Hello all,

Long time reader here and I have a conodrum for those with a wealth of experience. I’m sure we all know that the first few steps you take after graduation are probably the most important, they can either make or break you. Spend to long out of a job right after graduating and you become unemployable. So how important is it to get the right job versus any job? What I am hinting at is can you for the first year(s) diversify slightly and specialise in an area realted to ID and yet still be considered for junior ID roles at for arguments sake Frog,Lunar, Fuse, Smart, IDEO etc… (I mean we all want to work at these companies right?)

By diversify I mean could you spend a year with a company that specialises in say ethonography and brand values, more strageic elements, (sort of what Travismo was eluding to in another post) that is at the top of its game (house hold name in the deisgn world) and whose clients are also house hold names. With the purpose of spending time to really hone that skillset to a high level but not necessarily having an outcome that is a physical product. Could you still be considered for a traditional ID junior role which take those with 0-3 years of experience. Obviously providing thaat your ID portofolio has insightful useful products and you have the traditional CAD sketching skills etc…

I’m quite curious to see how potentially fickle it can be to really progress up the ID heirarchy, once you step away from the path for a short time can you step back. How easy would it be for a junior to do this vs senior to management etc… has anyone done this ?


Great great question.

I have a multi tiered response but the short answer is yes, that is possible and you might find yourself actually more valuable.

Many of the firms you mentioned as being ideal actually have ethnography, and they have ID folks obviously, but they don’t have many people that understand both. It ALL depends on how you spin it. Some people coul have seen my years in footwear as limiting , but I was able to show that it wasn’t a footwear experience as much as I was an experience working fo one of the most recognized brands in the world, understanding that brands history, shaping it’s future, understandig different types of consumers, setting design direction, building and mentoring teams, understanding corporate culture, and workig with Asian manufactures… Very valuable things to a design firm, rather than “I designed some shoes”.

So this is what amount this work depends on:
1 first and foremost, you. Do you have the ability to put in extra to frame everything in ID terms? Takig your research and doin ID concepts when not asked for your portfolio and such.
2 the kind of experience. I it’s a house hold name wiu big clients that helps a lot I think. Had I been at a brand with less design cache it might have been harder. It also depends how much of a tangental experience it is. This is pretty related, so with a little extra work you could be just fine for when you are ready to move on.
3 framing the experience in a way the shows your value.

Good luck, would love to hear how it works out. These are always tough decisions.

Some good points brought up already, but I want to add some…

If you want to work in ID, you HAVE to be able to do the same skills that other people competing for jobs can do. Sketching, CAD, Rendering, understanding production, etc. Unless you want to be a design researcher or other similar role, two years in ethnography work will only be a plus that will put you ahead of similar applicants, but not a replacement for ID skills.

One thing you may find if you take jobs outside of ID is that life is a lot easier, and you may find it very hard to come back to the travails of the design world. I took several fringe ID jobs over the years, including GUI interface design and human factors, and the workload/hours/pay were radically different than industrial design. Many of the guys I graduated who went those paths of lesser resistance now have radically different lives than I do - much more comfortable and more financial security. They would be very hard pressed to give that up to go back to the commitment that can be industrial design. (That’s just my take, some ID guys have very different careers than me)

That said, it could open doors for you. I know 2 ID undergrads who did an MA degree focusing in ethnography/strategy - now they are director of research and head of 3d design at top 5 global design companies. There are also very interesting fields outside of ID that are worth learning about in-depth, and only you can determine how to bring that back to the design world. Every hear of Valerie Casey, spearheading the designer’s accord and a super sharp design thinker? She has a background in cultural theory. Designer Adam Richardson has an MA degree in humanities and is now a key part of Frog Design leadership.

I’m actually taking some time to study something a little outside of ID, Brand & Design Strategy, but I specifically want to work in ID after - I’m doing it to give my perspective on projects more depth. I have 10+ yrs experience, and feel I have a good idea of what I want to learn. Since the activities are very different from ID, I do freelance design work on the side and do projects for myself. It doubles my workload, but I am very firm about what I want to be doing afterwards. I’m not under any illusions - I have to do it and not only keep my skills up but improve. Sometimes I wonder if I should have invested my time in something more tactical, to really hone product design skills, but my logic is that this will develop my thinking on projects rather beef up my portfolio (kind of like teaching a man to fish, and he’ll never go hungry)…

Bottom line, I think you need to have some practical experience in ID before you stray to far out of it for secondary skills (even unpaid internships ). If you go that route, be sure you want to take on the extra commitment it will take to be competitive with the guys that sleep, eat, breath, the product design skills companies are looking for.

Every time I read posts like that, I’m happy when I just sketch out a concept and submit it to a gallery. The above stuff looks too extreme for me. So what if you can’t get into Frog Design? You can go on and enjoy the smaller things in life. After all, designers are supposed to pick out the tiny and also insignificant things out and enjoy them :wink:

There is as much challenge in designing something for a small business that is not performing very well as there is in working in a major consultancy. Maybe you don’t get as much feedback and mentoring in the former position, but you still get to design.

ExperiMental: everyone has a unique definition and set of parameters around success and happiness. The designer who is totally happy designing delving into the depth of a simpler product for a small company might be miserable at the big firm and vice versa. Neither is wrong, it depends on what the individaul wants, and the OP stated he wants to work for a big firm, so that is how both Trav and I have framed our advice.

Otherwise it’s like planting a cactus in a rainforest and saying to it “look at all these other plants, they’re flourishing here, why can’t you?” but he can’t because he is a cactus and he needs the dry desert. Different strokes for different folks. Neither set of plants is wrong, they just need their own environment to thrive. The plant that can do we in most any environment must be very rare, though some do well in a variety of settings… I think I rode that analogy too far?

