Alumni Spotlight: Allison Braund-Harris ’13

Allison Braund-Harris

Allison Braund-Harris, a graduate of the School of Industrial and Graphic Design (SIGD), has combined her skills in design and her knowledge of entrepreneurship to build a successful business from the ground up.

“Entrepreneurship is about seeing promise in an idea,” she explained. “I think my design background trained me to view patterns and trends differently than the typical startup founder. Also, the countless hours in front of the crit wall made me able to hear ‘no’ hundreds of times and keep going. I’m convinced that with enough tenacity, anything is possible.”

Braund-Harris graduated from Auburn with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in 2013 and then went on to earn a master’s degree in branding from School of Visual Arts. She spent six years in the branding industry in New York City, working for brands like Colgate, Softsoap, Coca-Cola, Sabra and Anheuser-Busch as well as plenty of smaller startups. She led workshops on innovation, brand storytelling and customer interviews and conducted focus groups and in-depth interviews.

In 2019, she left her job in NYC to travel the world for a year with her husband. After just six weeks on the road, COVID-19 hit and they suddenly found themselves back in the states. Braund-Harris, who was finishing up her M.B.A. at Carnegie Mellon University, took this time to start Hardly, a career development hub focused on helping people find their ideal job.

Hardly logo

Hardly is a free career development platform that grows with a professional over the course of their career. The website includes tools like quizzes and exercises to help users through career decisions and allows them to map out monthly challenges and goals to work toward. Braund-Harris said she had to pivot the business several times as the employment landscape changed over the course of the pandemic. “There was a time when every business was hiring and jobs seemed to be overflowing for anyone who wanted a shift, and then the job flow stopped when the economy changed,” she explained. “In each of these changes, Hardly had to adapt. My focus as an entrepreneur is on providing value to others, and we’ve seen that value change as people’s needs adjust.”


Hardly home page


So just how did her design education help her build a career development website? Braund-Harris said there were two major lessons she learned in SIGD that have stuck with her through the years. First, she learned that having design skills means you can create pretty much anything. She remembers designing a cutting mat product for her Designer as Entrepreneur class and being shocked when a visitor to her online portfolio tried to order 30 of them. “Of course, I had to tell them that the product was just a school project, but that moment also encouraged me to reach out to some suppliers and get quotes on making it happen for real,” she said. “I didn’t have the money to start production at the time, but it opened my eyes to what I could do with my design degree.”

Allison Braund-Harris

The second lesson she learned was to avoid limiting the options she had to choose from. In the summer before her senior year, Braund-Harris was offered two different internships, one at a branding agency in NYC and another for a pet food company in St. Louis. She was having a hard time choosing which one she should accept until she decided to find a way to do both. “On a leap of faith, I asked the pet food company if they would sponsor my senior project instead, and surprisingly, they agreed. I ended up getting the best of both worlds—an NYC internship and redesigning a brand of pet treats for my senior project.”

Braund-Harris is an active SIGD alum and has hired two interns from her alma mater. She says that graduates from top art schools have impressive portfolios and can churn out great work but don’t have the same work ethic as Auburn grads. “The combination of humility and gumption in Auburn designers makes them the perfect coworkers.” She advises current students to put in time now because it will pay off later and tells them not to be afraid of the grunt work that comes at the beginning of a design career. “In school, I entered every contest, did free work and created some $50 logos,” she said. “That experience adds up and will eventually get you your first job. This is the time to learn, so don’t pass up any opportunity that will allow you to do so.”