Check out some great work from Todd Ellis.
Interviewed while Mr. Ellis was the Head of Strategy & Operations: Innovation and Sustainability at Puma in Boston.
What kinds of portfolios get your attention these days? What brings in an industrial designer for an interview?
Regardless of experience, the first thing we look for is project diversity, meaning a range of different projects that highlight various design skills, design thinking, and the ability to visually tell those stories. Looking at a portfolio with limited subject matter, such as automotive design work only, it is difficult to gauge the individual’s ability to transfer those experiences into footwear design. But if the individual has a range of projects or product designs in varying physical scales while utilizing different materials, colors, and finish solutions, it allows us to better judge their initial design capabilities and interests.
Has there been a portfolio that you’ve seen recently that resonated with you? What about it stood out?
There was one that stood out. The individual had a couple of years of professional design experience. Their experience only encompassed consumer electronics, but they were interested in obtaining a position in athletic footwear design. To facilitate this interest, they created a number of simulated footwear designs, focused on design thinking and biomechanical problem solving for the activity, in this case the sport of basketball. They clearly illustrated the project process and design solutions by telling the story of the user.
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If you had an opportunity to guide a student on how to create an industrial design portfolio that would resonate for you, what would you tell them?
The first thing I tell any student who is seeking a position within a particular business sector—consumer electronics, footwear and apparel, medical, transportation, software or social media, design consultancies and services, et cetera—is to do research on the companies that make up the sector of interest. Be familiar with the companies, product ranges, user benefits, consumer targets, brand messages, and company histories.
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So once you bring in a designer for an interview, what do you expect to learn from them at that one-on-one meeting?
First impressions are critical. Generally, if they are coming in for a face-to-face interview with us, they would have already been screened on the phone a couple of times, to make sure they can communicate well verbally. When they come in for an interview, we like to look, not only at the work, but also how they conduct themselves and explain their projects and work experiences. How people handle themselves professionally is a highly underrated capability. In my view, it is one of the most critical assets any individual can have.
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With that said, what characteristics or qualities are necessary to be a successful designer?
There are many characteristics necessary to be successful in life, and that starts with being well rounded in business and social skills. Coming up with a wonderful idea is one thing, but executing the idea to make it real is just as important. Making stuff real requires hard work, perseverance, and being inclusive of various stakeholders who embody more than one idea or solution. Team players make great product champions.
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If you were just starting out now, what advice would you give yourself?
I don’t want to date myself here, but things in ID or product design are certainly a lot different than when I started. On a general level, it is clearly more competitive now, and the quality of the work is much higher. As a result, for young designers to enter the business, the playing field has leveled. Therefore, it is harder “to be seen.” To stand out for an employment opportunity, you need to show more focus, interest, passion, and conviction. Raw design talent is not enough. As I previously mentioned, if there’s an industry you’re interested in, learn about it as much as possible. When you approach a potential employer, show your extreme interest and what you know. Ask key questions because everyone likes to talk.
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