Check out some great work from Howard Nuk.
AH: What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in a product designer for an interview?
HN: Each month we receive hundreds of applicants and I personally review every ID portfolio, so if someone’s work doesn’t immediately stand out, it can get easily lost in the abyss. In order to capture my attention, the portfolio must have all the right visual ingredients: organized layout, clean graphic design, and most importantly, the work itself must be celebrated. I am immediately turned off by over-designed graphic filigree and mismatched fonts. Designers should have the instinctual ability to tell a compelling story through imagery, whether it’s a single descriptive full-bleed, in-use photo, or a collection of sketches or storyboards. Applicants typically get no more than a couple of seconds to convey their intent and make an impression, so clarity is key.
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AH: It sounds like a combination of having a good aesthetic eye and solid storytelling ability.
HN: Yes. Storytelling itself is an art—knowing what to emphasize, when to reveal, and how your content is displayed. Quality of imagery is more important than quantity, and can dramatically affect the ease of consumption and overall perception of one’s work. Make each curated moment in your portfolio count. Don’t just add every asset you have for the sake of being thorough. Also invest in the right tools to help elevate the professionalism of your work. For instance, benchmark the latest rendering software packages and buy a DSLR with a range of lenses. Include a minimum of five successful projects. Try to diversify your work to show range of thinking and exploration. When building or rounding out my design teams, I always look for unique points of view.
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AH: What do you expect to learn from the designer once they come in for an interview? How do you know that they’ll fit your culture?
HN: Every company has a distinct character, and it is usually driven top-down. My experiences at frog and Ammunition varied tremendously in business, process, and culture. And corporate design environments differ significantly from consultancies.
In an interview, I want to discover who they are, both as a person and as a design professional, to better understand whether and how well they will mesh with existing team dynamics. Do they have an optimistic nature? Are they curious? Are they open to new ideas? Do they have a collaborative spirit? Based on the answers to these types of questions, I am able to gain a pretty decent sense of fit and potential. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together: each hire must strengthen the existing team and fulfill the required skill set.
AH: If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
HN: The first few years of design studio life are a formative growth period in a designer’s career. Having the freedom to explore, travel, bond with peers (peers you will likely stay in touch with your entire career) is invaluable. If I could do it all over, I would have pursued a series of six-month internships in different countries around the world, working within different types of industries. This exploration of self, culture, and area of expertise would have been an extremely inspiring adventure.
The first decade of your career should be focused on discovery. Let your curiosity guide you. My experiences have made me who I am today, and if I were to give one simple piece of advice, I’d recommend traveling as much as possible. Live simple and light, relieving yourself of too many possessions, and do whatever it takes to get the widest range of experiences possible. It’s much easier to do that when you are young, single, and with very little financial burden. Be free.