• Interview Excerpt: Bob Worrell, Founder, Worrell Design, Minneapolis

    Check out some great work from Bob Worrell.

    AH: What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?

    BW: To me, the portfolios that are the most impressive are the ones that display the designer’s ability to think, where you can actually see their process. It’s thinking that’s based in the ability to sketch and communicate. I look for sketching ability and page layout that has a nice composition. My design team here agrees that the best industrial designers still exhibit those wrist skills. You can just see an individual’s ability come through those simple line sketches, highlighted by color felt tips. Then what I’m looking for is a finished presentation with amazing form generation with the ability to drop the form into context with Photoshop.

    I also look for CAD skills such as Alias or other programs used for surface modeling. We look at that ability to model and then—as I mentioned—for the ability to Photoshop. It’s important to take those CAD images and drop them into scenarios or an environment that allows you to see the context and use of the product. It’s this combination of thinking combined with these amazing new tool sets that can bring an idea to life very quickly. We are looking for the best talent we can find from all over the world. I will say it is sometimes difficult to attract people to Minneapolis. Nonetheless, we manage to do it.

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    AH: Have you seen a portfolio recently that resonated with you, and what about it stood out?

    BW: On top of what I already mentioned I’ve seen some portfolios now where young designers are conducting their own observational or ethnographic research around a problem. When design is informed by good research, the result is compelling. Add to that excellent graphics and that is a powerful presentation.

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    AH: Once you have a candidate you like and you bring them in for an interview, what do you expect to learn from them in that in-person meeting? What characteristics or qualities do you look for in an individual to fit your team?

    BW: I’m always looking for someone who is going to shift the culture of our company in a positive way. What I’m looking for beyond sheer talent is humility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for a talented wallflower. What I mean by humility is the basic character and potential for leadership. I want someone who can put other people’s needs first but then effectively lead them to a fresh perspective. This can be learned but the basic character foundation needs to be there. We are looking for that blend of confidence, poise, and the ability to explain ideas and tell a story. When we find such a young designer and they come on board we frequently have them presenting to clients almost out of the chute. There is a lot of on-the-job training.

    AH: If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?

    BW: I don’t know that I would ever advise anybody to start a business the way I did. Let me relate this story for anyone who wants to break into his or her own design business.

    A few years after I started I was thinking I needed a plan. I contacted Dan Wefler who started the Association of Professional Design Firms. Dan asked me: “Bob, what’s the most important thing to a design firm?” and I told him, “Well, design—obviously.” And he replied: “No, you’re wrong. It’s sales. Because if you can’t sell design, you don’t have anything to work on and you don’t have a business.” So I reluctantly agreed. It dawned on me that this is, in fact, what I had to do all along. If I couldn’t sell I never would have survived. He then asked, “If sales is the most important thing what is the next most important thing for a design firm?” I said, okay now design. “Wrong again. It’s management. If you can’t manage the work you have, client expectations, and possibly other staff members, you won’t last long.”

    These things may seem obvious but as designers we tend to let our passion and the artistic, right side of our brain dominate our thinking. If you are thinking about breaking out on your own and you can’t do these things then you have to think about partnering. That’s a totally different issue. When I think about starting out with only three years of experience in the business I’m still a little shocked. There are smarter ways to start. Frankly I think a designer’s board life is short. Don’t be too eager to start this on your own until you are ready to give up a big chunk of your actual design time. Certainly, you better have some business savvy and some ideas about how to read a balance sheet, and if you can’t sell or don’t like to sell, don’t do it.

    If you do decide to start on your own, keep this in mind: the longer you stay working for someone else, the more comfortable and more secure you feel. The more secure you feel, the less likely you are to take risks. Balance also has a lot to do with the sacrifices you will have to make. Don’t sacrifice your family. Don’t sacrifice your integrity and character. Breaking in or out requires dependence on others as well. You have to have faith, either in something or someone, but it will require a leap. I was not prepared to design for the real world. My story is all about the leap. Yes, I did trust in my abilities and to some extent on my very short on-the-job training but in my case it was more about “who” I trusted than “what” I trusted.

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    Bob Worrell, (left) of Worrell Design, pictured here with Kai Worrell, (left) CEO of Worrell Design.

    Bob Worrell, (right) of Worrell Design, pictured here with Kai Worrell, (left) CEO of Worrell Design.

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