Career progression and advice after leaving Master's early

Hi all, first post here and hoping there are a few kind, compassionate souls out there to offer some guidance. Apologies for the length and if I’ve mistakenly put this in the wrong thread.

I graduated with a BSc in Product Design & Innovation from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow in 2015. At this point and under recommendation, I believed it would be in my best interest to study a Master’s so I could specialise further and develop my skill-set and professional experience, while adding a unique aspect to my background and further material to my portfolio.

I was accepted to a two-year MFA in Design at Gothenburg University and as my application consisted purely of product/industrial design work along with my expression that my thesis would focus on producing consumer products, I would be allowed to explore such design in greater detail. Moving to a Sweden was also huge deciding factor as I felt living in a foreign country would be the unique and immersive opportunity I needed to expand my perspective, enhance my life skills and experience design culture with peers from all over the world.

I believed that, despite being an MFA, this Master’s would allow me to expand my knowledge and skills and I could explore different areas of design. The syllabus and recommendations led me to believe the course would allow me to build upon my own process of product development. The programmes and assessment became increasingly more focused upon the theories and methodologies of how design can influence societal changes, such as provocative exhibits and social experiments, as opposed to the process of designing and creating products. Ultimately, as the course progressed, I realised the dedicated skills and knowledge in product/industrial design from my BSc became non-essential and as a result underutilised. There was a growing realisation that the product development skill-set I had acquired through my Batchelor’s was diminishing.

I made the difficult decision to leave the course this February with the credits (60 ECTS) I had gained and moved back home to reflect and move forward. I have now hit a crisis stage as I’m struggling to find the work and projects to get me back into my original field and to use my skills and experience.

So I now possess a BSc, 60 credits towards a Master’s and very little industry experience apart from a month’s placement at a design studio in New Zealand in 2014.

I am reaching out for any advice the design community here may have in order for me to progress. In short; what are the best steps I can take to refresh my skills and get myself into the design industry from my current position?

Please also check out my post in the Portfolio board if you get the chance.

Many thanks in advance for your input.


There is nothing better than real World experience. Schools merely provide the environment for you to collaborate/harness/nuture your skills. BE HUNGRY FOR WHAT YOU WANT IN LIFE!!! If you truly love product/industrial design I would imagine that you are working on your own projects in your spare time…? If not, get busy chasing your passion! Apply for any and all internships to get hands on experience. Once you get a feel for what products/industry you would like to focus on, then streamline your job search appropriately.

Portfolio / Work: Your stuff is really well thought out for someone with so little experience. It’s impressive. You should include more presentation sketches and ideation though. We want to see that you can sell an idea with your sketches and that you have a process for developing your ideas. Also, I would do some more models. The only one in your portfolio is the Horizon speaker which looks like a student level model. If you don’t have facilities handy, I’m sure there are some maker spaces in Glasgow that you could use.

What to do: Only you can find your own path. It’s difficult to start a career no matter what your background, so don’t be too hard on yourself.

From my experience: get a any job you can just to maintain your self esteem and sanity. If not relatable to design, make it part time so that you have plenty of time to job hunt and work on your portfolio.

Also, keep working. Imagine you had $100k to invest in bringing a product to market. Design it, build it, test it. It will be great experience and a great portfolio piece.

Lastly, diversify your interests. I’m a normal over-achiever type in that my work takes an unhealthy central role in my life. I really wish that I had taken some time before my career started to invest in hobby outside design. Take advantage of the time you have now!

Good luck!

Thanks Jboogie and Mr-914, I really appreciate the encouraging words and your advice is stellar. And thanks for taking the time to reply in such a considerate and understanding manner, you’ve given me plenty of things to be getting on with.

I’ll take it to heart and get cracking on one of my ideas.

Agree with the others, and with you, that you should stick with what you know and enjoy doing. At the same time, you do have those 60 credits toward a MFA which is at least 59 credit more than a lot of professional designers have; is there some way to utilize that expanded (abstract) view of some of the aspects of “Big D” Design?
Finding a job or even internship where you get back to doing consumer products is essential. In addition to the tactics above, I might suggest getting friendly with your local creative placement agency so they can at least fill you in with small jobs and freelance engagements in your area. Some examples in my area include Filter and smartdept.
The common theme I see with designers now is - put it out there. (I need to do more of this myself.) meaning, work on stuff you think is cool/valuable/relevant and publish it to your broadcasting social platform of choice.
Best of luck.

Can you post a link to your portfolio? It is almost impossible to offer advice beyond the broadest platitudes without seeing your work.

yoda - he had it in the portfolio section - Behance

James, from what I can see you need a bit more business-related experience.
How big of a market is there for a portable exercise bike if a regular bike combines the functionalities of biking and being mobile.
The hiking tripod is a great product in terms of design, but how will you get it to stay in the minds of potential customers and make them interested enough to learn about retail channels etc. as well as finding those customers who simultaneously have the need for a hiking pole and camera tripod.
New innovations like that have to be extremely clever and sort of hit a spark in people. You have to decide if you want to go for developing a product like that and do a startup, or if you want to join the local industry. In my experience it is best to get a position somewhere and just develop from there while always working on your own ideas as well. Find out what only you can do very well, and create a better story around yourself. In the meantime keep working on your design and visualization skills.

Thanks! The original post was too long for my attention span after a day long strategy workshop (9 hours of product category analysis… ouch, I digress)

Looking at the portfolio, I’m not seeing a lot of broad ideation, concept assessment, concept exploration, form refinement or advanced surfacing. All critical things in my opinion. For example on the loudspeaker thing, it seems like you locked in on the idea vety quickly. You show a graphic of the design process but it should be a funnel of ideas looking at

  1. what are you solving for?
  2. research into how loud speakers work
  3. broad ideation of many different archetypes
  4. concept assessment and testing
  5. concept down selection and refinement
  6. final concept iteration and detail/surface development
  7. final product

I feel like a lot of process is missing and there is a jump straight to CAD. Show more of your thinking and I think you will get better responses.

Thanks very much for your input slippy. That is my thinking as well, I just need to figure out a process where I can integrate the real ‘arty’ side of the course into my more industrial focused work. The Glasgow area is fairly dry for product design firms but I’ll be approaching the few that are here, even if they aren’t advertising. And I know what you mean, I definitely need to be doing more of this as well.

Cheers for taking the time to comment Ralph. I see where you’re coming from, my study and background give me limited experience in the business and selling aspect of PD but I would hope finding some work in the industry would help me gain more understanding. I agree with those sentiments, finding a position somewhere is my main priority right now. And I’ll be sure to work on my own projects.