• Interview Excerpt: Robert Brunner, Founder and Partner, Ammunition, San Francisco

    Check out some great work from Robert Brunner.

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

    That’s a good question because we do see a lot of portfolios and after you interview a lot of people you can pretty quickly decide if it’s someone you want to see or not. I really just glance through and I know if this person has a possibility of working within our group. There always is a certain base level of skill and ability [we need to see]. The ability to present a piece of work comes through in a portfolio and, for us, there’s also a certain range of aesthetic that we look for that fits within our philosophy. Then it really has to do with a combination of innovative thinking and sophistication. You see a fair number of people developing innovative ideas—something that’s new or different. The ones that are more rare have a sophistication about them that comes through. It’s more than just a crazy idea. It’s progressive and they’re thinking about the context of its use and so forth. We look at the baseline of skills and if there is an aesthetic that makes sense for us and the quality of the innovation. You can see, if you’re going through four projects that someone has done, those threads. Typically then we’ll invite them to talk to us.


    Have you seen a portfolio recently that resonated with you, and what about it was different and signified to you that this designer could do all of these things you just mentioned?

    When I see someone new I ask if they have “the funk” or not. What that means is that there’s just some energy there that’s really compelling and you see that they get it. It’s really hard to nail down. The majority of the people we have in our studio we’ve taken on as interns. We really view the intern process as a very extended interview that allows us to spend three to six months, sometimes a year, with someone working really closely and get an idea whether they’re going to fit.

    We’ve seen some really great portfolios and a lot of them are, interestingly enough, coming out of France, which has been in development in the last few years from a design talent perspective. We used to see a few schools in the US and a few schools in England and Germany and lately we’ve seen a lot coming from France and we have three French-speaking designers in our studio right now.

    Personally, I like to see models because, when I came up, I always felt that making models was extremely important. It’s very easy to cheat in 3D CAD and you just don’t learn about something until you make it. You don’t understand scale and proportion and detail until you’ve actually done it. I really love to see models; it’s surprising how the models you see in portfolios are predominantly renderings.

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

    That’s the opportunity to see the person. We’re very careful about who we bring into the team. It’s very important because of the way we work. We are a fairly flat company. I have two partners and we have some individuals who are in charge of disciplinary areas, but after that it’s sort of everybody else. It is part of the strategy of the way we work; we form and reform teams very quickly. People work on multiple projects with different people and that effectively allows our 40 people to behave like 60. So within that model, it’s really important that people fit in from a cultural point of view.

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    How do you know if they would fit into the culture of Ammunition?

    Part of it comes from experience. We are a very close group, and there are no huge professional agendas. That comes from the fact that we don’t have a hierarchical group. We look for someone who’s easygoing and passionate, who is excited about their work, who has a good sense of humor. We like having diversity. We have designers from US, from Asia, from Europe, and having a mixture of personalities and backgrounds is important as well. It’s looking at how this person thinks, how they behave, what they value and asking, “Is that going to fit with this sort of hard-working yet easygoing, fun-loving group of people?”

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

    Part of it is just loving objects and making things, and that’s not always there. Some people like the process and some people like the research aspects of it. What we do and what we look for is someone who has a love and passion for making objects functional, beautiful, and culturally special. That’s one of the things we look for and one of the things that’s necessary to be a product designer. You really just have to love products, making them, realizing them.

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

    The one thing that was never taught really well at school, and it’s extremely important, is the ability to communicate and communicate about your work. You really don’t get a heck of a lot of training on how to write about it, how to tell a story, how to convince people, and how to make arguments. If you’re at a certain talent level and you want to be a great designer, your abilities to motivate people to develop your designs are as important as your abilities to develop, implement, and manufacture.

    As a young designer, you think, “If it’s a really cool idea everyone will want to do it,” right? Turns out, that’s not true. You actually have to do a lot of work to move something from an idea to reality. People are involved and you have to learn how to convince people, how to motivate people, and play politics. All of those things are necessary to make good things happen. None of that is taught at school, so I guess if I were starting over, in addition to the things I was learning in design, I’d spend more time on how to communicate, how to write, and how to present.

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    Robert Brunner of Ammunition

    Robert Brunner of Ammunition

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