Check out some great work from Laurene Leon Boym.
What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
The right portfolio and candidate for us is probably not a typical T-shaped design school graduate, but rather someone who possesses a broad foundation: a technical expertise in a very broad range of skills that we don’t currently have in-house on our team. I call it the A-shaped designer because we are looking for someone who can clearly see conceptual opportunities skyward, then follow the design process to completion because of what they bring to the table when they walk in the door.
I want to knock down the idea that the designs in the portfolio are the only criteria anyone bases their hiring decisions on. We are looking for complementary partners on our team, based on what our clients are requesting. Of equal importance, the individual’s thinking should be fresh and unique to that individual, and not some retread from design magazines, blogs, and trade fairs.
Has there been a portfolio that you’ve seen recently that resonated with you? What about it stood out?
There was one guy from Eindhoven [Netherlands] who had incredible skills in graphic design, new media, and filmmaking. It was a hunch he would excel in product design too…and we were correct. We tried the same formula with a fashion major. She was over her head with an experience design project that didn’t have to be out of her league. Ultimately, her personality was sparkling but her process was flawed, and we didn’t see that coming. Sometimes that kind of adventurous multidisciplinary thinking is risky for your business because you hire on speculation.
What are some common mistakes you’ve seen junior designers make in their portfolio?
First, nobody cares about life drawings you did in Foundation, not even your mother. Second, if you email me an unsolicited PDF portfolio, I will automatically delete it and you from the candidates’ pool. Thanks for overloading my IMAP account, by the way. Next, don’t blast every geographically desirable employer with the same intro letter. You’d be surprised that many people are guilty of doing this type of job hunting. You’re not looking for any job, you’re planning a career strategy.
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What do you expect to learn from a designer during an interview?
I’m looking to exclude any people who would not work well on a team or are unable to take direction. Tell me you want to move to NYC desperately and where my studio is located…well, that’s not always a great sign, and it can give me a window into your motives. I sincerely hope you’re not a European blogger who will come into work every day hungover and I’m stuck with your sour face until your visa expires because I feel responsible for that fiasco. I’ve done worse, and probably every employer has misjudged a candidate’s enthusiasm for the work, but sometimes the portfolio and résumé were misrepresentations of the skill level of the applicant. This is really a mom’s advice: just be honest and you will find the right employer.
What characteristics or qualities would you say make a successful industrial designer?
Encyclopedic knowledge of the decorative arts and other forms of culture need to be constantly updated if you want to create relevant work in the design field. Personal curiosity, intelligence, weirdness, visual talent, a modest but confident attitude toward co-workers. Willingness to go beyond a comfort zone and personal taste to find the best solution for any design problem.
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Industrial design still seems to be a predominantly male-dominated field. I’m curious what advice you may have for women who are just now starting out?
The gender playing field, luckily, has leveled a bit since I was in design school in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. Today, women are entering the profession, alright, but you have women designers delaying starting a family until their practice stabilizes, or not having a family at all. My advice is to be generous when you support talent and seek support from a network of people out there who you respect as a designer, manufacturer, retailer, journalist, collector, influencer. Have them as part of your professional posse.
If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
It’s a really different time and place now in design. When I started out in 1988, my artist’s background was a very unusual component for a person trying to make a go of it as an industrial designer. That brought up challenges that I was able to turn into a competitive edge, professionally.
Now, the field is much more diverse in terms of who it attracts. In part, that’s because technology has leveled the playing field in tools and dissemination of creative ideas. Therefore, there must be another way to find an edge, but I’ll trust the current generation of designers to figure that one out.
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