Check out some great work from Pam Nyberg.
Interviewed while Ms.Nyberg was the Director of Strategy at Thrive, in Atlanta.
AH: What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
PN: The portfolios that attract the most attention demonstrate solid design skills throughout the design process and an ability to inform their work with human-centered design research. Being at a consultancy, we never know who the next client will be so we need folks who have a range of skills, everything from masterful sketching skills to knowledge of commonly used CAD programs. We also like to see people who can specifically demonstrate form intelligence, an understanding of materials, and knowledge of manufacturing processes, all of which are difficult to find in more junior candidates. Added candidate bonuses include experience with other cultures and basic business knowledge, even if it’s just based on taking several marketing classes. This exposure to business enables them to have conversations in the language of business, and it sensitizes them to the challenges their business-focused colleagues must address.
One of the biggest shortcomings I’ve seen in student portfolios is a thorough demonstration of their design process. Many times, students show several initial sketches and then they reveal the end result, thinking that they should prioritize a short story over details. However, since we’re hiring them for their thought process, in addition to their skills, we want to see that they’ve sought to understand user, technology, and market requirements, explored multiple options in sketches and various levels of prototypes, and made clearly articulated tradeoffs in shaping their final solution. We also like to see how the front-end user and market learnings are reflected in their final concept.
Students should plan to include at least one detailed project in their portfolio that demonstrates their entire design process. Each project should be chosen to highlight specific skills or knowledge. In addition, I recommend that students bring separate process books to show sketch development, renderings, and CAD, if they feel they need to keep a really tight portfolio. Potential employers oftentimes request to see more evidence of sketching, rendering, or CAD abilities.
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AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful industrial designer?
PN: Designers are integrators, which requires them to interact and empathize with different types of people to develop an informed point of view about a project. As such, clients and project stakeholders—users, retailers, client support staff, etc.—appreciate working with people who are personable, humble, open-minded, and inquisitive.
Back in the studio, the most important qualities a designer can demonstrate are: respect for others, a willingness to help team members, being openly receptive to great ideas from any source, being curious about the world in general, and continually working to improve both knowledge and skills.
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AH: If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
PN: If I were starting university now, I’d make myself aware of the industrial design major instead of taking a four-year academic walkabout. But if I could give advice to other students, I’d tell them not to settle for just getting a degree. I’ve looked through a number of portfolios, and the sad news is that more than a few students are graduating without strong enough design skills to get a job. In conversations with professors, they’ve told me that students are more concerned about grades than doing good work. Unfortunately, grades aren’t going to land them a job, a killer portfolio will.
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