Alumni Spotlight: Bethany Pirtle ’07
As the College of Architecture, Design and Construction (CADC) continues to celebrate Women’s History Month, there is perhaps no better person to highlight than Bethany Pirtle, a 2007 graduate of Auburn’s Industrial Design program. She has made a remarkable journey through the design industry, transitioning from a young product designer fresh out of school to an upper-level marketing and product manager.
Pirtle is currently the Director of Marketing and Product Management for Cosmos, a manufacturer of pet care products. She and her team focus on identifying needs and opportunities within a market and creating products that meet the needs of those consumers. “Our goal is to win pet parents in the aisle of the store and also at home when they use our products,” Pirtle stated. “This process starts with understanding our consumers and their buying preferences. We seek to develop products that have features that are meaningful to them and differentiated from the competition.” In her current role, Pirtle works with professionals in branding, marketing, design and product development. While her degree is in industrial design, Pirtle has repeatedly found herself in management positions that involve marketing and communications in addition to the product development duties she went to school for. “It’s funny thinking about that now,” she said. “I don’t think any of that was necessarily intentional, but when opportunities came to me, I said ‘yes.’ I have been blessed to be a part of several different industries and served in a variety of roles, from product design and product planning to working with market research, marketing communications, e-commerce, public relations and business strategy.”
After graduating from Auburn, Pirtle’s first job was designing residential ceiling fans as an in-house industrial designer. As a new designer just out of college, she was eager to learn the industry, soaking up every bit of knowledge and jumping at every opportunity to understand the needs of consumers. One of her most memorable experiences in that first job was taking design renderings of proposed ceiling fans to a tradeshow to get distributors’ input on features, trends and price points. “Working closely with customers and getting their qualitative feedback created a cornerstone for me in appreciating the consumer’s voice, and that is something I still use today,” she said. ”That environment in a smaller business unit enabled me to learn a little bit about a lot, and that naturally transitioned into additional opportunities like larger portfolio planning and product management and marketing,” she said. Eventually Pirtle joined Emerson Commercial and Residential Solutions where she held a series of positions, starting as an industrial designer and eventually being named Director of Communications and Content. “It was a tough decision that first time to step out of a specific role as an industrial designer and into marketing,” she said. “This is what I went to school for! I feared I would lose my skill and that artistic outlet. But through my meandering path, I have realized in business, creativity can be expressed in a lot of different ways.”
After almost 13 years with Emerson, Pirtle did some soul searching and realized she wanted to get back into a business with a more tangible product and hands-on opportunities. She joined Cosmos, a smaller family-owned business outside of St. Louis, Missouri, and got up to speed on the design and marketing of pet products industry quickly. “This has been a decade of learning compressed into 3 years, especially during this economic cycle from 2020–2023,” she stated. “What’s cool is that each role and experience I have had in the past has helped me navigate what I do today.”
Pirtle says that her degree from Auburn has also helped with the various transitions she made throughout her career. “There are so many applications based on the foundation that the industrial design program provides,” she said. “Having empathy for a consumer and applying discipline and intentionality to understand, conceptualize, collaborate, create, discuss and develop is applicable to absolutely everything.” She is still in touch with several faculty members and fondly remembers her time in Professor Randy Bartlett’s ceiling fan studio and Professor Tin-Man Lau’s PlayCore and furniture design studios. One of her best memories at Auburn is when she designed a mechanical toy in Professor Chris Arnold’s class during her sophomore year, the only time she ever pulled an all-nighter in a studio. “It was the first project I felt like I was doing what I came to study, applying the skills and principles we’d been studying for 18 months,” she recalled. “I wanted to make a moose play a banjo and tap his foot. It was super stressful but highly rewarding, and I keep him in my home office still to this day.”
Pirtle’s advice to upcoming industrial design graduates is to stay humble and to be a good team member. She says that regardless of where their journey in the field of design takes them, current students should know that building relationships and gaining the trust of co-workers will be vital. ”They’re coming out of one of the best industrial design programs in the country; they are equipped with the skills to succeed,” she said. “There are very few instances in work today where you will not be part of a team. A team’s success is your success, and a team that can really trust each other is a team that is hard to beat.”