I just got a job as an Exhibit Designer. I am formally trained as an industrial designer and in all honesty, this position isn’t exactly my dream job, I would much rather be designing computer peripherals. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the position. But I would be worried that this would affect my viability of being a product designer. Should I not stay longer than a certain period of time? Is there a skill set that I should maintain on my free time?
How will having this on my resume affect my viability in the Product Design realm?
In all fairness, I can’t complain. I know that there are thousands of designers out of work. I only want to arm myself with the proper knowledge from people within the industry.
First congrats on your new gig!! Like you mentioned, there are a lot of people out of work right now so any work is good work.
I will start by saying that your career is what you make of it. If you think this is going to be a dead end job then it will. But if you go in with the intent to learn, then you will come out with more and better experiences. We all have aspirations and dreams of our perfect job coming out of school. Sometimes they work out right away, but most of the time our careers a winding paths with ups and downs and new experiences around every corner.
I was in your shoes when I took my first POP/Pkg job. I thought I was going to get pigeonholed in a field that had very little respect in the ID world. I always thought that it was an area of ID that you fell into when there was nothing else out there (please, not trying to offend any POP/PKG guys). The reality is that it has taught me more about design than I feel I would have gotten any where else. It is a multidisciplinary field with fast moving projects that have major impact on user and shopping experience. I have been able to work on some great brands that have lead me to design everything from structural paper packaging and POP, to working with M&M’s characters and doing novelty toy design. Through this I moved up and began managing and much of what I do now is consumer centered design research and strategy work, which has been my passion all along. Nothing is better than seeing someone eyes light up over a simple candy bar or gift.
I guess what I am trying to say is, hang in there man. Soak up all you can. Keep an open mind. You never know where your career is going to take you. Give it at least a 1-2 years, if it still is not for you than move on.
Anything can become a pigeon hole if you allow yourself to be placed in a box! I know desiners who feel “stuck” in just about every industry: consumer electronics, footwear, automotive, soft goods… I even know designers who feel stuck as a consultant and feel they can’t go corporate. It is all in the mind. And as proof I know designers (a smaller amount) who have switched industries with seeming ease (though I know they worked hard at it)
The first step is defining yourself. When I first started at Nike they gave me business cards tha said “footwear designer”. I handed them back and told them to shred them and reprint them with the title “designer”. It was important that I see myself as a designer working at a footwear company rather than a footwear designer. Words matter.
The second step is turning those words into actions. While I was there I did my footwear work, and then some, I also worked on branding, retail environments, watches, eyewear, anything I could, even producing videos to communicate what I felt the philosophy of the company should be. Ontop of all of that, I did concept projects, competitions, freelanced, and steadily contributed here on core77 to keep myself connected to the larger design community. It ruffled some feathers, but I have things I want to do, and most people understand and are supportive.
The third step is letting people know about it. You have to communicate to others your vision of yourself, your actions, and what it all means to you.
So, do those things. You are already off to a good start by thinking about it.
All very good advice from above. I would stick with it for a couple of yrs. I started my career in UI/graphics design, then did some soft goods, then drums (instruments) and packaging design. At that time, since they weren’t considered ‘main stream’ ID product design, I thought I would get stuck doing it. Roll fwd 10 years… now I’m in medical device design. The UI helped me in designing heart monitors, softgoods in designing wearable prosthetics, drum instruments in designing surgical instruments, and packaging in designing sterilization trays for surgeries. I guess that’s my ‘connect-the-dots’ story. Sorry for the grammar and run-on sentences. Still recovering from the 4 day long weekend.
I am certainly the type to keep an open mind, so your recommendation really made me feel comfortable with this direction. I figured that I can learn a great deal. I always up for learning from others with more/different experiences than me.
Did you work in your free time on research and strategy work? Or did you incorporate that into POP?
I might have to ask for cards that say Designer… (: I can see the value in maintaining the bigger picture via self definition.
It is great to hear a transition scenario that is very close to what I want to do. I was thinking the same 1-2 year period (unless I find that I love it). Same here about the weekend. I have been working at a Sony store, Black Friday was nuts.
I did a small bit, but most of it was done through hard work and connections at Mars. We started to build a global
design organization and I made sure that I placed myself in the right places with the right people. I along with a couple others saw a need for consumer centered/strategy work and went for it.
