• Interview Excerpt: Mary Reid, Vice President of Industrial Design, Kohler, Sheboygan, Wisconsin

    Check out some great work from Mary Reid.

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

    Initially, we require a fairly comprehensive portfolio to be shared before we bring them in for an interview. We even do a phone interview prior and, if we get beyond that, we will bring them in. We maybe have a more in-depth process than others and we do a couple of rounds of tests. The first one is called “The Caliper” and it gives us insight into more of the natural tendencies of the individual, relative to how they work, interact with people, how they think and process. It’s just another data point we use to understand a little bit more about the potential and the personality of the person we’re talking to. We are a big company and we do a lot of work in teams and collaboration so getting people that will work well together is important.

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    Has there been a portfolio that you’ve seen recently that resonated with you, and what about it stood out?

    It’s becoming challenging. I think there might be something going on within schools right now that makes it harder to find people who are exposed to what’s going on in the business and have the bigger picture in their thinking. I prefer to see people who have that ability to see beyond a product or idea and put it in the context of where it’s going, how it’s going to market—an understanding of business.

    I really require that someone can sketch really well because it is a communication tool and, while CAD is wonderful, it’s a step in the process. CAD is a tool for thinking through ideas—a tool that makes you think about how to build something. Once you’re in that frame of mind it moves you beyond “what is the idea?”

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

    Show the work that you alone did. It’s good to get a feeling for what it’s like to work in a team and to be able to talk to that, but when it comes to a potential employer wanting to know what kind of talent they are hiring, you need to show your talent. Great sketching is still a key sign of potential talent. It shows thinking, communication of ideas, ability to demonstrate creativity, and diversity of ideas. Have a project—more is better—that is different than anyone else’s. Schools are doing too many class projects where everyone shows the same thing. It’s always a pleasure to see someone who has tried something that’s not been done. Take risks, invent opportunities, create solutions that change perceptions, or raise awareness and improve quality of living.

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    When you bring in a designer for an interview, how do you know they’ll work well with your team?

    We do bring a lot of our team into that interviewing process and then we discuss it to see how everybody feels and where they might fit in. Lots of times we see the people doing the interviewing liking the people who are like them, and that can be both good and bad. But I think designers have a little bit more flexibility than the engineers or marketers. We spend a lot of time with candidates, going out to lunch and/or dinner. We chat, not only about the job, but what their interests are. Our designers tend to enjoy socializing together outside of work.

    From your experience, what characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer?

    Depends on what you mean by successful, I guess. If it’s a motivation to grow in terms of responsibility and into management-type roles, it’s very important to have a vision, to understand the business, what the products are, and the industry. You can see where the business might go, where the industry might go, what projects might evolve into, the next place we should be looking. We put a lot of focus on developing people so they do have a place to go within the organization. We have a lot of infrastructure to train and develop individuals.

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    As I’ve been doing these interviews, I’ve only found a handful of women that are in leadership positions in industrial design. Do you have any words of advice for budding female designers out there right now?

    That’s a great question because I’ve always been very turned off by women who make a big deal about being the only ones in a field where there aren’t very many. It’s almost like they deserve something. It’s all about having talent, knowing what you want, and being strong enough to keep driving for it. I don’t think that standing out as being a woman is a benefit, in terms of growing your career.

    It’s about having the talent and demonstrating it. People will see, and if there are people who don’t see it then maybe that’s not where one needs to be. I’ve never wanted to belong to any women’s organizations; I just get turned off by that. That’s not a way to demonstrate ability and character. You just have to prove what you have and what you can do.

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    Mary Reid of Kohler

    Mary Reid of Kohler

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