal Design Institute, where she discovered design thinking’s power to uplift her theatrical pursuits.

The London native recently earned an O-1 visa for her innovative work in the arts, including efforts with revered Chicago theater houses like Steppenwolf, Goodman, and Lookingglass. 

Currently working in the artistic office at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Patel discussed her decision to pursue design courses and how her Segal experience influences her theatrical endeavors.


What compelled you to study theater and history?

I started as a theater major at Northwestern because that’s a passion of mine. At the same time, though, I gave myself license to explore. I picked intriguing courses in areas such as political science and international relations, trusting I’d narrow my focus at some point. But I kept coming back to my love of history, which I think makes sense because, ultimately, they’re both based in narrative and studying history and theater side by side is helpful in understanding how to critique story in different ways.

Patel directed "Sometimes the Rain, Sometimes the Sea," an adaptation of The Little Mermaid at Northwestern in 2021. Photo credit: Jordan Mangi.

When did you begin to fold in design courses?

I took my first Segal class – DSGN 208: Design Thinking and Doing – as a junior because I was interested in the process of design thinking and, in particular, service design beyond digital touchpoints. When you think about it, that’s what we do in theater. We design a specific experience for an audience – from the show, of course, to how audience members purchase their tickets to how they take their seats. I felt the codified tools used in service design could apply to the process of theater making.


And did your theory prove correct?

Yes, absolutely! As my junior year coincided with the pandemic, I was directing an adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” We quickly realized we couldn’t offer the performance in person. Zoom was the easy solution, but people were getting tired of Zoom and Zoom didn’t feel close to what our theater experience should feel like. So, we leaned into an audio experience. Our team of about 40 students from all different corners of Northwestern came together and created a lively audio play with an original musical score. We put our heads together like a design team – collaborating, iterating, and editing – and that process underscored just how similar theater and design are.


What led you to pursue the Segal Design Certificate?

My overriding goal was to gather as many resources and skills from Segal as I could while at Northwestern. A silver lining of the pandemic was the ability it gave me to take a five-class courseload instead of the typical four because I wasn’t hustling to a rehearsal. After Design Thinking and Doing, I took classes like Art, Making, & Anti-Racism, DSGN 306: User Experience Design, and DSGN 300: Designing Your Life, which put the certificate within reach.

Patel directed "When the Sun Melts Away" at Token Theatre in Chicago in 2022. Photo credit: Karina Patel. 

What specific Segal course was especially impactful?

Taking Designing Your Life right before my last year of school pushed me to think about my future. The class was a wonderful jumping-off point with other juniors and seniors to discuss what we might do with our lives. It empowered me to recognize the many possibilities before me and reassured me I had the necessary tools to experiment.


How are you applying skills and knowledge from Segal to your current work at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater?

 One example that jumps to mind is the push to design intuitive services. For instance, we have these long, color-coded, detailed spreadsheets for logging scripts. I wondered, “Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was an easy way to filter through things, like if a script had been read or unread, and then when I click a little box, it just moves itself to a new tab?” The people in the artistic office agreed that could be helpful, so I YouTubed some coding videos, did some coding in Google Sheets, and managed to build that little feature. Now, we have a much cleaner organization system, and we didn’t have to significantly overhaul a long-standing process to get there.


What is something from your Segal experience you expect to carry with you throughout your professional life?

It’s a really specific and small thing, but it’s the “I like, I wish, I wonder” method of giving feedback. The idea is this: If somebody’s presenting a product of theirs or a piece of art, you begin by saying what you like about it before moving onto things you wish about it and then wonder about it. It’s an effective framework for giving criticism that’s positive and uplifting while also being critical and constructive.

Back to top