• Interview Excerpt: Ernesto Quinteros, Chief Design Officer, Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, New Jersey

    Check out some great work from Ernesto Quinteros.

    Interviewed while Mr. Quinteros was Chief Brand Officer at Belkin in Los Angeles.

    What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?

    I’m always on the lookout for people who will challenge or complement the team. We tend to think about the studio as an organism. When we look at portfolios, we ask ourselves: “What does this individual bring to the table that will push our thinking?” or “Do they possess skills that we lack?” Additionally, we look for results. Often, a portfolio will come in that has some interesting research, good conceptual thinking, or a strong design aesthetic. But if their projects can’t bring it together as a cohesive solution, that portfolio may not get the attention and enthusiasm to bring them in for an interview.

    Since we are very busy with projects, we never bring in a design candidate without first reviewing their work. We simply don’t have the time to meet with everyone who submits a portfolio. It usually only takes us a few minutes to review a digital portfolio to get a quick sense of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. If we see thinking that will help us evolve the studio, or special skills that may be a clear fit for a specific program, we will bring them in right away for an in-person conversation.

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    What are the elements of a portfolio that you’ve deemed successful?

    There are many elements that we specifically look for when reviewing a portfolio, and depending on the project or role we’re hiring for, we may dial up or down those expectations. If they can demonstrate a level of extraordinary ability in the following, then we usually consider their portfolio successful.

    How did they go about setting up the front-end of their projects? Was the designer or design team provided a detailed objective statement or creative brief? Was formal research provided or did the designer take the initiative to learn about the people he was designing for? We like to see portfolio projects where the designer(s) spend time with real people in real-world environments. It’s impossible to sit in a room to design a product and expect to understand what truly takes place in a hospital room, an airline seat, or in another culture. Designers need to spend time with people who live and work in those environments, to capture the essence of what matters to them, not just what matters to the designer.

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    What do you expect to learn from a designer during an interview?

    I’m always eager to learn three basic things: What is their passion and commitment for design? Where do they place the value of problem solving in relation to visual design (aesthetics)? And, of course, what are their personal interests?

    If they’re truly passionate about design and its role in improving things, they will usually have a strong work ethic. Some designers believe they can achieve something great with a minimal investment of time. I disagree. I’m partial to the 10,000 hours concept, and I especially think it’s true for industrial design. I spent a lot of hours in design school, in internships, and my first few jobs listening to people with more experience, trying out new things, practicing ideas I gathered along the way. I’m still learning new things today.

    If I can get a sense of a designer’s commitment to their craft during an interview, it’s helpful to understand how they will fit in the studio and contribute to the team. It will also highlight their level of care and willingness to put in the time, to get it right. We don’t want to be slave drivers but we want to work with people who are passionate and have a strong work ethic to arrive at great design. A degree of curiosity and an appetite to continuously learn is critical to becoming a top-level designer.

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    You touched upon this a little bit, but I’m curious to hear what characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer?

    In the studio, we talk a lot about empathy. Some designers think about what they’d like to own, what’s a reflection of their personality or their personal design aesthetic. If you’re a rock star designer and people align with what matters to you, it works and that’s great. But a lot of design roles are not that. They’re focused on the challenges and problems normal people face every day.

    The empathy piece is really key because you need to be able to get inside the head of the person you’re designing for. I’m not a doctor or a nurse, but I might have to understand what will help them in their tasks or daily routine. It’s a skill that’s hard to learn but you can definitely develop it over time. You must truly listen to people, and pick up on what matters to them.

    Another important characteristic we look for is a genuine desire to work with others and share ideas. Collaboration is really important for us. If you read about some of the more successful corporate and consultant design teams, they talk a lot about teamwork and idea exchange. The solutions always get better with more brains on it. You’ll get to a more positive conclusion by linking more ideas and personal experiences. It also makes for a much more gratifying studio environment. The studio becomes “sticky” and evolves everyone to a level of mutual trust, which, in itself, propels the team to come up with even better ideas and designs.

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    If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?

    Make sure you pay attention to future trends in culture and society. Know what’s going on in business, technology, and design-related fields. Have a genuine interest in the news.

    If you’re going in for an interview, do your homework on the company and the people interviewing you. Who are they? What do they do? Understand the history of that company and what might help them be successful in the future. Read up on the products they designed. How did those products fare in Amazon customer reviews? It will make you sharper in the conversation.

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    Ernesto Quinteros of Johnson & Johnson

    Ernesto Quinteros of Johnson & Johnson

    Read the full interview in BREAKING IN: Learn more about the book or Buy it on Amazon
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