Becoming a designer at 24

Hi Core77ers,

I studied math and computer science at a private research school in the US for 4 years (reduced courseload) and as I got a real sense of what my field was like, I started developing a distaste for it all. Then came the extremely difficult classes, the ailing grades, and the depression / anxiety duo. I pulled out before I finished the degree to take a breather.

I’m more than halfway through that year, and I don’t think I’m going back to finish the degree.

Last spring, I started work on two projects from home. One of them was a packaging project . The design project was pitched to a rather large company that you’ve probably heard of, and it’s being shopped as we speak. I’m extremely anxious to hear their response, but they’ve already sunk quite a bit into legal and patent work so all signs are good.
This can land me passive income for a few years and let me work on my next project.
But - the inherent uncertainty of being a self-starter is exacerbated by my lack of a specific, usable skillset. If my entrepreneurial endeavor at hand doesn’t work out, I’ll be stuck .I’m a jack of many trades, master of none.

Interestingly, when I ask myself what I would consecrate time to learn and spend time doing in an office setting, the answer is always design or something related. I have no experience with it aside from my only packaging project that I can’t even publicize, but I think I can be really good at it if I learn the theory and work on some more diversified projects. I have an eye for packaging, furniture, household objects, and interiors. I enjoy working with my hands, I’m good with computers, and I can cross from technical to creative and back with ease. I’ve thought about going down this route a while back when I dropped out of school, but I never had the guts to dive in. I’m now not only ready, but desperate to learn and make something of myself in a field that I already adore.

I’d like to build my portfolio and I don’t know where to start. My visualization and mental manipulation of objects is really good , but my drawing is very bad. I’ve already started sketching and I bought some books.
I don’t know how to design on the computer in 3D, 2D nor do I know how to “render”. Where should I start?

I’m thinking that I should set a goal of putting together a prelim portfolio by November (6 months) with a clear outline of what I need and how many of each. Then I’ll take what I’ve learned , and what I have and kick it up a notch.
I’d eventually start sending out the CV to various places.

Can I get some help with this please? I don’t know who else to ask and thankfully I found this forum.

In a perfect life, I’d have gone straight into ID after high school, but I didn’t know about then in the sense I do now. What a shame.


Do you intend to go back to school, or just jump into design?

Jump in. No time for school.I don’t want to be doing my unpaid internship at 29 or 30.

edit: I’ll go to school if I can’t find work in any position that’s design related before the next year is up.
Just saying it’s not my first choice since I just feel really old .

I can’t tell you about not going to school. What I can tell you is that the world hires problem solvers. If you know how to find solutions to problems you’ll always find work. If you’re going to go the way of the designer, I would at least take some beginning design classes for process and some drawing courses. You’ll shave off years of struggling. There’s really no replacement for a CAD course either. Once you learn one 3d program, others will come easier.

Process, as in … design methodologies?

I jumped into an ID education at 26 from a different field, did unpaid internships closer to 30 and never regretted it.
every experience was necessary and has meed vital for my development.

Mainly because I realized that I needed to understand the nuts and bolts of design and learn the core skills from the ground up. Short cuts don’t really exist and buckling down a few weeks to become a great sketcher does not a designer make.

If your goal is to become an Industrial Designer, handling projects from ideation and research all the way to production and launch, you will have to learn the basic skills required. And most likely this will not happen on the job. At least not a paid one.

Personally, I have a hard time seeing someone getting hired, who has no way of visualizing their ideas. CAD and 2D work are essential.
In order to get a foot into the door, you don’t have to be amazing at everything, just good enough that you would be considered an asset rather than a time suck at a design office.

What I feel you need and a good design course offers, is structure and a big picture plan. This is very hard for you to put together by yourself as you have no experience. Developing a compelling portfolio with quality work is about more than just exhibiting skills. It takes time to mature and develop. Rushing this is very difficult as your personality as a designer changes as you learn.

If you are shooting for 6 months to put together a competitive ID portfolio for a Jr position, I am afraid, you might be setting yourself up for failure. A more promising and realistic course of action (if undergrad is out) might be to enroll in some course, get to know your peers, find mentors, use the shops.

But then again, there is something to be said about proving the nay-sayers wrong. Many of use have done it and keep doing it. So in the end, you gotta make the call.


I’m in a similar boat, but I wish I was 24 and about to start. Lots of competitions and scholarships are for the young people under 25 with their hip-hop and ironic beards and crystal meth.

At some stage you will be 30. Do you want to be 30 with some ID education/ experience, or just 30?

Naturally, 30 with experience and some accomplishment.

If I’m not mistaken the average freshman age for Industrial Design is 24…

Food for thought, great advice above

How do you expect to learn the basics and the theory without taking some basic lessons? Much of what you learn doesn’t come from books, but from the interaction with people, other students, professors, workshop people, etc. The feedback of the people surrounding you, their ideas and the way they perceive the products opens your mind, make you realize of things you wouldn’t on your own. Here in the forum you could get feedback and make a progress with your skills, but I doubt it’d be enough to land a proper design position.

Most companies ask for the degree itself, without that many doors would be automatically closed for you. In a way you are lucky you found out you wanna be a designer when you are 24, I have friends who realized of that with 26 - 28, some others are older and still don’t know what to do. These guys who did would work part time while studying and still be among the top students. I don’t mean you are not gonna get it without going to a design school, but it’s gonna be much harder.

