Looking to get back into true ID

Hi All,

Firstly, I’d like to introduce myself and provide a little background info:

Paul DiLena
Education: BFA in Industrial Design (MASS College of Art, Boston-class of 2001)
Live/Work in NYC

Admittedly, I did not make the most of college experience back in the late 90’s. I never garnered a significant internship and had a hard time finding any good job opportunities with a a true ID firm upon graduation…then came 9/11 and a turn in the economy which made things even more difficult. After a few frustrating years I was able to get a foothold in the footwear design industry and began my career as a footwear designer. I’ve worked my way up the ladder over the past 8 years from Design Assistant to Lead Designer/Linebuilder and am now in Footwear Product Development Management at Kohls. I’ve primarily worked in fashion footwear (Chinese Laundry, Kenneth Cole, Matt Bernson) with some side projects in athletic and some more technical footwear and have experience with all facets of the business at this point including the retail/merchandising side of things.

I am not really fulfilled in my career and feel like I’m running on auto pilot most days. I have a longing to be more creative, to solve more interesting problems, to take on projects that truly challenge and stimulate me and hopefully have meaningful impact on the world. I’d like to redeem myself and my early college experience and get back on my original path…a more challenging path in design.

So what is a wayward Industrial Designer to do? At this point it seems like I have 2 options: 1.) Pursue any and all ID firms in my area, be willing to take a pay cut, do whatever it takes etc. to get my foot in the door 2.) Pursue my Masters degree in hopes that it can open up opportunities I would not be able to find otherwise.

I’m a little apprehensive about making another significant investment in my education…I’m still deep in debt from my past education and I guess I’m still disappointed about my past educational experience as well.

Is there any hope for me? Any advice or insight that anyone could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Best Regards- Paul

Both options are tough.

Option 1 is difficult because employers are very hesitant to hire someone “over qualified”. They think you are likely to bolt if you are not satisfied with any part of the job.

I would not recommend option 2 if your plan is to “relearn” what you should have gotten from your undergraduate degree. All you will do is make your financial hole deeper. If you had a different slant, the research or the marketing end of product development, that degree could be worth pursuing, but I’m not a fan of getting financially buried at a “later” age.

Is there an interim step you can think of? Something between footwear design and saving-the-world design? Something like outdoor recreation where you can leverage your soft goods knowledge into working with hard goods? After that, take another small step towards your final goal. I think it is unlikely to achieve everything in one big step.

Good luck.

Might I suggest looking to the east? I moved to China about three years ago to work in the shoe industry (as an industrial designer) and though it hasn’t been the easiest path, the journey has taught me a lot about myself and has been very good to me financially. I’m about to wrap this job up though, I am also longing for more variation in the projects I work on. But I will try to stay here in the East, where there seems to be more opportunity and less tax.

Just start applying to job posts and calling people. Design is design. If your portfolio says, “wow” enough to get you an interview, you need to show how you’ll transition in the interview. It shouldn’t be that hard considering your experience.

BTW, I hired a soft goods designer this summer. It was a great decision. She brings a fresh perspective to our furnishing/decor/housewares projects. It seems like people in soft goods are more organized too (mho).

Hi All-

WoW! I wasn’t sure anyone would even reply to my outcry for help so thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. All great thoughts that definitely seem to be on point. I know the path ahead will not be an easy one but the encouragement and viewpoint provided by others is invaluable to me at this stage.

I agree that heading back to school for my Masters in ID is a bad idea financially. I definitely don’t feel like I need to go back to “relearn” design. It would be good to brush up on some 3D CAD, but mostly I thought it would present opportunities and connections that I wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. Also, from what I understand of many programs, it can really be a thesis on a product idea that a designer wants to fully realize, develop and possibly market but I’m sure I could do that on my own without incurring more debt. I guess additional schooling always seems like a good idea to those that have “hit a wall” just because it seems like an easy option.

I would most certainly like to get involved in more technical footwear design particularly in the hiking/outdoor realm. There’s not a lot of that going on in NYC but my wife and I are open to relocating. I guess its time to start beefing up my portfolio and showing the breadth of what I am capable of. I currently don’t have access to any 3D software at home or at work…any ideas/suggestions for an affordable way of getting something going at home? My previous experience is in Solidworks…would that be the best platform to continue learning on or would my time be better spent on a different platform more widely accepted across the industry?

@holtag- what kind of design/firm do you work for that this softgoods designer was hired into?

Again, many thanks for all of your contributions and thoughts. Hope you all are enjoying a Happy Holiday season.