Shifting from One Area of ID to Another

Hi Everyone!

Just throwing this out there and wondering if anyone else has had this same issue. I am an industrial designer, and have been mainly working in product over the last couple years (about 5). Mostly I’ve been doing housewares and furniture. I would now like to get into exhibit design, as I have long been interested in that area of design. The problem is that I have no exhibit work in my folio, nor do I have any work experience there. Now since it’s all ID, I would have imagined it would be a easy to go from one area of it to another. But it’s turning out to be harder than I thought!
What’s a pigeon-holed industrial designer to do? Is anyone else out there trying to go from one ID area to another? Like maybe footwear to toy? Or furniture to automotive, etc? Please share your trial and tribulations…would be great to get different lights shed on this. :confused:

It is completely possible but will only happen with a degree of extra work and dedication. I went from consulting, mainly housewares, watches, and eyewear for 4+ years, to corporate footwear for 7+ years, back to a consulting firm, this time focused on consumer electronics, mobile technologies, automotive/transportation, and strategic design.

I did it by:

  1. doing lots of concept work in the area I wanted to move to, you must show a relevant portfolio
  2. using that to freelance a bit in the area I wanted to move to, you must show you can do the work
  3. networking at relevant events with key players, you need to know who the right people are, and find those that are open to you making the shift
  4. framing previous experience as an asset, overshadowing a perceived lack of experience in a particular field with a strength and wealth of knowledge in another area that you can apply to the field you want to move toward.

Wow! Thanks, that’s really helpful! In terms of concept work, are you suggesting doing a whole conceptual project with sketches, renderings, mock-ups, and so on? For instance, I am considering doing 2-3 conceptual exhibit or even retail interior design projects for my portfolio. They wouldn’t be “real world” work and would just be personal projects to expand my folio, which I enjoy doing but I often worry if those sort of projects would be taken seriously by companies.

Make them whatever you can. Better to have a conceptual project that the company might see issues with than absolutely NOTHING in their domain, which will lead them to ignore you outright.

This is an example of one of the projects I did in the transition, just sketches, with a user scenario and persona: wasn’t super deep, but gave companies and idea of how I think in their domain.

All I have to say is that you’re work is amazing!! Thank you for sharing that, I hope to be on that level someday. I see what you mean about having work in the realm of a company first hand now. I’d applied to a bunch of jobs in my domain and to one exhibit firm a couple weeks ago. Needless to say, I got replies for all the ones dealing with furniture/home and no reply from the exhibit one. I didn’t have anything relevant to show them so that’s most likely the reasoning (or maybe they just take their time replying to applicants? LOL). I’m glad I know now that I can get into my conceptual exhibit portfolio projects without worrying about them being “wrong”, so hopefully next time an opportunity arises I have something to show and be confident in.

Hi tizzty - Are you talking about Art/Museum Exhibit design or Tradeshow Exhibit design? If you’re looking to get into Tradeshow Exhibit design see my comments below, if not, well then I’ll just post about for TSED for giggles.

I have about 9 years experience in Event and Tradeshow Exhibit design, with a year of ED management under my belt. I found your post ironic as I am looking to transition from Exhibit Design back into ID and I now feel pigeon-holed in ED, but hey both are good. The thing about ED is that it is very niche, and even with ED there are niches, or specialties like custom exhibit design vs. modular exhibit design. One thing I can say is that if you get good in this industry finding work is really easy, even in this economy, good Exhibit Designers are a limited commodity and the pay can be pretty good if you get in the right “house”. I get solicited a couple times a month…though I feel the term creative director is thrown around a little too lightly in ED.

As a hiring manager maybe I can shed some insight into the recruitment process. When prospecting I look for Industrial Designers, Graphic Designers, Interior Designers, in that order. I find the ID people have the best grasp on 3D, which is a core skillset in the profession. That’s not to say that Graphic Designers aren’t good, but there aren’t a ton with the 3D experience, that said their understanding of brand and color can make them very good at ED if they can nail down the 3D side of things. I value core skills like sketching and modeling, but in reality much of that isn’t put in front of our clients, if you can problem solve and have a firm grasp on understanding brand then you will do well, if your sketches are scratchings you make to work out a design then that’s fine, most clients in this industry see grey scale renderings or final illustrations, not the sketches.

Like Yo said, do some concept work, pick a few brands that you really like, but also pick some companies in industries that you know nothing about. If you know squat about the medical industry, pick a drug company, research their brand and design an exhibit around that. If you know jack-all about the packaging industry, pick a packaging machinery company and design an exhibit around that, some projects in this industry are glamorous and some are just plain Jane, show you can design for both, and show that you can do so appropriately. If you have major chops and want to go after a gig at a top tier ED firm then take a look at companies like George P.Johnson and design some exhibits for clients in their list. Show some research boards and assemble a presentation format for each. If you can do this for 3-5 brands that should be enough to show a potential employer that you understand interpreting brand into an environment, but to be honest you should treat landing a positing in this industry as a lateral move, there is a lot to learn about the industry that you just wont’ have walking in the door.

Thank you so much for shedding light on the exhibit industry! I am looking to learn a little bit about both museum/institutional as well as commercial and trade shows. From what I hear (and I could be wrong), there’s definitely more money to be made in trade shows. But ultimately I’m looking to get into exhibit any way I can. I will definitely take your suggestion and pick a few brands or themes (for the museum bit) to work with, but I’m curious about the design process in exhibit. Do you start with research and then do some sketches? Do you have to have a site already picked out?

If I were to go into exhibit now after having 5 years of experience in product, would a company look at me as a junior designer since I have no exhibit experience? I really hope not but I wonder if that may be the only way in…to start from the bottom. What sort of product design are you looking to get into?

I think I can agree that there’s more money in the tradeshow side of exhibit design. Yes, we always start out with research, move to sketching, and then on to modeling. Sometimes we go right from research to modeling, it just depends on how adept you are with the software and how well you can see the solution in your head. With tradeshow exhibit design I would say that 99% of the time the client knows what size space they have at a given show, this can range fro a 10’ x 10’ exhibit on up to large stuff like at CES or the International Auto Show with very large spaces starting at 50’ x 50’ on the low end on up to 100’+ x 100’+.

If you’re looking for more insight around the tradeshow exhibit industry just go on and search through exhibit design portfolios, this will give you a good idea of what designers in the industry are doing.