@Trav. Thanks for underlining the fact that this will take a lot of extra hard work to really pay off. Agreed.

that came out a little intense…sorry! :open_mouth:

I disagree there are only 3 worthwhile grad schools, but if you’re making your undergrad work, congrats - you rock .

So to the OP: IMHO, you should think about what you want and make sure you give ID a solid try before you take the other jobs. If you want the jr designer position, and failure isn’t an option, you’ll get it.

If you have to take a job to keep afloat, keep improving in your spare time, you can get there

Many thanks for advice, It’s what i wanted to hear… there is a chance. My main concern was at a junior level would i be shooting myself in the foot taking a year to get specialist knowledge. Should emphasise I dont plan on doing this long, ID is my bread a butter, but it was a unique opportunity to really expand on one particular area which would have been hard to do on my own. I should mention I wouldn’t even consider it if they wern’t at the top of their game and major clientel.

I’m sort of lucky in a way, I’ve got the skill set, Some sketchwork should be publsihed soon for a large ID organsiation (don’t want to say what yet as the publication may not happen and that certainly would be egg on the face!) had 1.5 years of consultancy experience (all be it not at the big firms and at intern to junior level) but I have been exposed to sewing the seeds, banging out the concepts as well as dealing with clients and the business side of things, placed in a few gobal competitions, exhibted etc… What i dont have (despite interviews) is big name experience as of yet, and really I was just looking for clarifation that I wouldn’t be shutting doors and could potentially be adding some significant value to my employability.

As mentioned by Yo our wants from designer vary, for me I think the role of the designer is to serve. My satisfaction is desiging a product\service \experience for the user which they didn’t know they wanted. Therfore ensuring that the design work hits the masses improves the satisfaction reward. In order to deliver better solutions\ serve better I believe you need to learn from the best, be well mentored. The best places to do this are at big firms with a plethora of talent amongst their ranks.

I would rather try, and not give up, than settle for the small things at the age 23, plenty of time for comfort (touch wood).

Fingers crossed this gamble pays off!

I think what you said is awesome. With that kind of attitude, I’m sure you will find good opportunities

I’d say go for it but proceed with caution.

Without getting into real specifics that “show my hand” and reveal too much here about myself I’ll give you my words of caution. I’m finding myself in a situation where I haven’t really gotten the right kind of experience in the industry and I’m struggling at little bit at this point with it.

I graduated in 04 and found a job with a company that did not really have any active relationships with designers in the past. I sold the company on my talents and what I could offer them, and I eventually found that there wasn’t enough steady relevant work for me to do there. A lot of my time ended up being spent doing BS work, like being the defacto “IT guy” because I knew more about computers then most of the office staff, and for the same reason fixing the jams or software issues with the shipping label printers! :frowning:

So I left that job and in much of the same fashion went out and found a new job with a company that sadly was much of the same situation. Another small organization that didn’t have an in-house designer previously and didn’t fully utilize me. In the end, my job was eliminated because the business was struggling and I wasn’t necessary to the day to day operations in their eyes.

Now I have almost 6 years of experience and I’m finding myself “behind” in where I should be portfolio wise and experience wise. This time around I REALLY feel a strong need to work in an environment where I’m working with other Industrial Designers and there is greater opportunity for professional development. I have gained valuable experience with overseas manufacturing, trade show booth design, and graphic design because they put me into those roles as well, but I didn’t get enough active opportunity to really further my design skills.

So my advice would be to take this opportunity for the short term because it’s better then selling TVs at Best Buy, but keep on actively looking for a true design job and don’t let yourself get complacent where you are at.

Thanks for the candor unaffiliated, that is a great cautionary tale.

I know a designer who was working for a great engineering firm, but he was their first designer and right out of school. He reached out to me for mentorship and I did as much as I could without getting into confidentiality and IP issues. Once we got up to the point where for him to improve further, we would have to go deeper in our conversations, we proposed making me a paid mentor/consultant yo the firm, so I would sign and NDA and be compensated for my time as well. We have been doing that on a monthly retainer basis for two years and this particular designer has grown in leaps and bounds. With me transitioning to frog design, we are putting the relationship back to the informal mentorship status, the designer is ready to fly on his own, and the firm is ready to hire another designer. Win win.

Anyway, a long way for me to say find a mentor!

without trying to sound to much of a brown noser here. I think that your an exception Yo. I’ve met a few extremely tallented, season veterans who offer great advice when you meet face to face in places like crititques and interviews but unfortunately can’t or some un willing to give their own time up. I do wish and hope more would follow this sort of scheme.

Threads like these have some really valuable info for someone like me whos about to go Live… Thanks!

Wait a sec, Cactus’s cant grow in the rainforest ?!

that shatters my whole ecosystem

“Cacti” that is…

Damn… when i was typing it I knew it looked wrong but i couldn’t for the life of me remember the proper spelling

Severe Dyslexia is a pretty good excuse for poor spelling :stuck_out_tongue:

I hope there are more out there and they are just a lot quieter and less brash than I, but maybe you are right. Please remember this in a few years when you are in the position to give back. Our profession needs practitioners who are also mentors, advocates and evangelists.

Our profession needs practitioners who are also mentors, advocates and evangelists.

Word… .

We should have a secret society, a designer version of the Illuminati :smiley:

we do actually… oops, I wasn’t supposed to say that.

Good for you man! It’s great to see somebody giving back like that.

I think having a real mentor and working with people who truly understand the design process better is what I’m really looking for in my next job. My dept. head in this last position thought that we should be just “tap the magic box with our wand” and PRESTO! have a fully 3D modeled and rendered design concept in half an afternoon! Not working with people who understood the capabilities and limitations of design really has hurt me in my job opportunities.