• Interview Excerpt: Dan Harden, President, CEO and Principal Designer, Whipsaw, San Jose

    Check out some great work from Whipsaw.

    What kinds of industrial design portfolios get your attention? What brings a potential candidate in for an interview?

    Portfolios that grab my attention are visually captivating, communicative, different, and holistic in skill representation. I look for a vision, attitude, or approach that reveals the designer’s personality. Good problem-solving abilities must always be demonstrated—the fluffy portfolios without it are rejected. A good portfolio is clear and concise with a natural flow to it like a good essay. We look for good skills too such as sketching, CAD, model making and storyboards because candidates will be producing these kinds of deliverables for our clients if they are hired. It helps if some of the work in the portfolio was produced while at an internship in a consultancy so they’re not completely green. We look for evidence of passion in a portfolio. Passion is a powerful internal force that spawns creativity, feeds ambition, and makes one naturally curious about learning.

    What is this passion that you’re looking for? How can you tell this person is as passionate as your team?

    Well you really need to meet them to gauge their passion, but what we produce as designers should represent what we believe in and that’s what we look for. Your design solution says a lot about you. We look for emotionality and rationality at the same time. We also look for fearlessness, cleverness, and curiosity because those are telltale signs of a passionate mind at work. Surprise me—make me think, “What the heck is that?” or “Wow, that’s brilliant!” Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out, and always express your passion in your own unique way.

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    It sounds like what gets your attention is something that’s aesthetically pleasing with functional resolution?

    Yes, because that’s a lot of what good design is. Aesthetics are personal, and therefore reveal the most about a designer. The aesthetics of a portfolio are important because it’s the first impression and if you blow that, it’s over. You might be a good problem solver but if your aesthetics are bad you’ll struggle selling the idea. Beyond aesthetics we look for functional resolution in all forms: Does it work? How do users benefit from it? Is it feasible? Is it relevant?

    What characteristics or qualities do you look for in an industrial designer? What do you expect to learn about them during the interview?

    Designers are complex and emotional right-brain types and sometimes difficult to interview because they aren’t verbal. We just try to uncover their virtues, talent, and passion by having them share their work and philosophy. We look for energy and enthusiasm but, at the same time, we’re looking for sincerity and authenticity—people who are trying to do good things with their creative abilities.

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    If you were starting out now, and knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself?

    First, that design as a profession is not only immensely gratifying to do but it’s one of the best ways to make positive change in our world today. Now more than ever, designers are sought after, listened to, respected, and even revered for their creativity. You must jump on this opportunity. Drop all fear. Try new things, stretch yourself, experiment, and have fun. As an imaginative person it’s important to keep your mind open so that inspiration comes to you naturally, without overthinking it. Most of all just go for it. Don’t care what anyone thinks, especially your design peers who are all trying to out-cool one another. Also, don’t rely on formulas. Much of the world is driven by them—just look at education, medicine, and law. Of course, repeatable formulas have advanced civilization. If you want to go to the moon you need them but if you want to imagine going to the moon, the algorithms don’t do a darn thing for you.

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    You asked George Nelson once what is was like being a designer, so now I’m going to ask you the same question: What’s it like being a designer?

    Being a designer is fun. I get to be creative all day long and I get paid for what I love to do the most. Design is such an integral part of my life that I don’t see it as work or my profession but rather as my purpose. I do it because it feels right. If you don’t feel design in your bones, don’t pursue it as a profession.

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    Dan Harden of Whipsaw

    Dan Harden of Whipsaw

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