Corporate-level ID positions: massive talent contest?

I was always wondering how to break into the world of design consultancy or be an in-house designer for a mid-level to major consumer goods brand. So to enter these jobs, is it just a massive talent contest, where portfolios and experience from applicants are reviewed and then the company chooses potential candidates based on their preference? Is there more to it than this?

I was educated in product design engineering. In this career, it is possible to “climb the career ladder” by doing professional development courses, passing professional engineering exams while completing a work placement and in the end, getting a chartered engineering status. This process may take over 4 years, depending on how quickly I will progress through different stages. It is an absolutely objective way to get a high-level engineering position in any company, and it is all in my control - I get out what I put in.

In the world of ID, though, I fear that even if I produce an absolutely amazing portfolio, there will always be somebody better than me and there’s no way to predict whether I will get a job in that area. I just feel that it’s a more risky career. Do you people think that this is true or is there actually a more structured way to get an ID position? I always thought that ID is a highly subjective field, where your career depends entirely on your interviewer’s personal preference. A lot like getting a record deal as a musician.

I’d like to get opinions on this matter, and I would greatly appreciate your input. Thanks!

Yes, it’s a talent contest, but that is a good thing.

If the process of climbing the ladder in engineering is based on taking courses, serving a certain amount of time, and getting certified by someone how is that in your control? For any job you compete for everyone if equally certified is all viewed equally despite if some people might have better skills?

In ID is is all up to you. If you put in the work and have the skills, you will get noticed and get the position you go for. It’s not a question of someone else qualifying your or a certain number of years of experience. Yes, there might always be someone better than you. But that’s just the incentive to improve, right?

I suppose perhaps the comparison to how the job market works between ID and engineering is somewhat like ID and engineering itself. In engineering there might be a pre-defined path to get to the right solution, whereas in ID there is no one right answer and how you get there is up to you. It’s not that it’s subjective, just that it’s not strictly linear. A good designer is a good designer, it’s not up to personal preference though of course personality and other factors do matter.


I’d say along with having a great portfolio you need to start making contacts in the area you are planing on getting into. It’s as much who you know as what you know. Start chatting with design professionals on Twitter, befriend them on Core77, go to local design events and conventions and get your name out there. The more professional designers you know, the more potential leads/recommendations you can get, which is a big part of getting your foot in the door when job hunting.

Even in your example of the “objective” engineering example, there will always be someone who scored higher on a test, had an additional work placement, or a placement with a better firm… and then, even in the rare situation that all things are equal between you and another candidate, it will come down to the subjective decision of who do they want to see every day.

There are things you can do to better yourself, but the decision lies on the other side of the table. As an applicant, what you control is how you prepare and present, maximize that, no matter what the profession.

Now, design, not just industrial design, but all design, has the additional factor of our process containing many subjective decisions often based on inductive reasoning and intuition. This is much harder to objectively evaluate. The evaluation itself takes much more skill, and inductive reasoning. I think this is what you may be responding to? A fear that your work will be discarded or chosen based on a subjective decision. If so, you are in a sense right. After designers meet a certain skill level, it becomes about how you put those skills together to produce something unexpected. The evaluation of which is very subjective, but the purpose here is to find an environment in which you are the right fit so you can excel and continue to learn.

As I mentioned above, there is always a subjective factor in hiring any candidate. In design, the hiring manager has many more subjective inputs to base his or her subjective decision on. In essence, I think we have a greater ability to see if there will be a personality fit because so much of our personality is in our work. A bit of a silver lining.

In the world of ID, though, I fear that even if I produce an absolutely amazing portfolio, there will always be somebody better than me and there’s no way to predict whether I will get a job in that area.

How was this any different than getting a degree in any field? A degree does not guarantee a job in any industry. Unlike engineering and architecture, there are no “professional” credentials associated with being an Industrial Designer, although I believe there should be.

I just feel that it’s a more risky career. … I always thought that ID is a highly subjective field, where your career depends entirely on your interviewer’s personal preference. A lot like getting a record deal as a musician.

You are correct in your evaluation; in my experience it is a far riskier career field. In a nut shell: companies seek “young blood” for fresh ideas and unbridled enthusiasm. Competition for the limited number of ID jobs is keen, and based on personal skills that are communicated visually (portfolio). By comparison to engineering pay, at entry and staff levels, is not equivalent. “Creatively”, people burn-out on their careers in this field. Advancement to upper levels of management is limited by the fact that, compared to “engineering”, ID is a much smaller field with few(er) opportunities.

Aside from the skills demonstrated via portfolio, an “interviewer’s personal preference” plays a great part in the hiring process, regardless of the field of endeavor. Skills and grades are not the only factors in determining if a candidate is a fit within an organization.

I can understand your concern and appreciate your point of view on considering a move into the creative side of product development. I think I may be able to share a few helpful insights you that might want to consider.

