General Problem: experienced 5yr product designer, ID his entire career, 30+ products-several award winners,… but is at the point where he feels a little trapped due to competitive design market. Market seems dominated by style preferences, software divides, limited staffing, hypercompetitive consultancies, no-ackowllegement-sending-job-posters. Oh, and excellent product designers around too.
More detail: his significant other has to live in a certain city for 5 - 7 years… Opportunities pop up often, but are never in the right city, and in this particular city there is a saturation of designers. He doesn’t want a divorce, nor to live 1200 miles away, and he doesn’t want to sacrifice the career he worked so hard to break into.
He has a trememdous desire to be a designer, savings, alot of ambition, and is trying to avoid becoming a manager / marketeer / leave-the-field-entirely guy, but doesn’t rule anything out. He wants to be a vaulable part of a design team directly infulencing new products and in a stable position.
What are his options for building himself to a higher level product designer? :
_- advanced surfacing classes to keep up with the bright alumni from schools? Cross the board software knowllege (Master of every known 3d program)
Leadership classes, or project management classes?
Da Vinci-like rendering abilities?
ME or materials knowllege to become the design engineer?
MBA to grow into a business roles… numbers! Excel spreadsheets!
religous IDSA/ID meeting attender to broaden networks?
pursue intersts, such as philosophy, sociology, language, etc…; potentially developing unorthidox problem solving abilities?
pursue enjoyable diversions to build charisma and conficence?
intern in abroad (China) to leverage the cultural and contacts? Intern in USA, with students for less money but broad experiences?
blow tons of money on a MA at Artcenter? Free design Edu in EU?
Masters in emerging degrees such as “strategic design”?
Hunker down and refine previous projects?.. make them what they could have been at the time of design sign-off?_
This hypothetical guy doesn’t have nearby role models. What would be the most effective to acend to a higher value of designer? My question to you is what do you think are the most valuable skills a mid-level designer should have to be a truely valuable comodity for a company?
PS - it is easy to say " decide what you like doing and perfect your skills in that" but what if you wanted to maximize chances of steady employment…[/b]
I will say this - if you want to do CAD for 75% of your job, then learn the surfacing stuff, unfortunately, as you become more versatile with CAD skills, your employer will undoubtedly put you to work doing all the CAD he has, I’ve been sucked into this CAD world - and had actually volunteered for it because I wanted to contribute, but now am locked in CAD monkey jail, and will probably have to change jobs to get out of it -
Don’t do it! don’t ever volunteer for big CAD assignments, it will lead you to a road you can’t turn back from, the world needs CAD designers more than ID guys, and any chance they get to have a CAD designer for the price of a lowly ID guy they will take it without hesitating (CAD guys make much more than ID guys). Once they see you can learn and do CAD well they will decide to keep you there - don’t do it!
Yes, but I used to work a corporate gig where I could just ride shotgun with a CAD designer or sketch on the orthographics, now I am that CAD designer with a little bit of ID work - unfortunately that may be the way all consultancies are going, because ID work can be done relatively fast - 2 weeks as opposed to 4 weeks alotted for CAD - I’m a conceptual guy, to have to do all the details is really excruciating. Sorry to moan so much, it’s just something I have recently been blindsided by and I’m a bit frustrated - and I try to warn others to avoid my doom! (scary noises in background)
Two of your suggestions seem to make the most sense to me: increase your networking base and slowly migrate into the management role.
CAD is not something you want to do in 5 years, right? Just imagine the software improvements in 5 years and what it is going to take to keep up. In comparison, your 10 years of experience (by then) will make you more valuable as a coach and leader of younger and likely more talented designers. You can hand out direction and manage the department and be proud of your role as they pay their dues on Alias.
I’d like to comment on a few things being said here.
Having great CAD skills can get you in the door, and get you some great opportunities, but it can also be a pigeon-hole skill. Same thing used to be said to those with fantastic rendering (hand) skills. Any designer can get pigeon-holed doing anything.
The key to not being pigeon-holed is to be a very well-rounded and driven designer. CAD is a tool. Much like Excel, Word, Photoshop or foam, it is a tool to deliver an idea. I firmly believe the person with the pen will go further than the person with a mouse in their hand. There is absolutely no contest in this.