Like mentioned before you have to define who you are as a designer. I knew that just being a packaging designer was not enough for me. I knew that my career could and was going to be more than that. Like yo mentioned before, like him I place myself in places that helped me grow and start to accomplish my goals. I still have many more to go. Although I did not give my business cards back, and I should have as my original title was “Packaging Industrial Designer”. Pretty awful!!! Because of my choices I feel I can move further than pkg.
Remember you are young and just getting started. Have fun and enjoy the ride. Figuring out who you are is going take time but enjoy the journey. You will be amazed where it takes you.
Edit: Check out yo’s post n his advice after ten years of experience. There is some great advice on career goals and what he ha learned through the years. I think is at least a couple years old but still great advice.
Great advice so far… you definitely have to define who you are (and who you want to be), and Justin’s Yoda-gold is life advice even, not just for jobs.
Another way to look at it is to think about a good professional designer that you respect, Scott Wilson, Scott Henderson, even guys from the forum like YO; they would definitely create kick-ass thoughtful exhibit designs if they took the challenge, they just chosen not to take those jobs. A good designer can do good work across specialities. They would get engaged in the problems & solutions, understand the limitations & constraints, and really meditate on how the exhibit could be amazing. You could do this too, even if you don’t plan to be there forever - make a few exhibits that a designer would be proud to show.
Since your worried about your ID career, this might help too: I started design school in landscape architecture, which I still love, got my first job as a corporate interface designer, and eventually made my way to traditional product design where I’ve worked for 12 years. I was worried at the time that I would never get back to ID, but the experience turned out to give me some unique skills. Around 2008, I spent a couple years designing cockpits and interior aerospace architecture, which is again outside the realm of traditional ID but is absolutely has engaging design challenges. I even did an exhibit design once with a very talented graphic designer, which was amazingly fun. I enjoyed every job and found challenges & solutions that I was passionate about that I am still proud of (unfortunately, there’s not usually a good time to show them nowadays)
You do have to keep your eye on the goal if you want to end up in product design, and keep up the skillsets that you need, but that’s not impossible. Make sure quality sketching is part of your workflow. Save some money at your job, buy a tablet PC and use it. Learn Solidworks Rhino or ProE. Learn about the exhibit design field and the guys who are pushing the limits, then try to do better. Do interesting projects in your spare time.
I could imagine an exhibit design portfolio that blows me away as a product designer, but I could also imagine a book full of boring predictable forms and graphics, shown in autocad elevations.
On business cards:
When I started my current job my new boss (employer) had a hard time
figuring out what job title they would give me, as I didn’t fit in any of
the given boxes. In the end they went with just subtiteling it
“Dipl. Industrial-Designer”, which is a formal qualification, but no job
title at all.
This made some customers assume from the outset, that I had aquired
a share in the company… which in turn led me to being able to do so…
(sorry Justin, this ownership via business card won’t work at Mars, I’d assume )
CarlTiki is your job (tradeshow) Exhibit Design or (museum) Exhibit Design?
I am an Exhibit Design Manager in the tradeshow industry and I can identify with your concerns about being pigeon-holed. In fact, as a hiring manager my preference is to hire Industrial Designers over most other backgrounds. There are a very few Exhibit Design major programs in the US, which I also hold in high regard, but 2nd to that ID is usually a good fit. I’ve seen Graphic Designers get into it and do well if they have a good grasp on the 3D aspects though.
My company is somewhat unique in the industry in that we also develop our own exhibiting products and systems, so there’s opportunities to do real ID work in tandem with the ED work. Custom exhibit houses in the industry don’t necessarily offer this opportunity to their designers, but regardless it is still design and your exposure to process and materials can make you a strong ID candidate later in your career if you want to get back into full time ID. Like you, I also had an interest in consumer electronics (amongst other things) out of school, but what I found is that this industry is niche, and if you get good, you can rise to a respectable status within design, and with that you can get into some interesting stuff. At this point (8 years later) I wouldn’t entertain consumer electronics, but my experience has certainly positioned me to move into some interesting experiential environment opportunities outside of the trade show industry if I find the right fit.
Ironically, I hired an ID student earlier in the year, and I sense she is probably feeling the same way that you are. The brass tacks are that you both are getting real world design experience, but also learning how to deal with other disciplines involved in the process, which, above the nature of what is being designed is more important for your career. These are realities that you just can’t experience in a sterile educational environment, and they’ll help you no matter where your career takes you, so soak it up and enjoy the ride.