keeping future career dreams alive

My current situation and IP’s recent thread about ‘the rut’ have go me thinking. There have been a lot of posts on here about how to break into design with that first job, but what I want to know is what happens next. I (assume) that for most people that they have future career goals and aspirations that take them beyond their first role or even the initial industry that they work within. I see that first role as a great chance to develop genuine industry skills and knowledge but am also aware that a lot of these skills and knowledge will be industry / role specific and that even 1-2 years down the line there will be gaps that cannot be filled within that current role. So what next?

Many roles appear to require candidates to have x amount of years experience within their specific industry, so what happens if you want to move into another industry (still within design of course)? Do you start at the bottom again and work your way up? What are the key skills that a first-timer should be working on in that first job in order to ensure that the skills they have are transferable to another industry? Basically, what I would like to know is what employers would be expecting a ‘second jobber’ to demonstrate?

I have ideas (but no set plans) about the direction that I want to push my career in and don’t want to be caught out because I’ve been schlepping about now I’m in a full-time role, I want to use this opportunity to push myself to the next level, and hopefully avoid ‘the rut’.

I will only speak to the medical device industry, I can’t say what are the requirements for other industries.

The design process is no different in the medical industry as it is anywhere else. It follows what has been discussed in the Design Thinking thread - Discovery/Strategy/Realization (although other terms are used, these are the terms I use, I hope you get the idea). It ain’t rocket science, but it is a successful formula in new product development in any industry. Any experience with that process is definately transferable.

But every industry has its own quirks. The biggest in medical is Quality Systems, specifically Design Controls and Human Factors. Basically, it is a mile high stack of paperwork documenting the design of any device which is needed for approval for the device to be used in the US, the EU or AsiaPac. Again, it ain’t rocket science but there is absolutely no substitute for experience.

So if you were coming from 10 years consumer electronics experience (or from any other industry), a lateral move to medical could be possible, but there is no way you would have the Quality Systems knowledge of your counterpart with 10 years of device experience. You wouldn’t start at square one, but you aren’t equal either.

It would be interesting to hear what are the top one or two things in other industries like Quality Systems that prohibit a lateral entry.

I would guess that the toy industry would be similar with guidelines for child safety, materials, etc…
I suffered similarly coming from the softgoods side. Doing that for 5 years right out of school put me in a weird position once I started going to consultancies since I didn’t have the plastic part design of a typical ID’er 5 years out of school. So I had to play a lot of catch up so that my “standard” ID skills could match my number of years.
So toys and softgoods might be ones that might be difficult to make a lateral move if you have no experience in them at all.

Any specialized industry (footwear, softgoods, medical, kids toys, pet products, etc.) I’m sure would have some “insider” knowledge that makes transitioning to a different industry difficult. This is often why you find people in a certain industry for life (+/-). It’s not so much that it is difficult to move across industries or that skills aren’t transferrable, but often once you know an industry, you have a very specialized set of knowledge that is of great value so will keep you there.

I don’t don’t know about other industries, but can say for example in footwear, that I know plenty of people who have gone into footwear from more traditional ID, but absolutely zero that have left it once in, even if footwear is all they’ve ever done.

Part of that may be that footwear is particularly hard to get into, but I’d also bet a lot is the unique nature of the industry. Perhaps other industries also have this? Me, for example, I’d be hard pressed to leave footwear. I know a lot about footwear (trends, fashion, development, manufacturing, etc.), and while I don’t doubt that I could equally make some good consumer products (ie. traditional ID), a lot of the knowledge I’ve built in 10+ years would be useless (correct lasting margins, terms and materials for processes, etc.), not to mention I don’t do a stitch of 3D cad and it seems pretty much required for normal ID jobs.

All that being said, transferring is possible, it’s all a question of what you want to sacrifice (pay, hours, etc.) to get where you want to be. No point doing something you don’t enjoy, and if you can avoid “the rut” with some well directed self-learning and humility, I say go for it.


