Check out our profile on Allan Chochinov.
AH: What kinds of industrial design portfolios would you say are getting the most attention these days?
AC: Portfolios with strong visuals and evident skills. Employers also like to see process so it’s important to show what decisions you made during a project, research, prototypes, iterations—the stuff that led to the final product.
AH: How would you advise an industrial design student to prepare their portfolio in order to land their first job?
AC: I would think in terms of “projects” instead of products. Very often, the artifact is the result of deep research, analysis, experimentation, synthesis—a whole lot of steps before the idea is actualized in form. You want to tell a comprehensive story by including all of those elements.
AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful industrial designer?
AC: Point of view would be my first answer. I’ve written in the past that a skilled designer with nothing to say is a very dangerous thing. The impacts of design—the consequences of production and consumption—are significant, and because design deals in scale, those impacts multiply out. You want people participating in this practice who are extremely thoughtful, and who consider things from many different perspectives.
In addition, multiple fluencies and an understanding of motivations and stakeholders are critical in a designer’s toolkit. Empathy is key, of course, but rigor and finesse are close behind.
AH: Part of the mission of the new MFA program at SVA is to prepare exceptional practitioners for leadership in the shifting terrain of design. Can you talk more about what that means?
AC: Sure. At some point I have written that we are not in the business of training great designers as much as we are in the business of equipping people to do great things in the world of design. The shifting terrain of design really has to do with several different factors. There has been great and positive change in the processes of design—from concentrations in research, ethnography, anthropology, and social innovation, as well as a keen eye toward business design, strategy, and work around policy. The participants of design are changing, welcoming professionals and sub-specialists in all the areas above.
But there are also people using the tools, processes, and language of design who may not be trained as designers at all: makers, hackers, and entrepreneurs of all flavors are embracing the practices of design thinking—user-centeredness, iteration, and systems. Then on the flip side, you have designers using the language and the tools of people in the making and artistic communities (open hardware like Arduino, platforms like Kickstarter), the crafting communities, as well as the social and policy sectors.
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AH: Would you say that we’re witnessing an important pivot in the evolution of industrial design? What would be your suggestions, then, to somebody who’s just started studying industrial design in order to be prepared for this change once they’re out?
AC: Design in general, and industrial design in particular, is moving from a noun to a verb. Most people have considered design as a noun—something that is aesthetic, and which comes at the end. Now we are seeing design as a verb, as a process—something that is strategic, and coming at the beginning. The products of design can be a social intervention, a piece of design art, a hack or a craft or myriad embodiments in between, but it’s long been true that the discipline of industrial design has been defined much too narrowly, caught in the domains of engineering and styling rather than responsive to the realms of behavior and experience.
In terms of preparation for leaving school, certainly there have been lots of amazing, destabilizing developments in the past few years that are going to impact the kinds of work people do. Crowd-funding platforms and their impact on product development, for example, or ubiquitous, geographically aware computing and the explosion of interaction and product-service pairings are changing the field.
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AH: If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
AC: I would concentrate on people as much as skills. I would be engaged with communities of creative people who are doing stuff, who are making stuff and just be around them, work for them, volunteer for them. There’s just no substitute for that kind of firsthand, visceral experience. It’s more collaborative, and more fun. The way that you learn when you are working on a project is just very, very different than the way you learn when you’re studying something in abstraction; it’s an essential kind of learning.
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