Check out some great work from Imré Molnar.
AH: What kinds of portfolios get attention these days? Which ones are employers gravitating to?
IM: This has always been the case, but increasingly the employers want to be able to glean a narrative that basically describes not only the solution, but also the rationale for a design and the thinking process that led to it. The notion that a portfolio is an album of pretty pictures of completed work is totally misguided. Rather a portfolio needs to be a pictorial narrative describing how various projects evolved, how each piece featured came to be. Telling the story of the project is tremendously important.
The other things people look for is evidence of teamwork, particularly working with and interacting with other disciplines. Evidence of having interdisciplinary team experience is tremendously important. Also important is project work that demonstrates that a student has had some international and/or diverse cultural experience and that he has a curiosity about social and lifestyle issues outside of those specific to the United States.
AH: Have you seen an industrial design portfolio recently that resonated with you, and what about it stood out?
IM: I attend the portfolio events here at the college and just last week we had about 200 companies here looking at product design portfolios. The students put together a display—a little gallery exhibition of what was, in fact, their portfolio. Here again, the students whose work attracted most attention were those who had worked on projects that touched on other cultures.
Recently, we had a project with Motorola where the class was divided up into teams, and each team was given a different emerging market around the world to research and analyze. Each team worked hard to probe their assigned region’s specific market issues, focusing on the target customer’s lifestyle. They then researched Motorola’s current and emerging technologies and were required to extrapolate how these technologies could be configured into products that could serve the needs of emerging third-world markets. The students who worked on this project attracted a tremendous amount of attention.
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AH: So it’s a combination of understanding both the market and the company you’re designing for?
IM: Absolutely. In our world, the anthropological context and user experience issues as they relate to the market are tremendously important. At many other schools, industrial design programs focus on technology, engineering, and functionality. Whereas at CCS, our focus is from a more humanistic point of view in terms of the user, the user’s life experience, the user’s context, the market context, and the related aesthetic issues.
We are very proud of the high level of aesthetic refinement and beauty in our students’ work. We see that the challenge for us is to engage our students to have a genuine curiosity for what is aesthetically pleasing for a given, predetermined market segment or customer demographic. In other words, we need for our students to take an interest in other people and not just design stuff that is pleasing to them.
AH: Design for the end user, not for yourself.
IM: Yeah, exactly. The daily choice of the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. If you want to turn on or motivate a particular market segment to respond positively to a product or a service offering, you have got to understand what the aesthetic sensibilities of a particular market segment are. What has made the industrial design business interesting is the reality that manufacturing technologies have become so very flexible. It is now possible to make a business case for short, low-volume runs. As a consequence, there’s a great fragmentation of the market because you can design-specific products in relatively small volumes to target a very specific demographic.
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