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Envisioning a Smarter Bathroom

Amber Hall (mpd² ‘20) is changing how we interact with our home, starting with the bath. She shares how Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (mpd²) program gave her the product development skills to inspire the future.

Alexa, fill the bathtub. 

Preparing a bath can now be as simple as that, thanks to the PerfectFill Smart Bath Filler and Drain, a new product from Kohler that debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2022 and was recognized as an Innovation Award honoree.

Amber Hall (mpd² ’20)Though PerfectFill was introduced in early January, Amber Hall (mpd² ’20) spent much of the past year closely working on its development and launch. As senior product manager for bathroom faucets and accessories in North America for Kohler, Hall plays a key role in developing innovative products that are changing the future of homes.

“We’re talking about products that have some of the most personal experiences with people every single day,” Hall said. “Solving people’s needs in the bathroom is far more fun than it may appear on the surface.” 

PerfectFill, which will be available for sale this spring, was in its final phases when Hall joined Kohler in March 2021. Soon after being hired, she became responsible for completing PerfectFill's product development and launch. It was a role she didn't do alone, and one she was prepared for thanks to her time in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Product Design and Development Management (mpd²) program. 

"No great product ever comes into the world on the shoulders of one person," Hall said. "It requires the collective effort of every function. Each team member is necessary to make it happen." 

Prior to starting mpd², Hall worked in engineering, where she was responsible for executing someone else's vision for a new product line or category. She wanted to know how those decisions were made, but more than that, she wanted to be the one making the decisions. She looked for a graduate program that would give her deep expertise in product management beyond a traditional MBA. What she found was mpd². 

"I had built a strong competency in product development but needed a better understanding of other key competencies of the business that wouldn’t necessarily come from a day-to-day engineering or development role," Hall said. "The mpd² program was the best of both worlds and would help me develop in the areas I needed all while staying tied to the product. 

"It was truly transformative for me in my personal and professional growth. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

In mpd², Hall learned the key to building a great product — empathy. Hall learned to use the talents of a team to ensure a better outcome. Her classes instilled a passion for every person involved with the product, from the user to the installer. The skills she developed now allow her to face the challenges of a job in which no two days are the same.

“I look at my mpd² education as a toolkit of tools and capabilities,” she said. “Depending on what I’m tackling for the day, I often open up that toolbox to help me navigate those circumstances to move the category forward.”

When asked what tools she turns to from her mpd² toolbox and how often she uses them, her answer was clear.

“All of them. Every single day," Hall said. "I bring everything from my time in the program to my day job. From frameworks for innovation management to building good business cases, all of it sits with me to this day.”

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