I agree with what others have posted, YES it is about the talent…but is also about your potential to function as member of a larger team. I think it depends entirely on what a hiring consultancy or corporate organization is looking for at the time of your job search. For example, a corporation may want to have a fresh designer right of of school if they want to explore new directions on a product line. Conversely, a consultancy may look for a more experienced designer (5 years +) who may have worked in a variety of roles such as production designer, advanced concept researcher, design researcher, consumer packaging etc… It simply depends on what roles are available at the time and who they already have on staff. If there is an available position that match your skills & qualifications then you at least have a chance.

There’s is nothing wrong with staying in your chosen career path. However if a creative role is where your passion is and where you want to be, then you need to accept that fact that there will always be a more"talented" designers than yourself, so… try harder.

If you desire to be in a creative role then your portfolio should represent not only your unique background in Product design engineering (which would be a major benefit for you), but also your ability to explore other areas that hold interest for yourself (perhaps something like: Consumer Product & Packaged Goods, Sports Equipment, Senior condo living, etc…or wherever you see an opportunity to evolve a product/service/experience in the market place), . Include these new projects in your overall portfolio and demonstrate your range. Talent is important, but so are compelling ideas that are well documented, and have a strong persuasive argument for a change.

I.D. has changed a bit the in the past 10 years, and perhaps not as risky as you might imagine. There are now many different facets of Industrial Design beyond the stereotypical Soft-goods-Apparel Design-Consumer Electronics, etc… (read through some the other recent Core77 posts to get a better idea). Emerging fields such as Design Research, Design for Business, Design Management, User Interface, User Experience and Design for Social-good are all part of the Design World. You may want to consider how your background could interact with these fields, then demonstrate a project or idea based on it.

One final note, even if someone has all the talent in world they still need the right attitude & positive outlook (especially during the difficult times), otherwise their opportunities will be few and far in between.

I don’t see it as that complicated. For any job posting, designer, engineer, lawyer, cook, whatever, you will get a dozen or so (maybe more in these times) people with the qualifications needed for the position. At that point, I choose whoever will fit best with the team. It really has nothing to do with your talent and has everything to do with what I need for my group.

All groups, the consultancy or corporate gig, need people at all qualification levels at some point. Unless you are extremely horrible, you will always be at some proficiency level that is needed.

And then don’t take it personally. A lot of people apply for positions where they don’t have the qualifications. You won’t get a call. If you do get a call, you have the necessary skills, you may not be the right type. Somtimes I want the A-type go-getter. Sometimes the introvert staying out of the way. etc.etc. All you can do is get lucky at the right time and right place.

What iab said. What you can control is trying your best to improve and show who you really are.

yo makes a good point. Clearly representing yourself is in everyone’s interest. If you don’t, from the employer’s perspective, we need to fire you and hire a new person which is a costly and timely matter. From your perspective, you have just burned a bridge if you misrepresent yourself. Burning a bridge is never productive. Never.

Thanks for great insight! So by the looks of things, would it be worthwhile to have a secure back-up job, if ID career is so volatile? I know that in design engineering, it is possible to get certified as a chartered engineer through personal effort, and it is a realistic option. Many people entering the profession are young college graduates. By the time they want to become chartered engineers, many quit and become management consultants or work in more lucrative careers.

One concern is that if I go into the engineering route, I simply wouldn’t have the time to concentrate on my ID portfolio. Do you think that it would be worth my while working on the design and development of very specialised products for niche markets? I mean, spending one or two years on developing one product, for example. There is a lot of this type of activity in Ireland, and I’m thinking of becoming involved there, as my options with my qualifications and experience are quite limited. Is this a good way to build a portfolio for a design consultancy job that may involve design of various different things?

I don’t think that developing as a designer really leaves any time for a plan B. Both feet in, or none at all in my view.

Great point, I’ve just experienced this. I should have read your comment before :wink:

My next question: what did Jonathan Ive or any other successful designers do to get a design job after university? Also, what what stories can you people tell about getting your first industrial design job? How did you manage to beat the competition? I know that everyone had a unique situation, but I would be very interested to know how much it took you to get a corporate level or consultancy ID position.

Right place, right skills, right time … and a “simpler” time; 1973.

I cold-called a local manufacturer that I knew had an ID department and asked the receptionist if I could speak with the Design Manager (with the intent of it being an informational discussion about their products and an opportunity to meet the guy). I got to see him after about forty minutes.

Turns out he needed a part-timer to do graphic layouts for home entertainment products. Six months later, after stepping up to more complicated assignments, he offered me a full time position.

Keep working hard until the stars align. It’s really about timing and chance. If an opportunity appears (someone you know, a listing online) and you are prepared for it (with a good folio), good things might happen.

A while ago, I happened to know of someone at the company, and they were hiring interns at the exact time I cold-emailed him. He liked my folio and forwarded it. Recently, I followed someone I admired on Twitter and sent a message saying how much their work inspired me – the person messaged back a few hours later asking if I wanted to interview since they had seen my work before.

I don’t necessarily think you have to be the most talented applicant. You need to impress them enough for an interview, where you will need to showcase other skills.