How important is it to find a niche in ID?

I just started my first semester in ID and while all my current courses are of an introductory nature to the field and graduation day is a few years away, I’m starting to wonder how important it is to find a passion early on that should ultimately reflect in one’s portfolio~ Did you all know what you wanted to be doing out of the gate when starting? And how close were your aspirations when matched to actually reality?

Or can one get by by honing most of his skills to get a job in, say, a consultancy firm, i.e. becoming a jack of all trades~

There was nothing more I wanted to be than a car designer. Dream job was working for Pininfarina. I had a subscription to Car Styling. I had tons of ideas.

Then I took a semester of car design. As it turns out, the reality of car design is much different from my idea of car design. I now have little interest in it.

There are some niches where I think specialization would be helpful - cars, shoes, toys, furniture and maybe a couple of others. Other than those, “consumer goods” pretty much covers everything else.

I had an interest in medical devices and did a few projects in college. My first job, I freelanced for almost a year, was all consumer goods. But the second job happened to be with a consultancy where 90% of their work was medical. That experience led me to really enjoy the “niche”. I have little desire to do much else.

But again, I found that after I finished school, not during. So unless you have a penchant for shoes or cars or whatever, I wouldn’t worry much about a niche.

school tends to train you for the broadest choices. unless you are at a schoool with a specialized curiculuum, it’s a moot point. Things will sort themselves out, try a bunch of different things this year and see what happens.

You need to seek out your passions and dispel any illusions that exist in your perception of that field or niche.

Finding a lucrative niche is not as important as working in an area that provides the highest amount of satisfaction. Hopefully you can combine these two.

While you’re in school, you’ll definitely be more enthusiastic working on projects you have some passion for, and consequently you’ll probably do better work on them. If you can manage to find something in every project that you’re passionate about, all the better. It will show in your work and in your presentation of that work.

A niche in product design doesn’t have to be a certain type of product, either. Your niche could be your process. You could find that you are the type of designer that works best making a fine arts piece out of your products, or solving nuts and bolts functionality issues, or researching and problem-solving big ideas. The great thing about our field is how far-reaching expertise in design can extend.

I know this isn’t a very direct answer to your question, but figuring out the type of designer you want to be coming out of school likely won’t be a direct route. Find something in every project you like, figure out why you like it and start building a plan from there.

Your niche can also just be your personality that fits on a given design team. For instance, we could both write design ‘manifestos’ for our resumes, and use completely different word choice but say essentially the same thing. Sketching can be a niche, but it’s also a fundamental need - you have to at least be able to communicate your ideas well enough so people see the potential. Others can be outstanding color/material/finish sensitivities, trend awareness, knowledge of design/product history, being tech/industry savvy, high-level engineering problem solving, user interface, being a tinkerer, curious, following art, experience from a different industry, ethnography/people skills, presentation skills, etc.

I wouldn’t paint yourself into a corner right now, as others have said. They are all necessary tools for a well-rounded designer, even if you personally are strong at one or two. Most designers try to improve in most of them when they can.

Internships can be key to helping you find out what you like. What industry, what style of workflow, what kind of team, etc. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I had 3 internships under my belt. By that time I had the skills and the focus to go after it and I could be genuine because I knew what I wanted. An opposite example of this would be the ARRRGGGGHHHhh thread. I think most of those prospective designers don’t know what they want yet. =)

I found myself wondering this same thing a few weeks ago being a student that’s still unsure about what goes on within the industries of industrial design. Specifically, I wondered how people ended up in highly regarded studios like BMW Design Works or Peugeot Design Lab versus companies like Frog or Ammunition, did they have to tailor their portfolio and focus all of their work that way? Is it a skill level thing? I’m still quite unsure how people end up at the companies they get to, especially in the automotive field. But nevertheless these answers are great!