As an architect but wanting to do more ID work, I can see where you are all coming from.

I have skills that can be applied to any type of design work, however it is the ‘inside knowledge’ that needs to be learnt. I have seen this first hand as I also design and manufacture bags - and the learning curve to achieve the results was massive, considering I knew absolutely nothing about the industry at all!

So it cost me a lot of time and money to achieve something that is pretty basic, and I could fully understand how an employer would be hesitant to take you on if you had skills limited to a certain industry. Basically it will cost the employer time to train you up.

However, now I know how to make bags… I have my processes organised, and systems in place in order to manufacture.
Who would have known that making bag patterns is actually very close to designing a building in the skill sets required.

The absolute major advantage for an employer taking you on from another field is the different perspective and approach you will take to the design process given your naivety in the field. This allows innovation through mistakes and lack of knowledge, but as mentioned can get expensive.

Who knows what my next project would be - probably furniture. However, I would do anything to get into consumer electronics… that is an area where I know all the products but have little to no understanding to how the hell you make them!

I’ve jumped around a lot in my career from fairly diverse industries. Theres always a huge catch-up period at the beginning… I’ve found myself having to read a lot, ask a lot of questions, not ask a lot of questions and find out on my own, and usually there’s some new software to learn, but from friends I hear similar stories just moving around just within traditional ID.

Usually, if you convince them that your right for the job, there are already skills you have that can be used from the first day. The first year is going to be busy, but its usually alright, and the advantage is that you might have skills that make you unique in that environment and see things from a different perspective. I don’t doubt that some industries can be harder than others, but I feel like that kind of growth from jumping in a little over your head can be a good thing in the long run - or at least to keep life interesting. It costs money to bring on new employees any way you look at it, and motivation goes a long way.

As a counterpoint, some people that have been in the same industry their entire career can be more valuable to a company, they more intuitively know how to deal with industry specific challenges, are more consultant-like in their effectiveness in new jobs, and are in a better position for management.

Like R said, if your willing to put the extra unpaid hours in and enjoy variety, design skills can lead to some very interesting career choices…

Thanks for all the comments. It’s good to hear that there is hope about jumping between industries

Travisimo, out of interest as you seem to be the one who has moved around the most, has there ever been a time that you have felt like you have lacked one skill (or experience) more than any other? Or is there one thing that you wished that you had taken your time to understand better earlier on in your career?

Skinny, what was the reaction like when you applied for posts outside of plush-toys? And did you end up getting your ‘catch-up’ experience from inside, or outside a job?

I’m certainly not afraid about putting in the hours, right now I just want to make sure that I am focusing them in the right direction.

yes… I started out working in a big corporation, but think it would have been better to intern at a couple consultancies and then spending a few years at one with a good fit. It’s harder to do that kind of work after designing in a house style and the variety would have helped me figure out what I wanted earlier

Also, good sketching is universally respected, even in more technical positions.

I came from softsided luggage. Most of my initial responses were, “well, we don’t really have a need for a softgoods designer”. Funny, I remember graduating from an industrial design program, lol. But as an old teacher told me, you have to be very careful with what you tell people you have done or can do, they’ll place you or stereotype you based on that.
So basically I just kept redoing my portfolio to show more typical ID products and skills until it was diverse enough for me to get clients from it. For a while I had even taken out all of the luggage work so that it wouldn’t attract too much attention, the old “controlling your crit” technique.

The additional skills I had to acquire were on my own time. I taught myself 3d modeling by reading all of the tutorials and manuals/books. Then when I had access to the program at a company I’d practice with it there on my own time. I checked out other firms sites looking for examples of sketches and renderings that were considered “pro level” so that I could have something to benchmark myself against. And then at every interview, I used that as an opportunity to see how that place did things, checking out presentations on display, and listening to their feedback so that I would know where I was lacking. Then I would go home and work on those areas.