going it alone...

hey any tips for keeping up with design when you dont have a job?
ie, just finished uni and can’t get a foot in the door. is it possible to start a business? furniture? modelmaking? concept? modelling?

help! i’m going crazy at my lame job and need to get the ball rolling.

how did everyone go about it when they finished study?

I’m sorry to say it, but chances are that it’s not going to be easy.

That said, getting your foot in the door isn’t impossible. It’s usually linked to your desire to keep pushing, your ingenuity, and your tenacity.

Some people have great luck and opportunities right out of the gate (talent ususally isn’t the reason… help from professors, parental contacts, personal contacts etc, are the things that get you jobs). My best advise is to assess what your skills are at this point and to get a job that will allow you to utilize those skills while developing others. Unless you have great contacts at many design firms who are currently hiring, you’ll probably have to start somewhere that is not an industrial design firm. But, you need to do it with a long term goal in mind of where you want to end up.

Take a job with a manufacturer (as an engineer or in the test department or as a mechanical or technical person) to learn how things are built. Spend time in a design firm within another industry. Both of these suggestions will provide you with real experience that can be DIRECTLY applied to an industrial design job. Then, with two or three years of experience under your belt, you can apply for the design job that you want with more than a portfolio of student projects.

My own path has included Graphic Design, Engineering and Field Service, and Industrial Design for an Architecture Firm. Most people in our field don’t go directly to their dream job, and many many industrial designers never work for consultancy firms.

As for freelancing, if you can get it, take it. But make sure that you charge what you’re worth (see www.creativelatitudes.com for an example of what you should change for your services).

I agree with spackleboy. I took many crappy jobs untill I got the job that I have now. I worked for companies such as Revlon and multiple small firms taking freelance jobs. Most of these jobs were not industrial design but still gave me experiance in the “design world”. I now work for one of the largest candy manufacures in the world doing industrial design and 3D modeling and this is all because I didn’t give up. If you want it you can get it, it just might take time and you might struggle for a little bit but trust me it pays off in the long run./

And just for a little further levity (sp?)…

I spent four years as a engineering design manager for a company that manufactures automatic door systems for mass transit vehicles (subways). Not pretty industrial design… no sketching… run by bean counters… but I got my hands dirty, had to learn on the fly and in the field, SOLVED REAL PROBLEMS, LEARNED HOW TO ORGINIZE AND MANAGE AND LEAD, etc…

good kind of experience.

It really is about sticking at it,
I scraped the excess glue off the edges of furniture panels for nearly 6months (after 7 years of design education), but while I was wiping down and scraping I saw every process in that factory, how and why everything was being done and in what order. From the sheet material being delivered, through to finished products being loaded into lorries to be delivered to the customer.

Shit job but Invaluable experience.

Hang in there man, and best of luck.

When I graduated I had a sweet internship that paid well and gave me access to high profile projects, the problem however was that the team I was on was so good that we finished the project earlier than expected and the “bean counters” shook our hands for a job well done and proceeded to walk us to the door. Not good.

After that I waited tables and did odd jobs, talked to professors, talked to friends, and did a lot of research on what companies were in my area. I had a lot of dead ends but I did get some good interviews which let me know what kind of place I didn’t want to work at and which ones I did.

It took me about four months to find the job that I’m in now but things here are much better than at some of the other places I could have gone.

Just make sure your resume and portfolio images are cleaned up and look good.

Your team was so good that they kicked you out?
Hello? is that what you say in your portfolio?

Not what I was saying,

We were doing a lot of complicated work and there was a consensus among the team that if things went well then we would be kept on for other projects. At least thats what we were led to believe. I say “so good” sarcastically because we worked ourselves right out of a job.

We thought that if we worked our asses off and got the job done under budget and ahead of schedule then there would be some reward in it for us. Instead they decided that as long as they were saving money by having the project done they would save even more by letting their design and engineering team go.

I guess thats how they roll. Sorry its hard to convey sarcasm sometimes, I hate writing in all caps and bold.

I graduated in 1998, a bit of a recession year, at least that’s what we all say when we don’t get jobs right away. it took me 6 months to land a decent job. I freelanced for a couple of months here and there, but mostly I was living with my folks, pretty depressed, thinking about getting a job at the mall.

What I decided to do was to work on projects as if I had a job. I would go down to the basemeent, where I had set up a crude studio (ping pong table as drawing desk, a bunch of bullitin boards to tack stuff up) and sketch on projects. Renderings, control drawings, sometimes models if I could afford the foam. At the end of every few weeks I made new mailers with new stuff and sent them out. It worked. 6 months later I got a job at a great little design firm, stayed there 5 years.

Work on your portfolio pieces as if it was a real job to keep your skills up. Those pieces will most likely be better than your school stuff you had to do while worrying about your english final, etc…and they’ll probably represent more things that interest you. During any downtime I’d work on the portfolio, new projects, get better at sketching, or learning a new program to increase my marketability. The whole key is to stay in the work mode. It’s really easy to fall off, get depressed, watch too much tv during the day, and lose that drive if you don’t keep doing it.
Make sure you keep busy. There’s plenty to learn to always upgrade yourself. Don’t stop until you have to turn down offers. If that’s not happening, then there’s more work you can do.
Good luck.

