Generalists in Design Consultant Firms

I am currently an IT project manager (implementation side) that has a strong interest in entering the world of design consultancy. I have an undergraduate engineering degree, but do not wish to enter as an engineer (it certainly wasn’t my first love). I have software development experience, but again, not where I want to spend my time. I have a large amount of experience in data analysis and typical managerial activities, including cost/benefit analysis, long-term planning, project trajectories and timelines, etc.

I know I want to enter the design world, and preferably on the side of physical, not software, products. I think the atmosphere of a design consulting firm would suit me well. I am looking for the fast-paced, team-oriented problem solving that comprises much of their jobs.

However, I am unsure as to how I would fit in the organization or how to “market” myself to those types of companies, since I have little experience in the types of product design I would be engaged in. My overall work experience totals just over three years, with two of those being in management.

My question is: what types of jobs are available in these companies that I might be qualified for? Are there non-management positions for generalists? If so, how do I market my skills so that I make myself look the best to these companies? Please let me know if further information about my background or desires would help you provide a more helpful answer. I appreciate your time and responses.

Well, either no one works for a design consulting firm here, or they are worried about revealing jobs to non-designers!

Can I be more helpful or descriptive in posing my question, or does no one really have an answer for this one?

Thanks again!

I’m not too sure where to place you. You’re an IT project manager with the majority of your experience in “data analysis and typical managerial activities, including cost/benefit analysis, long-term planning, project trajectories and timelines” and yet you want to get into the physical side of design.

This would be a very difficult position to find, as you’ll be competing for that job against zillions of hungry industrial designers with a portfolio fatter than a 5 Terrabyte drive (sorry for the IT analogy).

With your experience you could maybe get into the firm as a project manager working with researchers and strategists. This is a spot reserved for analytical types like you with an interest and understanding for design. Look for the ID firms that tout research on the first couple of pages of their site. Many firms are just getting into it and are very open to accepting a wide range of disciplines into this relatively uncharted area.

Hi there,

Even though I know it’s not what you want to do…I think with most design firms your best shot would be to try to enter as an engineer. The combination of your lack of design training and the high level of competion for jobs even among trained designers make getting hired as anything else unlikely (in my opinion of course…)

If you can get hired on as a mechanical engineer at a design consultancy you will still be involved in the design process. However without going back to school and getting a specific education in ID it will be really hard to get a job where the “design” side of product development is your primary responsibility.

I understand it’s a pretty big transtition. The truth is, I did internships in physical product development, and then went into IT to try something different after college. I’ve realized I want to make the transition.

I just have to believe there are people on these project teams doing something other than prototyping and engineering design. Who is doing the end-user research, and working with the client?

I appreciate your advice, and I will take it into consideration when I start looking again. I think my best bet probably is on the research side. I am also looking into part-time programs in product development to help augment my skill set. Do you feel this might be helpful?

Thanks again.

You might consider a product development degree at a place like Northwesten. I think they offer a two year mba type program, which would make you more marketable.

Sounds like an interesting program…do you think, after the completion of something like this, I apply as a management candidate, even with no physical product experience? Or, do I apply as a peon hoping to move to management?

I think you’re best bet is to do a 9 month Masters degree (such as the Masters of Design Methods MDM) at IIT. Then get into design.

I can understand if I want to be a designer that being the best route. However, there must be positions within these companies that don’t require a design background. A business is still a business, even if it is in a hip industry like design.

I think a position similar to what I might be looking for can be found at Frog Design as a “strategy analyst” or “design analyst”. They certainly aren’t management positions, but they could certainly lead to a management role. To other major design firms have similar roles that you are aware of?

Further, if I was looking to get more into design/innovation strategy, are there firms that would be better to look at than pure design consulting firms like IDEO or design continuum?

Again, thanks for the insight, it is greatly appreciated.

trittium06,
I you get a chance you should read “The Art of Innovation” or more recent “The 10 faces of innovation” by Tom Kelley from IDEO. These books will give you a great insight into how one of the biggest consultancies in the US works and the type of people they hire. I found both books very revealing and I think that if you want to enter Design/Innovation then you need to learn from these pioneering firms.

You are right… Frog, IDEO, even Apple have many roles that don’t require Design-specific backgrounds, though they do help. I think your Engineering Degree and experience in with Software Dev would come in handy… Interface design is very big now and you could find that you’re mix of talents is just what a company is looking for…it’s just a matter of finding the right job and using your wit and determination.

As PaulH mentioned product design (especially with popular ‘cool’ firms like IDEO) is Very very competitive and you will be competing with Industrial Designers, Graphic Designers, Mech Engineers, Electrical Engineers, Human Factors people with Social Science Degrees, people with MBAs or dual degrees and people with plain guts! So it all comes down to how you sell yourself and what you can bring to the table.

In response to your questions about “other” companies into Design/Innovation there are plenty… P&G (Procter & Gamble) springs to mind, which is highly innovation driven… read the book it’s filled with Case studies.

Hope this helps.