Design Skills: Which Matter Most?

We all know that being a great industrial designer isn’t as simple as being a good sketcher, having a creative personality, or observing objectively. Being a great industrial designer requires a nuanced balance of many important skills and personality traits, but which matter the most?

In an effort to better understand and organize a young designer’s skill set, I’ve initiated a survey to gain insights from industrial design managers around the world. The survey is a brief set of 7 questions that asks design managers to record their preferences when interviewing junior designers. With the insights from this project, I’ll distill the results into guidelines that will help young designers better develop themselves.

If you’re an industrial designer who is or has been responsible for hiring co-op, intern, or junior industrial designers, I hope you’ll participate. If you don’t fit the profile but are still interested in the project, please share it with your team to help me get a diverse set of responses.

Great idea! I’m goin to pass this on to some other directors. Please post a link to the results! I just finished he survey.

Once we figure this out we will just have to solve which is better, mac or pc, then what the difference between product and industrial design is, and lastly, where to find a heap loft near Pratt. (the last onside joke is for the long time members)

I did it.

Don’t really follow the format of the survey though.

First question, wouldn’t almost everything be of high importance? For the others, I don’t see how you break up different aspects into different questions to choose 3 from. Seems kinda random. I’d be hard pressed to see how you could get anything useful from this. It all felt a bit all over the place…

Good idea behind though, but feel like a better structured survey would be more useful to get good results (such as ranking different aspects from 1-10, etc. comparison of aspects such as aspect 1 vs aspect 2, then aspect 2 vs. aspect 3, etc.).

As has been said elsewhere, good survey results are only as good as the survey design itself.


Thanks R and M for filling it out. I have a good start, but I hope to get to quantitative numbers.

Richard - to answer your questions about the survey. It is structured into four categories:

  1. presentation/execution (how important is the communication of the idea, be that a sketch, rendering, model, or presentation?)
  2. solutions (how important is the actual solution, outside of your ability to communicate it?)
  3. problem idenfitication & framing (how important is it to pick the right problem to solve, or find the root of a given problem?)
  4. personality (how important are personal traits, outside of skills?)

I’ve asked respondents to weigh these four and then select some of the most important aspects within each. I also asked a question in a negative context to try to correct for the framing bias. I considered other ways to structure the questionnaire but this seemed the best because it’s the most “apples-to-apples” format I could come up with. Alternatively, I thought that asking someone to compare, for instance, “ideation sketching” vs. “positive attitude,” or having them rank too many items would eventually frustrate them and, as you indicated, lead to bad results. I may do follow up work (hence the email request) to further validate or to look for differences between the feedback and how people actually act in the moment.

In response to your comment about the four categories all being “very important,” I think some people would agree but I wanted to test it out. I don’t want to speak too soon, but so far the results are interesting.

The bottom line is, I teach a course in design communication to juniors and this will be a great piece of research to drive their portfolios and presentations forward. We’ll all benefit as a result :slight_smile:

just did it

This is kind of like setting up a lunch date, and your guest says, “What’s more important; that I show up on time or go to the right place?” :slight_smile:

All of this stuff is important. Perhaps a more concrete metric for graduating, and in-progress students would be to see just what level of ideation sketches gets people hired, what level of 3D rendering is good enough vs. notably good. What quality of ideas and ethnographic research are really required? It could almost be set up like a database where you’d have running libraries of top level stuff. Core is already pretty good at showcasing top tier talent and skill so, it’s really about making sure all your students at least know what the best of the best looks like, because ultimately that’s what their competition is.

Yo posted a while back on the portfolios of some recent hires which was pretty cool to see.

At the junior class level in school, there’s still a lot of time to get people’s skills, thinking, and methodologies really cranking. It might be helpful on the first day to just run though some of the top work you find on Core. Inspire them a little, scare them a little. They have 2-3more years to practice, then after college, it’s the big leagues and you gotta be ready to play ball.

that is awesome! Prepare to be quoted on that one Brett!

Thanks, but actually not my quote. Credit goes to Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit. Still fitting though.

Perhaps titling the 4 different categories would help. To me it just seemed like random characteristics spread over 4 questions. Also the reverse questions seemed kinda annoying as I felt you already asked the same thing. I swear there was also a question following the initial 4 that was the same total characteristics, but just with more options (like from all 4 questions), so answered the same thing I already did previously. Again, I also think that ranking or weighting would be beneficial and would get better results (ie. instead of just picking the top 5, have me rank all 15 or so, or give each a score out of 100 that is appropriate. This would also allow for equal weighting on characteristics.

I like the goal of the survey, just not the format. Still, would like to hear more about the info you get and what if any conclusions you can make.


R - Thanks for the feedback. I added a title question to help give people some more understanding of the questions being asked. Hopefully that helps provide clarity. Your idea of a ranking (or maybe a likert) could be good if I do another round because it might add some depth to the feedback.

Brett - I love Crossfit, wish I could actually do it. And I’d rather show up to the right place :wink:

Thanks to everyone who’s filled out the survey so far, there are about 50 participants. I would like about 50 more, and what better day to do it than a Friday!

Here’s the link:

I would just like to point out that I looked for the basic skills in hiring, I expected to train through mentors and education, so while all skills could be said to be the most important, many, if not most, are learned through a persons career.

@design61 - I totally agree, I don’t think a junior designer must know everything or be perfect at anything.

Personally, I believe that for about 5 years a designer should try to get as broad a set of experiences as possible before they can accurately identify their strengths and their passions. A lot of new grads get good at something because they do a lot of work in that area right after school (CAD, sketching, category knowledge, etc). But that only means they have experience; it may or may not be a strength over the long term.

An alternate title for this research could be, “What skills and traits are most important for a designer to develop in school.”

This is also where the importance of “soft” skills come in. Professionism, passion, presentation, attention to detail…I’m glad to see you included those in the survey. Often, those are things that are harder to “teach” so even more important. In some cases it’s also a you got it or not situation whereas things like cad you can always learn/practice.


R - The soft skills were actually a big inspiration for doing the survey. Would you hire someone great at sketching but also a bit of a jerk? What about an amazing thinker who has bad social skills and won’t fit the team well? This is a loftier question than my survey alone will solve, but I hope to shed some light on things.

No and no. Good stuff and discussion.


Temperament and overall personality do play a huge role in the decision process. A lot of times it’s harder to find right personality than it is to find a well rounded highly skilled person.

so true. a lot of it is just being a good person, not too pushy, not too laid back, not too cocky, not too laid back, not a total workaholic, not lazy… fine lines, balencing acts, and shades of grey there.

I wouldn’t either. There is nothing worse than having someone that doesn’t click on the team… it’s like saying would you put this amazingly piston, that happens to be the wrong size, into your engine… it isn’t going to work.

Those were rhetorical questions, but thanks for answering them any way :wink: I have a feeling that some of the personality aspects will be hard to test/analyze in this survey, but I’ll do my best to look for indications after the responses are in. It’s just so much easier to give things like “sketching” the quick vote. I’ll need to think through how best to do a qualitative follow up to tease out more nuanced information about personality. Any thoughts?

(About ten more surveys to go before I reach 100!)