• Interview Excerpt: Pip Tompkin, Founder, Pip Tompkin Design, Los Angeles

    Check out some great work from Pip Tompkin Design.

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

    I am looking for a portfolio that puts a smile on my face. This comes from originality, personality, and someone who goes above and beyond. Students need to be original and innovative to compete today. Their portfolio needs something that stands out to get to an interview. As a reflection of how competitive the design job market is, we are a small studio and, when we post a position, we receive in excess of a thousand portfolios from around the world. We ask for digital portfolios to be submitted through our website. Every portfolio is reviewed in its entirety by myself and the team, but over time we have come to recognize that a portfolio’s quality and originality can usually be accurately assessed simply from the first introduction page.

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    Have you seen a portfolio recently that resonated with you? What about it stood out?

    It’s rare for me to come across portfolios that truly resonate. I sometimes think this problem is in education, with schools guiding students to do projects that don’t show well or don’t allow a student to express themselves. I do look for a balance of skills in a portfolio, but primarily I am looking for someone who shows depth in their thinking, innovation, and quirkiness. Portfolios that include a quirky project stand out as these always put a smile on my face.

    So if an industrial design student came up 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?

    There are three elements I look for in a portfolio. I am primarily looking for signs of original thinking and creativity. This, to me, is by far the most important element in a portfolio. As a result I would suggest that a student, when considering what to work on at college, should select a project or topic that allows them to express their philosophy and make bold statements.

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    What do you expect to learn from a designer during an interview?

    We have two rounds of interviews. The first round is on the phone with between four to six applicants. In the phone interview we ask the applicant to present their work. Through the presentation we look for depth-of-thinking, an unhealthy enthusiasm for design, and good communication skills. The second interview will be with the final two applicants. This interview is, to quote an old boss of mine, “to simply establish who I would not mind working next to at four in the morning.” I would also like to add that interview etiquette is important as it represents the applicant’s ability to represent the company.

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    What advice would you give to the students then on how to interview well?

    Designers are truly great creative problem solvers, but they need to apply that kind of thinking when preparing for an interview. The problem is: I need to go into this interview and convince this person that I’m the right person for the job. Design interviews tend to be more informal than normal, but the interviewee should show a level of reserve. Designers need to be able to display their creative side when needed, but also show dignity in business when called upon.

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    What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer these days?

    There are more products in the world today than there have ever been and competition has never been greater. As a result a successful designer needs to innovate, alter paradigms, and create products that truly connect with the user. Being a designer today also requires exceptional communication skills. The right product will never reach the market without the designer’s ability to convince investors and strategically protect the product’s vision through to production.

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

    One of the most remarkable things about design as a profession is that you can pretty much work anywhere in the world. The skills you learn as a designer can be applied anywhere. This was important in my career as I have worked in a variety of countries including the UK, Norway, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, and finally the US. So, the advice I would’ve given myself is to have done that a little bit sooner than later, maybe even studying in another country. It would be nice if it were mandated to spend some time studying overseas.

    Designers really truly grow when they are able to work in different environments and observe different cultures. Through travel, designers are able to see a lot of the same problems solved in different ways. Travel also allows the designer to become more sensitive to different cultures, an important attribute when designing products with a global reach.

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    Pip Tompkin of Pip Tompkin Design

    Pip Tompkin of Pip Tompkin Design

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