• Interview Excerpt: Roland Boal, Lead Industrial Designer, Kohler, London

    Check out some great work from Roland Boal.

    Interviewed while Mr. Boal was the Lead Designer & Studio Manager at Tangerine, London.

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

    The best things are, in a way, the most mundane. Those portfolios that are just nice and neatly laid out, in many respects, are the ones that leap out at us—where there’s not too much stuff on the page and there are not too many pages. Where there is just a sensitivity to how the folio is presented even before you look at the work. Beyond that, we look for people who sketch their designs sensitively. That’s really important. A lot of the portfolios we get sent seem to suffer from the owner’s belief that they have to—right from the start of their career—demonstrate that they are the greatest designer ever, and that gets in the way of demonstrating their core skills.

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    Have you seen a portfolio recently that resonated with you, and what about it stood out?

    We did have a portfolio fairly recently that was nice and neatly laid out, which I appreciate isn’t the most exciting answer to your question. But what was interesting was that it also talked about a design process, and that really struck a chord with us because process and strategy are at the heart of what we do. We have a process at Tangerine that we have refined over the years. Although the person’s process wasn’t exactly the same as ours, the fact that they saw design as an intellectual process as much as a creative, aesthetic one was something that immediately made us sit up and take note. That really took the form of a diagram at the beginning of their presentation, showing what their process was from the intellectual beginnings, setting up a context for the project, all the way to delivering final design. That was something that was really quite powerful.

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

    The thing we look for most of all is how they talk about the work that they’ve done—the language that they use. Obviously we want the person to be enthusiastic about their work and about the work that we’ve done too, but without being sycophantic. We want them to feel like they’ll participate well as part of a team, as much as one can tell from a chat with somebody.

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

    A balance between the confidence in one’s own ability—you’re not afraid to suggest something that may seem a little bit left field, a bit off the wall—and being able to work as part of a team, especially if you’re a junior designer. If somebody makes a suggestion, or the person running the project says, after all the discussion is over, that something has to be done a particular way, and you’re able to take constructive criticism and learn from it, run with it, and do better stuff in the future.

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    You mention the importance of having real work experience before graduating from school. What advice would you have for students as to how to go about landing an internship while still at school?

    To us it doesn’t matter if someone has zero experience or 10 years of experience. If we like the stuff that they’re showing in their portfolio, the way they talk about it and so on, that’s what really matters. With that said, it does matter to some employers and I think that’s reasonable. When people want to do a placement, the key thing is to be very flexible about how long that’s going to be and when it’s going to be. The other thing is just to call up consultancies and just ask. I know a lot of people shy away from using the telephone to contact people, preferring to send emails or letters. But because we get so many emails and post—of all different types throughout the day—it’s very easy for those things to be forgotten or go accidentally unopened.

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

    It sounds a bit trivial, but I think the one thing I’ve regretted is not always carrying a notebook and a pen. In terms of forming my own design opinions, my own design vocabulary—you see things all the time that are interesting in some way. Having a scrapbook where you’ve accumulated all this knowledge, be it a sketch or ticket stub or whatever, it’s a physical record of where you’ve gone and what you’ve seen. It’s like a jazz musician having a repertoire of recent riffs that they can drop into their music; their notebook is a mental one but it’s the same principle. You want a record of things that you can just flip through.

    [ … ]

    Roland Boal of Kohler

    Roland Boal of Kohler

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