Check out some great work from Edwin James.
What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
There isn’t one specific type that gets my attention. The standards of creativity and presentation required will obviously be very high, but I personally look for a good technical understanding of how things are constructed as well. I work on car interiors and follow the industrialization phase of projects, which explains this specific need. I like people who can work out the big volumes, but are capable of going into great detail as well.
Design is fun. It’s not just a job; it’s also a way of life, a state of mind. I love people who show artistic ability based on other things than cars, the non-“petrol heads.”
Have you seen a portfolio recently that resonated with you, and what about it stood out?
Yes, but I can’t name names. By the time you print this, I will have seen a better one.
What made this one stand out was the artistic level and the student looked like he was having fun. The trick is to get to the point as a student where you can draw anything that you can imagine, and not just imagine what you can draw. If you can draw on automatic pilot, you will be surprised by the pertinence and innovation of what just flows out of you. In this case, I thought that the cars in the portfolio were the worst part, but when he stopped doing what he thought was expected of him and moved on to other forms of transport he revealed much more of his design potential.
One of the challenges with “standing out from the rest” is that design schools often have a way of working which tends to format a student in the direction of uniformity. A kind of “house style” where you advance based on adherence to the norm. The other dilemma is, if you are too strange and out of context you become a risk. This will mean seriously reducing the number of jobs open to you. The best thing is to show that you can play it both ways, make employers believe that you can do everything from show cars to a re-skin.
What do you expect to learn from the designer during an interview?
Their degree of motivation to join us, obviously. But I can’t help thinking about how long it will take before this young person could be trusted to start running a small project, negotiate with a supplier, or be sent to the other end of the world to do design in a challenging environment. In short, what I expect to learn is what potential they have and how rapidly they—and we—will be able to develop it.
What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful industrial designer?
Artistic ability, technical understanding, personality, and at least one built-in crystal ball.
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If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
Assuming that you have mastered Photoshop, learn a 3D modeling tool, like Alias or ICEM, to a basic level…quick. Selling your ideas to management by a slick graphic presentation has always been important, but over the last few years it has become a very sophisticated art. Even if you are not the best modeler in the world, it is a great advantage to build a quick model to show the direction that you wish to take. To be able to check the quality of what others have built for you, it is essential to master a few basic functions of any tool used in the studio.
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Any final words of wisdom?
Yes, if you want a job, remember that there are about 400 parts to be designed on the inside of a car. So there are other things to imagine than the exteriors of red Italian sports cars. On the other extreme, environmentally friendly small-vehicle projects don’t need to look like potatoes. In the end, the biggest challenge is to design a normal, mid-range car that looks great.