Check out some great work from Chris Bangle.
AH: What kind of portfolio catches your eye? What would bring an industrial designer in for an interview?
CB: I personally am very artwork oriented; if there’s good artwork you get grabbed. By that I mean the kind of artwork you’d want on your wall. I like to be impressed, to come away with the feeling I’d want to blow your drawings up big, print a huge poster of something to hang behind my desk. All design directors have this feeling that they need to fill the empty space behind them on the wall. They always want to do it with an amazing rendering or a fantastic sketch. Often the ones they appreciate most are the ones that are very, very simple. Not complex or colorful or overly rendered or photorealistic or anything like that. Just attention-getting and extremely skillful in execution.
AH: Is there an example you can give me of a really memorable portfolio that you’ve come across recently?
CB: There was a kid from Art Center who’s doing an internship up the road at Bertone who sent me his portfolio recently. It had 80 pages in it and he managed them without being too repetitive. It was an impressive collection quantity-wise, which generally I shy away from. I don’t like people to overload my inbox, but this guy’s work was of really good quality. In fact, my team dropped their jaws when they had a look, saying, “This guy is an animal.” Lots of ideas showing a real dedication, a mass volume of quality.
There was once a story I heard that when Syd Mead was at Art Center he did every assignment twice. That’s what they say anyway. He just out produced everybody else and got those famous 10,000 hours of incredibly important quality time in very early, so the visualization of his ideas flowed wonderfully. That’s what a lot of the design is: a visualization of your ideas.
This is not the same thing as saying people can get away with just drawing rabbits, although in reality some people send portfolios of just that. A new designer needs to demonstrate that they can draw new ideas, things you haven’t seen before.
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Another feature I look for in a portfolio is the joy of “intelligent abandonment.” On one side you want to be impressed by something you wouldn’t have thought of that they did, a clever designer. But when there’s kind of an abandonment evident, where the person takes their idea and goes beyond the pale. They go beyond the first or second barriers, which might inhibit somebody else, to try something new, to see where it takes them—that’s when a portfolio gets to be impressive.
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AH: So if an industrial design 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?
CB: I would recommend a good mix of complete projects and artwork done for other reasons, even if it was for the joy of it all. Don’t draw women in your sketches if you can’t do it really well. I prefer simple stick figures with clear gestures to get the ideas across. Color and graphics are important, as are handwriting skills on the sketch. Show me progress by adding calendar notes to the work: what came first, last, and so forth. Impress me with your energy and quality. A little humor goes along way, but don’t forget that “little bit.”
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AH: You mentioned sketchbooks a few times now. I’m curious if you can talk more about that, the importance of them, and any suggestions you may have for up-and-coming designers about how to approach them, what should be in them, and so on?
CB: [ … ]
I like the kind that are spiral bound so you can wrap the cover back around itself, with slightly heavier paper, not overly toothy, a little bit slick so it takes pen really nicely.
What to fill it with? I fill it up with everything. Literally everything I see or think of. I’ve never said to myself, “I want to design cars, I’m only going to draw cars.” That’s, in fact, the last type of thing to concentrate on if you want to understand true car design. Of course it makes sense to draw them when you’re working on a project and you’re constantly doing these little thumbnails of car ideas. But in terms of how a sketchbook will help you, I think it’s less a spot for your fantasy about that one particular issue that fascinates you, and more about disciplining yourself to be observant.
Disciplining yourself to record your thoughts and challenge your thoughts by creating logical arguments and dialogues, learning how to storyboard, capturing a moment that otherwise you would’ve forgotten or was special and that no camera could’ve recorded. Even just practicing your art skills. That’s why I like to carry mine around. When my wife takes me with her shopping, while she’s trying on dresses or something, I’ll just pop down in a chair and draw the store dummies. They don’t move. They’re cheaper than hiring a model.
I use my sketchbook as a resource now. I literally go back in and mine them for my contemplations, my dreams, my moments of awareness, ideas and thoughts, and reflect on them. You should do this too because you may be in a position where you have to deal with similar issues once again.
A sketchbook is a good place to develop metaphors for life.
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