Having an eye doesn’t make you a designer, there’s much more to it that just having good taste. You should be able to explain why that product is cooler over this other, be able to give the reason behind it in a way people would agree with you. That you enjoy working with your hands is great, that’s a must for a designer, same with computers or combining the technical and the artistic side. Now you would need to develop those skills up to the level of a professional designer and I believe the best way to do it would be going back to uni.

I’m still going to apply to schools and jobs concurrently. I’m basically going to apply to everything ID-related.
Even though I don’t want to go to a university or college, I don’t want to repeat the same mistake last year and not have a backup plan of at least having a school that’s accepted me and that I can go to.

In hindsight, I would have been better off starting school in September than in September 2015.

Until that time, I need a portfolio, and I don’t know what I need to learn and what should go into it.
I’m thinking to set milestones for every area, and devise a concrete project for each one. (one product sketch, one 3d design, one render, etc etc)

Every iteration would build upon the previous one , and I’d end up with a better than nothing portfolio by the time I start applying.

I’m not so sure ID is the right path for you and I say that because you seem very driven to get on with a career or your own business as soon as possible. There’s few, if any, shortcuts you can take if your goal is to have a career in ID, other forum members have already pointed this out. Is it possible? Yes, but not very probable.

The packaging project you mentioned sounds interesting and I know you can’t disclose it, but what specifically did you contribute to it? Did you assist in development or did you design it, is it your own intellectual property? What skills and/or software did you use and how did you use it?

Just to get super tactical and blunt, with no design education, why would someone hire you?

  1. you have an amazing portfolio despite of not having a design education
  2. somehow you gained a tremendous amount of experience in design despite not having a design education
  3. the person hiring you doesn’t know any better, probably doesn’t know how to work with design, and is hiring you for next to no money

outside of those three possibilities, it is very very unlikely. Think of your competition and what they will bring to the same job application or interview. You need to beat them.

You’re right.
I wrote that impulsively, but what I meant to say was that if I can at least apply for something design-related with a portfolio and work my way up, I’d like to have that possibility before committing myself to school until probably 29 year old. It’s just…very scary for me. I’m supposed to be starting my career now, and it seems I’ve barely started.

I’m not discounting school. I guess I was hoping for some kind of legitimate way around it assuming I was ready to work really hard.

I already have some schools in the Netherlands I’m looking at. If school will actually be my “fast-track”, then so be it. I can’t single handedly change the way this is done


I created the design from scratch and made my own prototypes. I pitched the idea to them, they loved it, and went ahead and did a patent pending on it and made their own version of it with the correct cartons, and minor adjustments to fit their folding equipment. It’s my IP entirely, and the NDAs state that.

Skills and software? Nothing really. Just GIMP. Their designers took my stuff and made it to spec.

You’re right in that I want to get to work quickly, and maybe I was falsely motivated by my recent “success” in getting such a huge company to invest R&D into my work and think about buying it from me.

First, I started my ID ed at 23 after drifting a while. I graduated at 28, and got a paying internship. Most of my classmates were the same. In fact, the majority were like me. I don’t know anyone who got an unpaid internship. My internship turned into a 7 year job. I suspect that an unpaid internship probably means a high level company, which can be very difficult to find, much less get.

Second, I feel a bit slighted that you think you can jump right into design without education and compete at our level. Certainly, there are people who have done that, but I doubt they asked for direction from other professionals. Maybe I’m reading you wrong.

Third, I know several students who ran their own company, or designed their own product while in school and were at least somewhat successful. Doing one does not eliminate the other.

Fourth, it’s 2014. No one cares that you’ll be in your late 20’s finishing a degree that you actually like. I pity those who are in such a hurry to get through school that they pick what’s popular or what their lackey high school counselor thinks they should do. If you’re going to do something, do it right. The fact that you would consider being a designer without taking at least some classes implies you don’t take the right steps to reach a good final outcome (the basis of all design). If being a legit designer is important to you, take the steps.

Good luck.

I’ve always wondered whether it was my vast array of interests that made me never commit to following through on all the steps, if I never had discipline, or if I didn’t actually enjoy something enough to do it.

I just like getting opinions on something before I take action, I think it’s a fault. It could be a way to rationalize not thinking for myself.
Maybe I’m not cut - out for this route if I need to hop on a forum and ask people what they think about everything.

Or, maybe not. Maybe someone who isn’t cut out is the one who asks himself that.

I didn’t have much discipline until I started ID, I felt it was the right thing and it wouldn’t matter how many hours I would spent on it. It didn’t matter whether it was sketching, modelling or prototyping, I just wanted to whatever I was working on in a good way, in a way I’d feel proud of the result.

I think it’s good that you are asking questions and probably this is the right place, we have insights that maybe will help you choosing the right path. At the end, the decision is up to you, but at least you’ll have more information to back what you decide.

Now that I saw what Greenman said, he made a good point. Do you really wanna be an IDer or create your own stuff and set up a business? In my opinion, one is quite different from the other.

Well, shit.

What’s the difference? I just want to make stuff, whether it’s for me or someone else’s company.
That being said, I do have a lot of ideas of things I’d like to build for myself and/or to sell. But I’d still like to have knowledge in ID and be able to get a job as a designer if I wanted or needed to.


At someone else’s gig, you can be a specialist in design of the npd process.

At your gig, you either do everything or you pay other people to do all of the other crap involved with npd. Design is only a small part.