Check out some great work from Jonas Damon.
What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
It’s a combination of things, but most importantly: the ability to be an author and tell a story. By this I mean having your own point of view and being able to articulate it. It sounds a little clichéd, but it is ultimately what we as designers do. Isolated images of isolated products without context are meaningless. A designer needs to understand the greater world in which their work lives, and needs to be able to communicate that. And then fantastic execution skills as well, of course.
There are certain schools that are difficult to hire from because, while they educate a designer to think well, they don’t exactly train them to shape or visualize their ideas well. That’s fine for somebody later in his or her career who may have already mastered these skills through previous experience, but fresh out of school you really need to be able to execute. The combination of storytelling and craft is what ultimately makes you hire-able.
Have you seen a portfolio recently that really resonated with you?
I keep thinking about this designer that interned at our San Francisco office a couple of years ago. He sent me his portfolio originally, must be three years ago now, and I thought his work was fantastic. He had a great ability to tell stories about his work, to give insight as to where some of his thinking came from. The work had real depth to it. It was rich enough that you could look at something and see multiple layers of things going on.
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It sounds like it’s a given that they need to have technical skills, but if they can’t tell the story…
Yeah. Authoring or storytelling is the more important of the two because we need designers who can create compelling products first. We don’t need any more meaningless products in the world. If you’re able to design something with relevance and give it cultural weight, then you’ll be well off. Ultimately, technical skills can be learned on the job or in-between school and job. While it is hard to get a design job out of school, if you don’t know SolidWorks or if you can’t create a rendering to sell an idea, you can always learn those specific skills on the side while job hunting. In the meantime you can be a barista or sell clothes to make a living.
When I came out of school, I couldn’t get a design job. I didn’t have great technical skills. For the first three or four years out of school I did many non-design related things. I was a nanny in Paris. I sold clothes and was an office manager for a photographer in New York. I was not working in a design firm. Eventually, on my own, I did build up the skills to get hired as a designer.
What do you expect to learn from a designer in an interview?
I try to get a sense of their passion for the work. I want somebody who’s really dedicated to what they do, somebody who’s really curious. I want a personality that’s open, someone who is willing to learn, who is in it for the right reasons. I feel like design has gotten to be very trendy in the past 10 or 15 years through exposure from all the design blogs and now, most recently, with Kickstarter. Industrial design has become fetishized by the public in the way fashion is. It’s become very easy to reach a lot of people with easily good-looking but ultimately meaningless work.
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What are the characteristics or qualities that are necessary to be a successful designer?
That passion I just spoke of, as well as perseverance and luck.
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If you were just now starting out, what advice would you give yourself?
Don’t give up. It feels hard and you can’t see the future, so you don’t know if you’re making the right decisions or if you’re moving in the right way. I feel like creative people don’t have a choice in terms of doing or not doing what they want. I felt driven to do design work; it’s a passion that I can’t live without. When I’m at home, I keep thinking about making stuff. When I’m on vacation, I think about making stuff. So stick with it and things will happen. I think other people appreciate this passion.
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