Excitement quickly becoming trepidation. . .

I find myself in need of some kind words and advice from industrial designers with more experience than me.

My situation: I am beginning the second semester of my third year in college, but my academics are a mess. I’m a senior by credit level, a junior by year, and a sophomore by experience because I came into college with too many useless transferable credits and no idea what I wanted to do. I started my first year as a double major in Materials Engineering and Design. That year in design, we completed a CORE curriculum to help us decide what design discipline was right for us, and to develop a very basic portfolio to apply to that discipline for sophomore year. I finished the CORE, applied for and was accepted into the Integrated Studio Arts (fine arts) program, completed a semester with my double major in Mat E and ISA, and dropped the design major out of frustration and desperation after the suffering through the impossible workload of both.

Last semester I was invited to an ID senior studio that was sponsored by a well-known sports brand. I was brought in as ‘materials expertise’, but throughout the project I ended up falling into a design role and realizing that ID was the path for me. This was the opportunity I had been searching for after coming to the slow conclusion that engineering made me very unhappy. I lobbied the head of the department for the chance to transfer into the program and was accepted.

I am now in the second week of sophomore-level ID courses and loving the work, but I am also being harshly reminded of the competitiveness of design. My initial excitement for a fresh start is quickly turning to anxiety as I realize that I am lagging behind my peers in almost every way. I am unfamiliar with ID sketching practices, I’ve never used Solidworks, and I have fallen out of practicing creativity after years in engineering. I am also learning that the job market for ID is smaller than I thought, and relies heavily on connections and a strong portfolio, neither of which I have at this point.

By the traditional paths of advancement my school puts out, I should be landing an internship in my field this summer, but I am at a loss as to how I should market myself. My ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ approach has put me in a position that I am not exceptionally qualified for an engineering internship, and since I’m just beginning in ID I’m not sure anyone would want me for that either.

TL;DR: I would love some words of wisdom from designers who have beaten the odds and made a happy career out of ID. I put myself in a difficult situation and it will take a lot of work and determination to get out of it. What are the most important things to keep in mind when building a portfolio, practicing sketching, learning computer programs, and searching for internships and jobs?

Choosing design can be a tough road, but the journey is worth it in my opinion. If this is the work you enjoy doing I’d relax a little bit, and instead focus on doing the best work you possibly can. Everything else will hinge off of that. Connections are useless without the abilities to appeal to them. At least to me. I get portfolios from friend’s of co-workers kids all the time. If the portfolio stinks it is straight into the trash.

So, work on your core skills. Instead of worrying about not being able to sketch, correct the problem and work at it for at least 2 hours every day. By then end of the semester you will be great. Start a discussion in the sketch forum and post in it EVERYDAY. If you are dedicated to improving, you will do it. If you are not dedicated you reduce your odds in being able to make it. The answers lie within you, you just have to pony up to do the work.

I never really had a great internship, it took me 6 months to find a job after school, but I didn’t just sit around watching cartoons waiting for the phone to ring. I reworked a project in my portfolio every week Monday through Thursday. Fridays I would make new portfolios and send them out. Eventually I landed a job. 20 years later I’m a CDO at a decent sized company with an interdisciplinary team of designers. If I had given up in those first 6 months after school it would have all been wasted.

As far as your diverse background, in time this will be come an asset. A lot of firms like IDEO and Frog specifically look for people like you.

I’ll leave you with one last question. Would you rather fail doing what you love or be successful doing what you know you will hate? The answer to that question determines a lot of things.

I feel your pain… I think you’ll find this feeling crop up a few times more in your journey as a designer if your experience is anything like mine. The only way through it is to stick with it, I often think design is more about the way you think and the way you approach challenges, if you are naturally falling in to this role in situations then I’m guessing that’s due to how you think and approach a problem or brief?

All the other skills follow that intitial thinking, and utilise it throughout the process, in my opinion these skills are easier to learn than to change the way you think, so practice, then practice some more until all your other skills are where you want them to be, I know it’s obvious, but it’s true! (I’m pretty sure you’ll continue to work on them through the rest of your career?!). So keep your head up and knuckle down (is that an oxymoron?!).

As for the connections, if you don’t have them, then why not make them? And work on the things you want to share with them, they won’t give people jobs just because they know them if they aren’t any good. Design will always be competitive, I’d imagine there’s one or two areas or points in their career that most designers have struggled, but I think it’s worth the struggle. I started University without any background in art (not even at secondary / high school), and it felt like everybody else had even done an additional foundation year between school and university that I didn’t do. I didn’t think would be as big of an issue as it turned out to be in my first year… but I practiced, and I nagged uni friends to spend time with me and teach me what they already knew, I lurked on core77, and occasionally posted when I had the guts. It was a real confidence thing for me, but I think all the hard work paid off, I’ve reached a place where I use sketches to convey ideas more than I do words! I’m still learning, and still posting on here, but where before it was a struggle, it’s now something I love doing!

If you love it, keep at it and it will all pay off. :slight_smile:

  1. As Yo has posted before, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You have time to catch up.

  2. I’ve always found that self-motivation is the key to getting the most out of education. If you love the work, you will do the work. If you do the work, you get better.

  3. As for internships, milk your network and just make yourself available. Initially, I tried to get internships just at places I wanted to work and most of them didn’t take interns. I really should have canvased everyone I knew and then some. You can always back down if you land a spot at your dream company after all.

Thank you all so much for your insights; they have really helped put my mind at ease. Sometimes it simply helps to hear about the experiences of others who have had similar experiences.

Reading through these responses as well as other threads has inspired me to work on my hard and soft skills as well as develop my portfolio, resume, and website further. I hope to become more active here, so I hope to talk with you all again very soon!