Check out some great work from Michiel Knoppert.
AH: What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in a product designer for an interview?
MK: Beyond an excellent skill set of sketching, 3D CAD and such, we look for widely and broadly educated system thinkers with an analytic mind. They need to be good observers of life, and have an opinion and voice of their own, original and conceptual.
AH: What specifically in a portfolio showcases to you that an individual has these aforementioned skills?
MK: I don’t just want the pretty pictures, I want them to tell a story. I want to see someone truly understand a problem, form an inspired vision and—based on insights—create a unique and relevant solution to that problem. That solution should be in the form of a stunning design that shows that same vision, translated into form, function, materials, and color.
AH: Have you seen a portfolio recently that really stood out? What about it caught your eye?
MK: Over the last few years I have seen a few portfolios that really stood out. Those that did all had two things in common: they conveyed a sense of personal style that was apparent from exploration to final proposal, and they were like story books. Not all the work that was shown was super polished, but all of it was interesting. I’d hire these individuals so they could apply that creativity and sense of style to our challenges.
AH: What are some common mistakes you’ve seen students or junior designers make in their portfolios?
MK: I see two common mistakes in the work that students and young professionals show. One common mistake is to focus on the polished result. Styling exercises outside of any context fail to communicate a skill set that solves actual design problems, and they show un-thoughtfulness. The other mistake is quite the opposite: where portfolios focus on creative exploration and process, without a solution. It’s nice to see process and wildly creative ideas, as long as they’re a means to an end—the end being a great product.
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AH: What do you expect to learn from a designer during an interview?
MK: First, I try to see if the person in front of me matches the work they show in their portfolio. What part of the work were they really responsible for? I like to give them a chance to fill in some of the blanks. Then of course, I try to gauge the fit with the group on a personal level, and if they get excited about what we have to offer.
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AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary for the designer to have in order to succeed?
MK: That depends, but for our group at Dell, they need to be analytic observers. Everything we create is for people. Failing to understand what drives our consumers results in a flawed product. I believe designers need to be extremely observant. This applies to pretty much anything: from people’s behavior to technology to corporate politics.
Next they should be synthesis visionaries. The design problems we work on are complex, multidimensional problems. As a designer, they will need to take all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together to create a clear and compelling vision. Designers need to be great communicators and integrators—seeing the opportunities and examining the breadth of solutions and problems.
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