Learn more about Dr. Mark Breitenberg.
What would be your advice to somebody who is considering pursuing industrial design or who is just breaking into the industry fresh from college?
What I hear from employers around the world who are hiring industrial designers is a shift toward the importance of critical thinking and communication skills, as well as having a broad knowledge. They’ll say, “We will teach them the new software, we will teach them the new technical skill, what I really want is someone who is a great thinker and a great communicator in language and in visual media.” Again, that reflects the more diverse, expanded field of areas in which industrial designers can now work. So my advice is to study the liberal arts and sciences as an integrated part of your design education, which is exactly what a good design curriculum should promote.
How do you see this impacting portfolios and their content?
The best portfolios are more concept-driven. They should reflect a broader array of projects than ever before. I think if you just go out there with household objects you’re going to be seen as a fairly narrow designer. You might get hired, but your career advancement will be slower. I have heard from a lot of companies and design firms that they’ll bring in someone who is strong on the craft side and has some cool looking prototypes, but they’ll really promote someone who has a breadth of different kinds of projects and who shows strong research and thinking in each of them. I also think everyone should have some kind of humanitarian, social justice-based projects in their portfolio because not only are a lot of companies doing this kind of work, they’re looking for the character and commitment of the people they hire as well.
How would you advise somebody to get that kind of an experience?
Most schools now have some initiative that promotes this kind of work. Designmatters at Art Center College of Design is one of the most successful. But you should also incorporate your sense of social responsibility in every project you do—it’s not an added value, it’s a fundamental value.
It’s an interesting topic that you bring up, but still, when you talk to industrial design students a lot of their heroes are people like Karim Rashid and Philippe Starck, designers who are not necessarily touching too much on social responsibility.
They should go back to Dieter Rams, who was talking about sustainable design in the 1970s. His work is still iconic and we all know that Jonathan Ive was very influenced by him in his designs for Apple. The social responsibility projects will also add to your “hireability.” More and more companies are taking on this kind of work, so you’re just getting ready for the marketplace that you’re about to enter. And most importantly, you will find your work more enriching. I think that more and more students think that way, rather than just simply wanting to do flashy aesthetics. This generation of students in college today has a really deep sense of social responsibility.
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