Design is about thinking, first and foremost. Being a designer is not about hot CAD skills, sick photoshop rendering, beautiful hand renderings or killer foam models. It is about taking in information, synthesizing opportunities, communicating ideas and solving real problems for real people. Whether you use a pen, CAD or a foam model doesn’t really matter. Those are all just tools to communicate.
That being said, I again re-iterate that the pen is mightier than the mouse. A quick sketch/drawing can communicate volumes of ideas/info/possibilities in far shorter time than a CAD model.
As far as payscle goes, I would definitely argue that CAD and design pays the same. I would argue that the person who can think abstractly, take in data, find opportunities and deliver unique solutions will add much more value in the long run than anyone who is doing any one thing.
In design, the more you can do and be good at makes you more of a necessary asset than a one-trick pony that is viewed as a resource (and therefore more easily replaced!).
I agree, Problem solving is the most important skill for a designer, hands down.
Sometimes the solution is a new stylized iteration of a product, sometimes it is an innovative form applied to a problematic product to solve a user need, sometimes a killer rendering to sway a client to agree with your opinion or choose your company, sometimes it is a new way to lay out a product (in CAD) to make it more useable and advantagious - thus selling better and not irritating people soo much
so how does one get there and refine this skill?
I am going to get the vauge “practice” out of the way since it will surely will be mentioned… Maybe broad general knowllege and exposure to cross combine different ideas? consultancies vs Corporate design? wandering the world in search of innovation? Hanging out with creative people and environments? Reading designerly books about problemsoving and “case studys”?
First off - you can be a very successful designer. You don’t need to go into management, strategy, etc. You can be a successful designer for the term of your career.
First question - what makes you happy as a designer? What would make you happy as a higher-level senior designer? What do you want to do?
Whatever it is that you want to do should determine what skills you want to build up.
Approach your career as a design problem. Outline the career problems, find the opportunities for growth, start building solutions based upon what you want to do, and who you want to target. Be true to yourself! If you are happiest doing CAD, embrace it! If you are happiest directing a team of talented designers and watching them surpass you and your expectations, do that! Find what makes you happy and drive towards that.
But, learn that you will not be equally attractive to everyone. Some will say you lack the skills they need. Others will find you to be a great fit and want you as a part of their team.
Ultimately though, your professional happiness will rely on your internal happiness with how close what you are doing resembles what you want to be doing.
I could give you ‘regimens’ for what to build up to be attractive to several companies, but that’s just a short-term fix. Build the skills you want to build, and then find the firms/opportunities that will let you use your unique set of abilities to excel as a designer. And if the opportunity isn’t where you are, consider relocating (after a time) with your mate, or consider making your own company based around what you believe.
In response to you last direct question, Kelly, here are my thoughts…
Understand in painful detail how things are made. Materials expertise, process expertise and how to determine the right combination and choice. I cannot stress that one enough. Design consultancies that want to exist in the future will need to start manufacturing their clients products or their own products, and become experts in ‘delivery’ in every sense of the word. I’ve seen this with my own eyes (‘design’ firms I’ve worked with dried up, vs. firms with manufacturing as part of the service take off and double in size during an economic downturn!)
Know how to make good concepts. Know better how to build better concepts based on initial ideas. Know the difference between a good idea and a bad one. A ‘good idea’ is a equation of what will sell, what has worked in the past, what the client’s DNA is, what their customers DNA is, and finding the holes in which they can introduce things that will give them market share. Find a way to crush, maim, destroy or obliterate their rivals with better product.
Know how to pitch. Pitch yourself, your ideas, the best solution (and how it is the best solution for the client) Listen! Become an expert as listening to the client, understanding the problems and pitching solutions that make the client rich. Pitch is 50% thinking (being ‘smart’ and having a ‘story’ or extrememly logical and appropriate path of idea selection) 35% verbal (gotta’ carry yourself with an educated dialog) and 15% the ‘sketch’ of the idea.
Learn to speak ‘engineer’, ‘marketing’, ‘sales’, ‘manufacturing’ and ‘designer’. I can’t stress this enough. We all speak with different languages in product development. Understand what they all mean when they say xxxxxx or yyyyyyyy. Understand the verbiage, the big ideas and their intent. This comes with practice listening and asking a boatload of questions all the time.
Get real good at visually presenting your ideas. Sketch, CAD, it doesn’t matter. Be very fast and very good at it.
Does that help a little? It may seem overwhleming, but it’s a solid path (in my belief).