A cold, hard look...

I didn’t know whether to post this here or in the portfolio section since I’m not specifically looking for advice on my portfolio (but if you have any I’ll take it!), but more of an overview and advice on my current situation. I am a mid-senior level designer (depends on the industry, my current title is Senior and I manage a small team) looking for a new job, and I would like to get some insight from the VERY helpful people of the core77 boards. This is probably one of the most professional, on-point discussion boards I’ve seen (and I’ve lurked around here for a while), so I’ll abide by the rules and ‘post up’. Some of you have helped me out or given great advice in the past, so I’m coming back for more.

Preface: I know the market is tough right now, and that I am incredibly lucky to have a job. I count my blessings, so I don’t want this post to come off as whiny or ungrateful. But I am still unhappy in my current position (been here almost 5 years) and do not want to get pigeonholed into this product category (which might have happened already). So here goes:

In my search for a new position, I’ve come to the realization that my experience has shut me out of certain types of design. For example:

Footwear: Would LOVE to get into footwear. I even gave myself a multitude of projects, sharpened my skills, and even whined my way into a footwear project at my current employer. But the hard reality is that at my level (almost 6 years experience in ID) they want a minimum of 3-5 years footwear experience. I’ve even considered taking a paycut and going in as entry level to learn the ropes and work my way up, but any kid with a footwear internship will be more likely to get picked.

Consulting: This is a big area, so I’ll focus on the typical design consultancies that everyone dreams of working with. My current position does not employ design research methods, nor do I have any serious consulting experience, so my resume always ends up in the NO pile.

It would seem my background would be well suited for an accessories agency or company (and I’d agree) but the issue of specific experience sometimes gets in the way. Backpack experience, eyewear experience, etc. Even though I know many of my skills are easily transferable (I basically do tech packs just like footwear, backpacks, etc) I seem to get overlooked. In over a year and a half, and MANY job applications, I have scored a fly-in interview, and a couple phone interviews. Not great odds.

So here is my question for the veterans. After taking a look at my portfolio here: http://www.design-flux.com/josefigueroa, is there an area of design I have completely overlooked and might be good at? Or should I just keep trying because there is a possibility of transferring to another design area/product category?

Wow, I just realized this post got LONG. Thanks for reading this far, let me know what you think! By the way, I’m not attached to a location so I’ve been searching globally.

Long post, which probably deserves a long reply, but in the interest of brevity - first of all, “join the club”. Very few designers are likely in the exact job or doing the exact things they want to. Time marches on, and people just can’t go back to school for, say, an Art Center degree that will land them a sweet gig designing futuristic movie stuff for ILM that has no manufacturing or price constraints. (My dream gig btw).

I don’t know much about the footwear industry but it sounds like 1) it would suck starting over again and 2) you seem to be doing what you can to break into it. As regards the consulting side, not every firm in the world is all about the Big ‘D’ - and research, frameworks, consumer insights are services and behaviors that could be introduced to a consulting firm more engaged in typical design activities.

Thanks for reading the essay slippy

So true. That’s why I kinda looked at it the other way around. Instead of asking “Hey guys how do I get into ILM if all I’ve worked on is XYZ”, I want to ask “I have this skill set, how do I use it to break out of my current niche?”. << I just realized I could’ve written that instead of the essay above…

I don’t know much about the footwear industry but it sounds like 1) it would suck starting over again and 2) you seem to be doing what you can to break into it. As regards the consulting side, not every firm in the world is all about the Big ‘D’ - and research, frameworks, consumer insights are services and behaviors that could be introduced to a consulting firm more engaged in typical design activities.

Like you said, I’ve tried pretty much everything to break into footwear so maybe I should bark up another tree. As for consulting, I know my skills would be great in something more trend-based like Mage design or vapor studio or stuff like that, where my skills would shine. But I’ve tried with no success, so what have I been doing wrong?

you obviously have the skills, good fresh portfolio.
What you might lack are the connections?

I believe that today, in the rarest cases a portfolio alone will get you a rockstar job. In my experience, everything happened through connections. If you are good and make the right contacts, they will gladly refer you if you ask them.
What is important here is that it is win-win. If somebody important supports you, you have to make sure it will reflect well on that person. If it does, he or she looks like a hero for hooking a company up with an asset to their design team.

Also, whoever recommends you must believe that there is potential in you as a designer to one day repay the favor.

Bepster, I share that sentiment with you. Sometimes its about WHO you know (given you have the talent). I know a lot of jobs are filled by connections and referrals, but there are also a ton filled by regular applicants. I don’t have a ton of connections so I guess I am at a slight disadvantage from the offset.

Ok, footwear:

I just had a quick look at your footwear portfolio. My main comment would be that you need to work on two things.

  1. Proportion
    Don’t spend hours on your photoshop rendering skills. Your skills are already up to speed and they really aren’t the most important thing to work on.
    Do spend hours on proportion, read the thread pinned on the footwear board here. Set some still life up, practise sketching your own kicks, practise, practise, practise and if it’s still not right - cheat - use existing shoes, lasts as a template!
    I’m freelancing for ‘x’ at the moment, big famous athletic footwear multi brand company. It’s the first time I worked for them in six years and I wondered if anything had changed, the answer was, ‘no, not really’. They still don’t do much fancy photoshoppery, there just isn’t time - I’m rushing them a 20 style athleisure range and I got three weeks to do it - fashion is quick, quick quick and more than 50% of this project is hand renders.

  2. Understanding of shoe construction.
    It’s really important when designing shoes to understand how they will be put together. I see many, many, fancy renders on Coroflot and often think 'but how on earth could this be made, put on and worn comfortably, because it doesn’t seem to be a consideration, yet it’s the first thing I think about as I put pen to paper. Cut some shoes up, try and find footage of factory making and watch it or visit a factory or shoemaker. If you are serious, then a short shoemaking course might make you stand out from others. I have quite a few friends in footwear in the US who have done this. It is useful to know, Ok, I did a footwear degree, I can cut patterns, grade and make and we were examined on it. Even though I don’t do it now, I can’t tell you how useful it is to know, to be able to adjust the paper pattern, when your prototype didn’t work and yesterday I send a couple of hours cutting eyestay paper patterns AS WELL AS making hand renders for the same, to see if an idea I had for a shoe was going to work in reality.

Same goes for accessories - I sometimes work with accessories designers and they also understand the construction of the bags they design, often providing patterns and measurements in their tech packs, if they feel it’s needed. if you can figure out how to put tech packs together for either shoes or accessories it would give you a big advantage over graduate interns that you are competing with.

Thanks for the great info. So at my level (6yrs experience, senior designer) you think I’d have a chance if I do more projects and perhaps take a course? Would employers consider this over actual experience (bags, shoes, etc)? I wish experienced people could get internships without going to school, that would solve all my problems!

I like a lot of your stuff D-flux… this one is really nice

So true

I have a couple years experience on you and have felt pidgeon-holed in several jobs… ended up taking some giant leaps of faith, left perfectly good jobs, and networked like crazy til I landed other interesting jobs (where later I felt pidgeon-holed- It might just be the state of being a designer!!!) In hindsight for me, it gave me a fairly varied background, though not very stable or for everyone

The point is, if you want it and are relentless… you can swing into other positions.

also, It was mentioned above, but consultancies are not just looking for one type of designer… some of the WCoast examples I’ve spent time with have people from corporate and consultancy backgrounds. Knowing production is a great selling point and I bet your current position has given you that experience - enough to get your foot in and gain the other experiences

You might want to start doing informational interviews more often too, especially in places you want to work, and feel out if your work is missing something or could be better - good for just generally improving your presentation. Good luck Jose