Check out our profile on RitaSue Siegel.
AH: What characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful industrial designer?
RSS: Over the last 10 years they have been the following: the ability to collaborate and accomplish things with and through others. Being capable of combining analytical, intuitive, and strategic thinking. Having the ability to persuade and communicate both verbally and visually the value proposition contained in the recommendation of a path or design direction in terms that non-designers—who make the go or no-go and investment decisions which lead to implementation of the recommendation—can understand and will be moved by.
It is more important than ever to develop oneself as a person people will want to work with and help. Make no mistake, this does not mean strong opinions and beliefs are verboten. If you don’t believe in your ideas, why should anyone else? Nobody does anything by themselves anymore. You can’t accomplish anything important, in my opinion, without engaging with other people. The best way to do that is to understand or learn how to collaborate. Listen carefully for and encourage feedback. Develop authentic behaviors through learning and practice. I think this is one of the most important things about designers that nobody talks about—that the best designers are the best collaborators. They care passionately about the success of the organization, people they work with, the project or program at hand, and the people who are the ultimate recipients of the benefits of what they are designing.
[ … ]
AH: Would you say you’ve noticed a different trend developing over the years in regards to what employers are looking for in industrial designers?
RSS: Yes. I think they’re looking for fully functioning human beings who are intelligent, caring, able to write and communicate clearly, with confidence and eagerness to learn. They have to be inspired by and literate in the issues that affect their work. They also need to be aware of the global and local economy, technology, trends, science, art, human factors, and the convergence of digital media, etc. They have to have a great antennae.
AH: It sounds like from your perspective that a combination of being humble and curious is almost an ideal trait for a designer to have in order to succeed.
RSS: Absolutely. They also have to be good presenters. They have to understand what media to use to best convey the content of their presentation. They should be very curious, willing to do their own research if necessary, and be skilled in extrapolating information from research others have done to inform their thinking. A doctor will not be successful if they can’t communicate. They have to convince a patient to follow prescribed therapy in order to get well. If the doctor does not, the doctor has failed and the patient may die.
[ … ]
AH: It appears it’s getting harder and harder to get into the industrial design business these days. What would you say it takes to stand out?
RSS: It takes a portfolio designed for digital browsing, filled with inspiring or beautiful content. Or, as Massimo Vignelli would say, “Magic.” The content can be research about discoveries of opportunities, or airport seating, but the presentation needs to be outstanding. Include video, show your process, and use language that is easy to understand. Errors in spelling and grammar are distracting.
[ … ]
AH: What are the most common mistakes you’ve seen students or junior-level applicants make in how they present their work or their portfolios?
RSS: They need to rehearse their presentations to lose their fear, and they need coaching. They need to have the story of each project practically memorized and talk about the work context, their action, and the result. There will often be more than one person in the interview so they may have to use a projector and present standing up. Instead of saying you did research, present the research as part of your portfolio. Show the process and if you sketch well by hand, show that too.
[ … ]
AH: What would be the one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring industrial designer or somebody that has just graduated and is trying to break into the industry?
RSS: First decide what areas of design interest you, like medical or transportation, or if you want to specialize in one aspect of the design process. Make sure that when you tell the story of what you’ve done on your résumé, you mention some of those things. Make sure that when you put your portfolio together that you have some of that stuff in there. If you’re really interested in medical design but are presenting how you tackled an automobile or transportation problem, then try to relate the two somehow. You can do that. Anybody that’s smart can do that. Investigate companies that do the work you’re interested in and see the vocabulary that they use, see if they’re advertising any jobs and how they talk about those jobs.
[ … ]
AH: As you are one of the rare women in the industry, what are your thoughts on women entering the field, and how has the industry changed around that, if at all?
RSS: There have always been women industrial designers, and in the last 20-plus years, women are about 50% of all design graduates. The industry is very welcoming to women and not just because women make so many of the buying decisions, and use the digital or analog artifacts designers create, but also because a diverse workplace is healthier and more interesting than one that isn’t. There is no simple answer to the question of why there aren’t more women designers in senior design management positions. I get asked all the time. My simple answer, with which you may not agree, is that maybe that’s not everyone’s priority. This is a very complex subject and I have not done any formal research, so this is just my opinion.
[ … ]
Bottom line is that design is a calling. If you don’t practice it that way, you’re not going to be very important in it. You can’t do anything in design half way. If you want to accomplish anything of significance and if you want to help other people, your job in design has to be what you build your life around.