• Interview Excerpt: Marianne Grisdale, Vice President and Creative Director, TEAMS Design, Chicago

    Check out some great work from Marianne Grisdale.

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

    During the height of the worst recession, about a year ago, we had placed an ad on Coroflot and we got over a thousand responses. Part of it was because the ad was for a junior designer. Unfortunately, in our field people like to hire someone with a little bit more experience, so a position available for a junior designer was very rare, and they all jumped at the opportunity. That meant I had to figure out some way to wade through all the applicants because we don’t have a human resources department.

    The first thing that I do is to actually read the cover letters. I’m looking to see if the person has enough writing skills to be able to correspond with our clients and kind of understand the intent. You’d be amazed at how poorly written some of these things are. I’d get things that were more like text messages where they don’t capitalize their I’s, they write things like “LOL.” I also look at their résumé. I got some résumés where they put everything they’ve ever done into a résumé that is literally 10 pages, even though they’ve never held an actual design job. I reject that sort of craziness right out of hand. Basically, even before I get to their portfolio, I’ve weeded some people out.

    When I get to the portfolio, I’m looking for mechanical ability. There should be some sort of project that shows parts moving through space and an understanding of what a product must do. Lots of junior designers have a hard time understanding the support that is needed because we often have to submit our products to FDA, UL, or CE, the European certifications. We are not expecting someone with a portfolio to know everything, but we’re expecting them to have a certain level of understanding. In addition, we are looking for aesthetic ability. It’s not just about understanding what looks good, it’s also about understanding what happens when two forms meet. If I see a portfolio that’s all iPhone shapes, I’m not really interested because I can’t tell if that person understands more sculptural forms, things that are more organic and what happens when those organic forms meet. Obviously, we look at the writing and the sketching. As far as I’m concerned: writing, sketching, speaking—that all falls under communication skills. Good ideas don’t matter if you can’t communicate them. A certain level of sketching skills is important. They don’t have to be a sketch virtuoso, although that’s always nice, but they need to be able to sketch well enough and comfortably enough to communicate their ideas.

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    Out of those thousands of portfolios you went through, I’m curious to hear about the one or two that caught your eye.

    We had two people who really impressed us. One was a woman who had sensitivity to certain projects. The other was a man from a local school and he had creative projects and had a confidence about him that we could use. We tried them out for three months and then we hired them all.

    If you had an opportunity to guide a student on how to create a product design portfolio that would resonate for you, what would you tell them?

    Students should focus on telling a great story from start to finish about what was going on in their head during the project. They should show that they came up with other good ideas and that they made logical decisions. The craftsmanship in the portfolio, cover letter, and résumé should be their very best.

    So once you bring in a designer for an interview, what do you expect to learn from them?

    My boss has done several speeches at conferences about the personality of teams and how to put together a good team and how we look at teams. One of the things that we noticed is that we had too many introverts on our team at the time. Some of our introverts are some of our best designers—they are absolutely amazing—but the problem is you can’t work with them in front of clients. We were really looking for somebody who was more outgoing.

    We interviewed somebody who was really talented, with a great portfolio, but he just didn’t interview well. He said things like, “Getting back to the grind…”; he just didn’t sound excited or enthusiastic about working. We don’t want to hire somebody like that. We want to hire somebody who’s enthusiastic and likes their job. Let’s face it, some days it’s easier to get up and go to work than others. It’s natural; that’s life. But we really want people who really enjoy design and enjoy the kind of design we do.

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    Out of about 50 interviews I’ve completed so far with global industrial design leaders, you’re only about the fifth or sixth woman that I’ve interviewed. This field is undoubtedly still dominated by men. What would you say to women who are considering pursuing industrial design? Do you have any words of advice for them?

    I think it’s a lot easier now than it used to be. I still ran into some issues when I was interviewing—when I was first looking for a job out of school. Things that I had hoped were more issues of my mother’s generation unfortunately were not. I think a lot of that, with each decade, is going away. I’ve been working for more than 20 years now and I see that there’s a lot less of that than there used to be. I’d say just stick with it. It is a little intimidating. You have to be a strong personality to go into a room full of men and hold your own. I think with every generation women are being taught that they can do that. I think they have the skills.

    I’m not quite sure why there aren’t more women in the field. Perhaps there still isn’t a lot of awareness in high schools about what kind of career path this is. They don’t know much about industrial design and how it fits women as well as men. I also think that there are a lot of projects that are suited really well to a woman’s point of view. I’ve worked on projects that were products designed for women, that had men as well as women on the team, and some of the men came up with the best ideas, and vice versa. What I’d say is that teamwork is really important on any given project, and having the gender roles and points of view represented on a team is very important. I know it sounds cheesy because our name is TEAMS, but we really do look at it that way.

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

    I thought I got a good education. I had a good portfolio. It got me job offers and it gave me the foundation for the skills that I needed to get started. Obviously, I’ve learned a lot since then, but what I wish is that I had gone to a school that had more internships. I think that understanding what the real world requires of you helps. It also helps if you understand what you need to learn and that motivates you even more. It gives you a better idea of what you do and don’t like, so when you go out into the world looking for a job you can pinpoint what fits you the best.

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    Marianne Grisdale of TEAMS Design

    Marianne Grisdale of TEAMS Design

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