• Interview Excerpt: Brad Richards, Director of Design, Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    Check out some great work from Brad Richards.

    Interviewed while Brad Richards was the Exterior Design Manager at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. 

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

    First of all, the quality of the work has got to be there, especially for the line of work that I’m in. There’s a certain amount of fundamentals that need to be represented, so if that’s all there, in terms of a portfolio that catches the eye, it’s usually something that has been built on content not flash. Having said that, there have been some unique ways people have submitted their work that creates a little buzz within the studio. So, along with the quality of work, we also may react to a unique way someone may present their work as well. But there have been a few portfolios that I’ve reviewed in the past that have relied solely on the portfolio itself instead of the content of the work within it. That never flies.

    You mentioned a few portfolios that created a buzz in the studio. Can you tell me about them?

    A lot of times we see work that’s pretty much finalized renderings and models, with little empathic sketching. We reviewed a portfolio recently that was kind of the opposite. It was almost a refined sketchpad. They took the best pages of their sketchpad and created about a dozen pages of just empathic sketching. It was enlightening because it’s such a fundamental thing. It should not have been this exciting for us, but we haven’t seen anything like that in a while, so it really connected.

    Empathic sketching not only communicates your design skills but also your thought process. It allows us to see inside your head a little. I’ve also seen portfolios sent in hand-carved wood cases—that’s interesting too. But if the quality of the work itself isn’t there it becomes forgettable—other than the fact that the portfolio itself was displayed in a unique fashion.

    Once you bring in a designer for an interview, what do you expect to learn from them during that one-on-one meeting?

    I want to get a feel for the candidate’s personality. Once we have established that the designer meets our creative benchmarks, then we need to make sure we have the right chemistry—the right person. I’m always looking for the right fit, and this is very obvious stuff, but we try to find designers from all walks of life who will fit into our family, if you will. A lot of that is about personality. Within Ford, we put specific teams together for projects and I think that’s something that’s really important. I don’t know if other design managers think about it as much as I do, but I’ve always had really solid teams.

    [ … ]

    What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer these days?

    I always look for the maverick streak in a designer—creative fearlessness. Also, a certain quality within your DNA that is never happy with the way something has already been done—this is a very valuable characteristic to have. You certainly need to have strong problem-solving skills and the ability to approach and solve problems from acute angles that others overlook. There’s a certain amount of hard work that’s involved as well. We like people who obviously are very passionate about what they do and are willing to put in the time and effort to realize their goals. Obviously, a sense of fresh aesthetics has got to be there. They have to be able to have something fresh to say, something new to say.

    [ … ]

    If you were just staring out now, what advice would you give yourself?

    Follow your heart no matter what. Work as hard as you can. If it feels like work to you, then ask yourself if this is really what you want to do because if you really love it, the hard work will exhilarate you. It’s not the person who is the most talented that always wins; it’s the person who puts in the most time and effort, the person who makes the most of their mistakes and gets back up to try it again. Hard work always pays off. If you take a little bit of talent and a lot of hard work, you can do just about anything. Invert that model and it doesn’t always work.

    [ … ]

    Brad Richards of Harley-Davidson

    Brad Richards of Harley-Davidson

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