• Interview Excerpt: Ravi Sawhney, Founder & CEO, RKS Design, Thousand Oaks, California

    Check out some great work from Ravi Sawhney.

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

    RS: The portfolio needs to be presented in kind of a magazine format, very well composed, a very quick read, with some deep dives into seeing how insights tickled your curiosity to know more about the person behind it. It’s really a promotional piece, almost as if you’re selling a service. The quality of the presentation we see are these beautifully balanced, well-constructed, well-designed books and the presentation alone says something about their ability to work within a professional design environment. It’s really that quality of presentation combined with a depth that brings them in for an interview. So they need to have a quality of presentation to see the sense of freshness, a sense of understanding all of the dynamics of designing today. It’s not just pretty pictures without substance. You have to have some substance to want to talk to this person and understand their process and how they got there.

    Doing a portfolio today…it’s got to be a semester project. Just to build a high-quality portfolio that’s going to open the right doors—it’s got to be a semester project.

    So then what do we expect from a designer during the interview? What we expect to learn from the designer is the understanding of this person’s ability to insight and strategize how they design. What they feed their heads with to create the design, the actual design exploration, the testing of the design, the ergonomics, touching all the bases. How it will be marketed, what the value is. You look to see any group projects and this leads into conversations. The conversations tell us about the work. How people answer, how they think, and how they communicate tells us about the caliber of the person and tells us about their ability to fit into an organization.

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    AH: 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?

    RS: I would say it needs to have at least one complete project that goes from research to synthesis, to creation and exploration, developing it into a finished design and a pitch of what it is and why it’s so brilliantly done. Design teams see many portfolios. A designer’s challenge is to break through and break out as much as anyone.

    AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer?

    RS: It’s the basics: integrity, the ability to collaborate, the gift of design sense. There’s a certain hunger in a certain designer’s eye that really attracts people. That’s probably the silver bullet. The passion and hunger in each and every project and each and every challenge. They’re not worried about their own egos, their own portfolios, they’re just so deep into taking it to another level. Those people are the ones who stay in the business the longest time, because they have that passion—they love the process. They’re not living for the portfolio piece. They’re living because they love the process. Those are the things that really helped me.

    Another characteristic is that they have to have a great sense of empathy. Empathy for the ultimate consumer, or user. That’s a huge one for us.

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

    RS: I would give myself the same advice. Pick a firm, a small firm, one where you won’t get lost in the sauce and find out what you can do. Intern any way you can. You gotta do anything and everything you can to get in the door. Once you do get your foot in the door, then make it happen. Design is never-ending learning. We are not a design team where design is a job for us. Design defines who we are, not what we do.

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    Ravi Sawhney of RKS Design

    Ravi Sawhney of RKS Design


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