Choosing a senior project: real or conceptual

Hi all

I’m in the process of selecting a senior project. I have the opportunity to work with a local startup developing some web interfaces and some physical product (not as much as it sounds… a lot of their hardware is purchased kit from elsewhere; the most I’d be doing is putting a shell over it to make it look different. also a transportation bag/case). I have the opportunity to create a sub brand (they don’t want a rebrand of what they have already). Basically it’s not as sexy and I’m not as free to do what I want my last year.

The other opportunities are doing a design competition (INDEX challenge or iF concept award), where I get to do whatever I want and worry less about what the client wants. I’m free to brand as much as I can and focus on making great products from start to finish instead of coming in halfway when they’ve already got something.

Here’s my question: when hiring a junior industrial designer, do you think having done a “live client” project during school (not a sponsored one, but one where all the negotiation, contract, proposal was handled by me) will give me an advantage over just participating in a design competition?

Please help me out! Any advice would be appreciated.


Your senior project needs to showcase the very best of your talents all in one. I would rather see a brilliantly executed, real world project (IE something that is technically feasible now or within the next 2-3 years and not completely blue sky) than how you worked with a client. Reason is - many clients are jerks. You may do great research, then point them to opportunities which they ignore. The result might be a happy client but a project that isn’t all it could be.

Working with a client or an internship is great experience to have, but if you don’t have a rockstar piece in your portfolio that shows me all your skills I would view it as experience, but not as talent - and un-tapped talent is what many want in a junior designer. You have plenty of time to be taught the tricks of the trade, but if the raw talent isn’t showing through it makes it a difficult hire.

Hope that helps.

Do both. I did. The requirements for my senior project were pretty easy and weak so I took on a competition in addition to it, got an honorable mention and $500 too!