Check out some great work from Bill Barranco.
AH: What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in a product designer for an interview?
BB: First of all, let me just say first and foremost if there’s a lack of illustration skills, if there’s a lack of communication skills—meaning the designer can’t draw really well but there’s some good ideas here somewhere—well, I don’t have much time for that and neither do the hiring managers. It’s still really basic in that department. If you don’t have illustration skills then you might as well go get an engineering degree. That’s the key component, the communication of your great ideas, and if you can’t communicate those great ideas, it doesn’t matter how good they are. That’s what illustration does, and whether that’s digital illustration or CAD or animation or Flash or whatever you got going, put it together, use the best tools you’ve got.
When you grab the viewer’s attention, you’re going to communicate. That’s the whole point. Beyond that it’s the depth: what is the substance of this design? Is it useful? Is it value added? Does it improve quality of life? Is it desirable or clean industrial design? There’s the first read, which is illustration, but the second read is content.
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AH: If a student came up to you and asked, “What should my portfolio be like? What do I need to show you in order to work with you?”, what would you tell them?
BB: I need to see at least one very strong, exceptional attribute, which might be: exceptional automotive interior design skills, design/illustration skills, deep-thinking problem-solving skills, or creative exterior surface treatments. Then I would say, as my industrial design teacher at Art Center, Ted Youngkin, instructed us, “Industrial designers need to be good not just at one thing, but many things.”I would be looking for an overall cohesive and well-prepared presentation—not too graphics intensive—that’s concise and visually stimulating.
AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful product designer?
BB: If you don’t have a passion for this then go get an engineering degree, or go into marketing, or go into something else. Design is a holistic collaboration of many different skills. It’s art and illustration, it’s engineering and function, there’s an understanding of how to work with marketing and product planning. To be a good industrial designer you need to be good at everything. It’s no less so today…
A lot of people want to do this job, and there are very, very few of these jobs available. It’s the same thing as professional sports. How many top athletes actually get on a team? Like one in 500; the rest are on the bench. That’s how competitive it is. There are more colleges graduating these students than ever, but there just aren’t that many jobs. They just don’t exist. Having said that, I’ve never seen so many studios that are looking to hire, but they all want superstars. Nobody is looking for an average, pretty good designer. Nobody wants one. They want the same thing: superstars.
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AH: If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
BB: Follow your heart before your mind.