• Interview Excerpt: Sohrab Vossoughi, Founder, Ziba, Portland & Paul Backett, Partner, Evolve Collaborative, Portland

    Check out some great work from Ziba Design.

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

    PB: I think one of the key things for us when we’re looking at portfolios is designers who are storytellers. We are looking for designers who aren’t just showing the same process over again, we are looking for designers who can tell different types of stories in their portfolios. That can be lots of different things. It could be the journey of the project or the theory. It could be a beautiful consumer story that resonates with the target they’ve chosen. What catches our eye is when they have different tastes, when they’ve explored different things. That the designer is aware of the multiple stories they’re telling while also telling a story about themselves.

    SV: I look for someone who can define and articulate a problem very clearly. What gets me is when somebody talks for a half an hour about a problem that’s so simple. That usually means they don’t know what it is. So, what is the problem? What is the solution, and how did you get there? I want to look at the thinking process and how you solved the problem. Framing the problem and having the ability to solve it. People show me their portfolios all the time and ask me if it’s good or not, and I say “There’s no good or bad design, there’s only right design,” meaning it’s the right solution to the problem.

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    PB: I think that’s a really important subject. We are not as interested in the final product. Of course it has to be beautiful and appropriate and right, but what’s more important is how they got there. What was the journey? That can tell us way more about the designer than the final product.

    SV: Skills can be taught. Of course, you have to have potential. We look at potential. We look at potential and thought process. The real learning starts after school.

    Have you seen a portfolio lately that resonated with you? What about it made it stand out?

    PB: We occasionally do see them. There are big schools out there that teach the kids these core skills of storytelling and [they] are producing some interesting portfolios. The good ones always capture our eye, and then we get them in to get to know them better as people. There are some interesting portfolios that don’t follow the norm and describe different types of processes and approaches, the ones that aren’t afraid to talk about the unfamiliar.

    SV: I can’t think of one either, but another thing we look for is craftsmen. Craftsmen not just in the sense of model-making, but craft in the sense of mindset. The care, the engagement in the work, the attention to details…it’s really, really important.

    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?

    SV: Only show me your best work. Show me one, preferably your best, project from start (problem definition) to end (the solution). The presentation should be very clear, articulate, and to-the-point. The solution should be smart, simple, elegant, relevant, and beautiful. This rule applies to everything you show me.

    Once you do bring in a designer for an interview, what do you expect to learn from them at that one-on-one meeting?


    PB: One of the key things is actually how articulate they are. Can they sit in a room and talk to a bunch of people they’ve never met before? Can they talk about their design? About their process and their beliefs? Their passions? Their feelings? That’s a really key thing for us. We have to be able to talk about what we do and explain it to our clients, so it’s a really key thing. We are looking to get really curious people. We have a really particular person that fits here at Ziba. It’s really nice to get to know them as people and try to understand if they’re going to fit. We look for people who are humble, who will make things better.

    [ … ]

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

    SV: I wouldn’t do anything different. I was lucky to find out what I love and what I don’t really early in my career. I was able to find teammates and colleagues to build Ziba together. As designers we think we can do everything, but we all have our unique capabilities. I would urge everyone to truly find out not what you think you are, but what you really are. I wouldn’t do anything else. Everything has been a learning experience. Go after your heart. Go after your passion.

    PB: Be curious and explore more. Have the heart to do better and love what you do.

    SV: It’s all about the work and not about the money. Money is a byproduct of good work. Most entrepreneurs are doing what they do because they love what they do. This is a business of passion. You won’t make that much money as a designer. As a designer it’s the love of creation that drives us, not the love of money. If you want to make money you should go into real estate or hedge funds.

    PB: Maybe not these days.

    SV: Yeah, maybe not these days. But design is a business of passion and love.

    [ … ]

    Sohrab Vossoughi of Ziba.

    Sohrab Vossoughi of Ziba.

    Paul Backett of Evolve Collaborative.

    Paul Backett of Evolve Collaborative.

    Read the full interview in BREAKING IN: Learn more about the book or Buy it on Amazon
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