Check out some great work from Cathy Karry.
Interviewed while Cathy was the Director of Career and Professional Development at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
Industrial design is such a broad field with many options. How would you suggest students best prepare their portfolios for the job they want?
Prepare a list of companies they aspire to work for, research what is important to a company, the types of projects showcased on their site, and the skills requested on job postings. Then, revisit their portfolio to determine if there are any gaps in skill sets. Showcase relevant personal projects, the projects that show ambition and passion, while making sure the craftsmanship is just as stellar as school studio assignments.
How should a portfolio be different for someone applying to a design consultancy such as frog from someone who may be applying for an in-house design position?
A consultancy may need someone who is more versatile, where a large corporation may be okay with a designer who is more specialized. If you can design it, model it, and animate it, all the better. Companies are counting on the fact that students have gained some experience through internships so they can hit the ground running, to have the ability to contribute from day one.
What kind of feedback do you hear from employers about the content of students’ portfolios? What are they doing well, and what are they lacking?
I always ask employers this question. The following content is an overview of feedback from multiple employers who receive and review portfolios from design schools around the world.
New graduates from top design schools generally show a high level of sketching and rendering abilities. More often than not, design students show strategy as an integrated part of the design process, but it oftentimes lacks connection with the final outcome. Also the final execution many times lacks the detailed information employers look for. Students can get hung up on what they want to design vs. meeting the design challenge. What they don’t realize is that all companies will question their ability to deliver on brief.
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Being an intermediary between the students and their prospective employers, what trends have you seen developing over the years in regards to what employers are looking for in industrial designers?
The expectations of employers have been on the rise for at least the last five years. Don’t lose the ability to sketch, but add business acumen, digital tools, branding, manufacturing, sustainability, etc. Internship experience has become mandatory. It’s like getting a high school diploma. I have even received a request for an intern with internship experience.
A student may say that it’s difficult to get an internship or that they don’t know how to or whom to contact. What advice do you have for them there?
Some schools do a better job than others when it comes to educating students about the importance of interning and what resources are available. Students should work closely with their mentor(s) to develop a strong portfolio based on the companies they aspire to work for, network through their mentors, faculty, career services, and alumni relations. There are also so many design sites that post internships from around the world and encourage portfolio uploads.
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With the current economy and the ever-expanding pool of global talent, it seems that it’s getting harder and harder to get into the business these days. What does it take to stand out?
Creativity and passion. Be vibrant with your work. There are a lot of “capable designers,” but to really stand out, a candidate must showcase original thinking and techniques. Have the ability to identify opportunities in the marketplace vs. “re-skinning” existing products. Showcase proof of interdisciplinary exposure. Understanding of manufacturing and product lifecycle, as well as sustainable practices, speaks volumes.
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What has been the most common mistake students make in how they present their work or their portfolios?
I review hundreds of student portfolios every year from multiple design schools, and one common mistake is thinking that one size fits all—not treating portfolio development as another design project. We encourage students to explore personal projects: the projects that really showcase ambitions, personal passions, and differentiate their work from other designers. I often also see students having difficulty extracting vital materials from personal sketchbooks, and struggling to drive a strong story through visuals—putting complex information into easy-to-understand formats.
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What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring industrial designer who is trying to break into the industry?
Be curious and aware. Request informational interviews with designers and companies of interest. Find mentors. Do what you love. Intern!
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