Picking a capstone

Hey everyone,

I am posting because I’ve been thinking/getting a lot of questions about my capstone recently (I’m going into my senior year) and I’ve realized I have absolutely no idea what I want to do. I’m currently on an internship but going into summer semester where we will start to develop our final directions and I’m rather lost with where to begin. I have areas of design that interest me, but there is not one type of product that I would love to work on. I am also keeping my eyes open for problems around me but as of yet nothing inspiring has crossed my path. I have heard people say that capstones are generally a stepping stone to a future career so it feels like a big decision.

I started this thread because I wanted to ask for advice on doing a capstone, heh, or even just where to begin. What sorts of projects tend to be successful? What do employers look for in a capstone in a portfolio?

I know everyone is different and that I should pick something I feel passionate about, but I still feel a little like a boat out at sea. Any advice or anecdote would be appreciated :slight_smile:

Subscribing to this thread and eagerly awaiting answers. :smiley:

In the meantime Holly, I’ve been trying to think of ideas before I go to sleep (I happen to randomly get a lot of ideas at that time so I’m just making it a point to jot them down) and discussing them offhandedly with co-workers during the day to see if there’s validity. Maybe just make an idea journal? might be a place to start.

That’s a good idea Dan I will do that! I keep a sketchbook with me but I should make a point to doodle or something before I go to bed. And also capture those great ideas that just fly by right before I drift off to sleep haha. Thanks for the advice :slight_smile:

“I have areas of design that interest me, but there is not one type of product that I would love to work on.”

Remember that the capstone is not always about the end result. Maybe the product you chose is only a medium to explore a new way to approach the design process itself. It also doesn’t even need to be a product, I know that broadening your options may make it more daunting, but you could work on designing systems, brands or interactions. I probably spent 5 months filling out a sketchbook with possible ideas, positives, negatives and everything in between relating to every aspect of a potential project.

It is of course best to find the sweet spot and work on a product category that you are most passionate about that can later help you get a job in this field. It is most important that you give it your all. My Capstone project was the only thing I showed to potential employers after I graduated. Not only was I able to license it and make royalties, but the project was an introduction to clients that landed me my first opportunities out of school. I only showed this project because it best defined who I was as a designer from start to finish.

Be brave, be passionate, take risks, and trust your gut.

PS If you choose a product that your teacher is personally interested in you might get more attention from them, not that it should be a determining factor.

Good luck!

I think your final project should do several key things for you:

  1. show your complete capabilities (what skills do you posses, what do you like to do) and how you creatively employ them to solve a real problem and capitalize on a unique insight.
  2. show what you are passionate about, express some of your personality and who you are.
  3. be applicable to the type of place you want to work (i.e. if you want to work at a design firm in silicone valley, the project to be relevant to the type of work they do there vs a firm that mainly does medical product in Boston)
  4. be the highlight of your portfolio.

As you list out possible projects, I would rank them based on how they satisfy the above selection criteria.

Remember, employers hire you for what you can demonstrate that you CAN do. This project should be designed to show that.

+1 for everything from Yo above.

A few additional thoughts:

For my Sr. Project I identified a number of attributes that the project/product ideally would embody/achieve.

A few of them were: (this is 15 years ago now so I can’t remember them all)
I wanted to work on a project that had enough “meat” to be able to produce interesting research, sketches, and process.
I wanted to be able to show of some CAD skills (CAD was pretty new back then :slight_smile: )
I wanted to be able to build a final model/prototype at full scale.
I wanted to work on a product that ideally had a direct interface with the user
I wanted to work on a project that ideally related to where I lived (Vancouver BC)

Ultimately I ended up working on re-designing the portable back-pump used by forest-fire fighters as it checked off almost all of my “requirements”.
I had no direct connection to forest fire fighting or back-pumps but overall the project served me very well - and I believe this is due to the fact that it allowed me to demonstrate so many skills.

My suggestion would be to develop a list of your own and then jot down potential ideas as you see them. At the end of the summer you might even want to evaluate them with an instructor or mentor prior to choosing.

Van-ID - that’s a really interesting way to think about it because it almost seems like the reverse of a natural design process. You’re thinking of objectives then finding a problem that fits that, instead of asking a question and just kind of going with it and exploring naturally. Although I will say for a portfolio project I tend to favor that premeditated approach as it affords more control over the end result.

Thank you everyone so much! Using the project to highlight my skills and shown specific objectives is definitely not something I was really thinking about but will really help! Haha I’m already feeling much more excited (as opposed to the slight twinge of dread I was feeling before). I guess I was focusing too much on finding that one perfect problem or product as opposed to actually designing the whole project to fit my needs.

I will certainly begin by building my list of criteria and then looking for potential options from there. I’m sure I will add an update soon with some of my initial thoughts. Thank you everyone again for your responses!

It all depends on what you consider to be the design problem…
Is the problem how to design a forest fire backpump?- or is the problem how to design a great portfolio piece?

It’s like Inception… a design within a design!