I seem to want to play the devil’s advocate here.

It sounds like you already have a pretty decent career as an Engineer.

If ID is what you want to do, you definitely need to re-cast yourself as an Industrial designer, and show a portfolio that reflects that knowledge base.

Engineering background is in my experience looked upon as inappropriate for the ID path, and vice-versa. I guess what I’m saying is, the grass is always greener, and engineering career for you may be more fruitful in the long run…

Two cents, but I also know the pull of doing ID, it’s so ‘magical’…


Assuming that your comments are in response to mine, I agree with most of what you say… In fact it was maybe a more directs assessment of the point that I was trying to make.

I tried for some years to get some dream job at a design consultancy firm with zero success. The jobs that I ended up with in the interim were at first to pay the bills, and then later became vehicles for me to grow and seem myself and my skills in a new light. I guess that my cynical view of my engineering career comes from an abusive boss in a thankless and exhausing working environment that began to seriously affect my life. But, the work was good and I learned a lot of invaluable skills that directly apply to whatever it is that I ultimately do.

There is some sort of “magical” pull to what we do here that I think centers around the ideal of being paid to sit around and sketch and think and criticize the world… or whatever it is that we’re accused of doing. I think that most of us know that that isn’t reality. I think that the skills come from being able to be honest with yourself about where your skills lie, and then being able to position yourself based on those skills.

Tho I don’t understand how an engineering background could be inappropriate for an ID path, since both disciplines are centered around problem solving. Care to elaborate?


Yes, in an inadvertent way I was referring to your inputs-
I was also mistakenly reading the other post, I got things a bit confused.

What I meant about and engineering path being possibly inappropriate for entry into ID is that I have been at times noticed prejudice over performance ability, and understanding the role of ID.

I have personally found that others (other engineers, project managers, and other disciplines) perceive industrial design as not possessing the needed ability to handle ‘real’ design issues. Again, this is a perception issue and to some extent can be resolved with education and performance. But I have personally been typecast as a designer that is better at engineering than form, or vice-versa-depending on who I worked with. I also feel it has to do with other people thinking that I as an ID’er would be overstepping my bounds, and prying into other’s work… weird, but true in the business world… that said, I have been accused of trying to take on too much… But the problem is that it’s in the best interest of good design for an ID’er to get involved with just about every step of the process….

B -

Generally, I agree with your assessment of the situation, and have also found myself lumped into these different categories, preconceptions, prejudices…whatever.

In my mind, I think that the problem stems from us as ID’rs (and this may be a whole different post in itself) when WE aren’t even sure what it is that we do. It’s why my recommendation to the orignial post-er offered the advice that it did. In my experience, many young Id-ers (either intentionally or not) lump themselves into style and flash and zoom and purposely shun the dirty underbelly of the manufacturing side of design. As a result, we’re not as marketable as “designers” in the sense of really designing a product, but rather as one small part of actually bringing a product to market… which supports your statement that Id-ers need to be involved in every step of the process…

But I would content that as designers, we need to work towards being able to manage every part of the design process… not just participate. After all, we’re the ones who thought of the damn thing in the first place.

Sooooo, my point is that I think that we already ARE engineers (or should be) in ADDITION to ID-ers…etc. I think it’s that hat saying, or something.

True, hats we do wear, and many of them…

I also think as a profession, part of our charter is helping other team members understand not only what we do and can offer in service, but also what the potential performance enhancements in process/quality systems and User experience ID can bring to the company. There are always the cliche gaps that need to be filled between marketing and R&D… This is somethng i am tyring to deal with now-
thanks for the input-


So what advice do we have for our friend who started this post?

My advice is to expand your views/opinions/possibilities/preconceptions of what we do as a profession, and to always make sure that your steps work towards an end goal.

or something like that.

well said-
Intellectual flexibility is very important not only in this field, but in everything we do as people/designers. Now, I shall hover off my obi-wan kanobe soap box…

thank you everyone so much, you’ve all been an inspiration!

it’s good to know that mostly everyone was in the same boat as I am. and yes it is depressing when you come out of uni with all these dreams and hopes and find it’s near impossible to achieve them.

the other thing is i’m in australia, and the ID industry is miniscule. I’m looking to get into film (set design) or interior design, but at this stage i’d probably take anything. and by the sounds of it it’s always the last thing you’d expect that works out the best.

I’m working on expanding my portfolio and god knows i can improve on lots of things. I never really felt like I had an opportunity to shine at uni, cos of other commitments and deadlines.

YOu tend to feel like a real loner in ID cos no one even knows what you’re talking about let alone does it for a living.

but i need to keep my mind working and focus on the goals. i’m seriously thinking of quitting my full time job at the moment so i can work casual while I search for work, and still pay the bills.

but i have other goals like travelling, i bet there’s more of a design scene in europe!

thanks again everyone for your kind and encouraging words!