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Interviewed while Mr. Brooker was General Manager at frog in Austin, Texas.
What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
If I’m looking primarily at automotive designers, then I’m looking for someone with flare in styling capabilities as opposed to product design capabilities. Someone who understands form language, someone who understands how highlights travel across the vehicle, someone who understands interiors and how that whole thing comes together. There is a little bit of different thinking that you’re looking for in someone coming in-house, as opposed to someone coming into the consultancy where you’re looking for a little bit of the flash in the presentation capabilities to win over a client. There are subtle differences, depending on the side of the fence you’re sitting on.
Then, I’m looking beyond just the form factor itself. In a product designer, I’m looking for the understanding of how the product is put together. I would expect the designer to understand how to, for example, put together a cell phone—how do you put the whole thing together. Whereas with automotive, I would be expecting the candidate to understand the basics of the vehicle, proportions, and the package.
Has there been a portfolio that you’ve seen recently that resonated with you? What about it stood out?
There was a designer—and this goes way back—who had a fantastic portfolio and a great way of showing his designs and presenting his design ideas. It goes beyond just the portfolio; it’s the ability to talk about the story behind the vehicle, for example, or behind a product. That’s critical. Some of the better product design portfolios I’ve seen are where someone understands how to translate a rendered idea into a 3D model. In automotive applicants we would look for someone who knows how to put together a model, but we’re not necessarily looking for them to spend a lot of their time building the surfaces of the model, as there are modelers who will do that. But in product design applicants we do expect that.
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It sounds like, for automotive, the portfolios should be based more on the visceral and the aesthetics, and in the product realm, it’s the technical aspects that should be emphasized?
Yes, but let me qualify that a little bit. In addition to seeing a portfolio in automotive that just has the flash, I also want to see a couple of situations where someone’s been able to take those ideas and translate them into 3D models, like clay models. They need to understand how to take something that’s two-dimensional and translate that into three-dimensional properties. Whereas I think in product design you can do that automatically through the 3D file. While I appreciate people thinking far out, like the super forward-looking kinds of concepts, I also want to see the balance of that with reality. I want to see that the portfolio is also carrying examples of real products that have been designed, that are executable today.
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So if an industrial design student came to you and asked, “What should my portfolio be like? What do I need to show you in order to work with you?”, what would you tell them?
I would like to see the ability to be creative both with advanced ideas and thinking, as well as ideas that take into account packaging and manufacturing constraints for production in the next generation of products.
What do you expect to learn from a designer during an interview?
I’m looking for someone who can articulate their thoughts, someone who knows how to speak about their design, rather than waiting for an interpretation of their designs. When you’re able to put a story behind an idea, that makes it that much more compelling. It’s not just compelling from the point of view of the interviewer, but to the boss or the customer. It’s going to resonate a lot better when they can remember a story behind an idea.
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So if you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
The one thing that everyone benefits from by entering a design school is working with a bunch of other people who are going through the same thing and learning from each other. I would say that experience is critical. I worry a little bit that we are teaching our skills too much on the computer and not making things enough with our hands. Actually, seeing people making things again is a good thing. Understanding the form in 3D through the process of making it is invaluable. We are churning out a lot of people who have a lot of computer skills, who can do whiz-bang on the computer without understanding the form factor.
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