Swedish designer who emigrated to the U.S. and studied Fine and Applied Arts at Columbia University in New York. She later taught Textile and Applied Design at the University of California in Berkeley, and worked as a fashion coordinator at Chase Revere Copper & Brass. In 1931, she was recruited by Montgomery Ward to organize and head a new Bureau of Design in Chicago.
The Bureau was a service to buyers in evaluating the quality and appearance of products that Montgomery Ward ordered from thousands of outside suppliers. In addition to designing everything from refrigerators to welding equipment, the designers in the Bureau recreated Ward's catalog to use photography, and designed packaging systems for Ward's many product lines.
Swainson, the first woman executive at Montgomery Ward, revolutionized the mail order cataloging industry. She commanded an army of architects and industrial designers that turned out superb products under the Montgomery Ward label. She educated and launched the careers of many important industrial designers, including Dave Chapman, who from 1933 to 1935 headed the Bureau's product design staff of 18.
The Bureau of Design was one of the first U.S. examples of how an in-house design department successfully impacted the assets of a large corporation. Thus, design as a corporate strategic advantage, was born in the early 1930's.
In 1931 and 1932 the company had lost a total of more than $14 million. By 1933, with the reissue of the modernized catalog, profits leaped to over $2 million, and by 1939, sales advanced toward the half billion dollar mark.