UK Designer looking for tips on how to work in the US

Hi all,

I just graduated from the MA/MSC course at the RCA and Imperial College and, having taken a short break to recover, am continuing on my quest to move to the US and find a job.

I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who has tried, successfully or unsuccessfully, to achieve this (whether you’re from the UK or another European country) and hear about your experiences. I’m aware that I’m going to have to get a temporary working visa and head over to the west coast (I’m aiming for the SF area) and start putting myself about a bit. I know this isn’t necessarily going to happen very quickly but I’m happy for it to take a little longer after 7 years of further education. I also realise that there is a wealth of US designers who are extremely capable, so it’s going to be a difficult job to make the case as to why I’m worth the bother of organising visas and the like, but I’m not giving up that easily!

Any pointers on how best to go about this would be great. I’m probably heading over to California mid-November to do some reconnaissance, and I hope to organise some visits, etc to some consultancies if they’re game.

Cheers in advance,

Dan Watson

Firstly, the content of your portfolio is absolutely fantastic and it shows not only your expertise but also your enthusiasm, which is great. The ideas are of very high standard - we’re seriously talking about MIT and Stanford level stuff. However, since you’re planning to move to California, here are a couple of things that you need to consider:

The Americans love their graphics and visualization. They will be more impressed by a good visual rather than a good verbal description. Remember, this is the state where a lot of people drive cars and have conditioned themselves to read information at a fast pace, just like reading billboards on a highway. So you need to emphasize the visual quality of your projects over the verbal description. I’d suggest that your layout should be graphics in first place, and description in second place. A good example of this work is here: warp — Minimally Minimal

I’ve noticed that American ID studios are mad about so-called “compelling visual presentations”. They want all your thought processes that went into your projects illustrated in amazing graphics.

These are just my observation from my experience in North America and speaking with US and Canadian based designers. Maybe other US-based forum members would present a different opinion, so be sure to wait for more responses.

If you have to talk, your doing it wrong. Don’t tell, show, and assume no one is reading anything more than 3 sentences or 5 bullet points.

I wouldnt say your portfolio is fantastic, but I think you have some nice work. It doesn’t fit into the typical silicon valley, bay area design firm’s needs quite as it is. Think about what makes you relevant to the kind of convergent, tech based work that goes on in the region?

Andrew Kim’s work is a nice benchmark. He is going to be a junior I think. Not even close to graduating, so he is going to get errrr with a few internships. I think Rene Lee is another nice benchmark:

I agree with Yo that the visual communication of your work has to speak for itself. However, I believe that your presentation skills are just as important in an interview situation, how you lead your audience through your work and way of thinking.
I have always tried to connect the people I talked to with my work by talking about memories, stories and experiences that have influenced my passion driven work.
So in other words, to paint a scenario in their mind. This can be very powerful.

I think the examples Yo posted are good, however I imagine coming of of RCA and looking at your work, you have something else to offer. PS rendering are all fine and dandy but I don’t think that is you.
For the record, I find a lot more interesting work in your portfolio than in say the work of Rene Lee. Be sure of what you want to communicate and please for the love of god, don’t turn your portfolio into a Kim-Clone.

You graduated from a very prestigious school with an amazing contact network. I know, I have used that network in the past for work opportunities. Is there somebody you know who might get you into the door at these firms in the US?

Bureaucracy and Immigration really is an issue. You should keep in mind that you are indeed competing not just against very strong American designers out of work, but also that the decision to hire you comes with a lot of expensive and tedious paperwork.
It is not impossible, if they want you, they want you but it is very hard.
If you are looking at a consultancy, try maybe some of the ones that have offices in both the Bay area and Europe. As far as I understand this makes hiring you a lot easier if you don’t have a working visa.
I have had to part ways with a studio years ago in New York. The paperwork would have taken 9 months to complete. In other words, they would have had to commit to me today, put out a lot of money and I could have started working 3/4 of a year later. That is not feasible for them of course.

Yo: I apologise on slightly misleading advice. I’m aware that I shouldn’t give critique on OP’s portfolio, since I’m based in Europe and he wants to tap the US jobs market. I edited my post.

You’ve made an excellent point about fitting in with Silicon Valley design firm culture. Do you know which major companies are located there and what their design culture is like? If you can post videos, demos or insight into their design process that would be absolutely fantastic. I hope it could benefit the OP as well. Thanks!

No offense taken. Just elaborating. What major companies are here:

All of the big social networking companies
A bunch of automotive R&D labs
A bunch of mobile device manufacturer R&D labs
Amazon (specifically the Kindle design lab)
Netflix (specifically the Roku box design lab)
In Case and a bunch of other device accessory companies

Fuse Project

You’re probably not going to get any videos of their process though :wink:

Hey pal, would you run a few names of automotive R&D labs?

Many companies in the bay area, and globally for that matter, are clients of the firm I work for. Many times they are clients I’ve worked with personally. I’m sure you will understand when I do not give specifics, it is for good reason. Also, pal? A lot of established professionals post on these forums. I know you are only 10 posts in, so I understand you might still be familiarizing yourself with the community. My advice would be to not confuse access with relationships.

seems like a reasonable question to me. The best way is to visit companies for informational interviews (better yet, real ones). They usually show you around the studio and some of their process. That might not work because of locations and schedules though.

You can also find out quite a bit online and from asking around. Speaking with current and former employees reveals more about their culture, especially things they might not ever put in writing. Many companies broadcast their methods & culture across design magazines and journals, IDEO is a good example. Showing you’ve done your homework and understand their company thoroughly will only help you when you contact them directly

I moved to California from Scotland 10 yrs ago. Initially on a J1, later changing to an O1 and then a Green Card. The process took about 5 years and was not as straight forward as I had hoped for. Although the company I was working for ‘sponsored’ my visa, I did not ask them to pay for the process. In doing so, I maintained more control of my future. My advice would be to become educated on the process and find a good lawyer ( sadly necessary ). The rest will fall in to place…

Thanks for the responses, everyone.

First things first, I’m going to work on the ‘Show, don’t tell’ aspect of my portfolio/website. Having looked at the sample portfolios that you recommended, Michael, I can see what you’re getting at in terms of the presentation although I would like to retain some of the explanations of the work that I’ve done. It’s been tricky for me to switch from the student mentality of outlining every single fact about a project in order to explain it from inception to production, something stressed very heavily at both the Glasgow School of Art and Royal College of Art (as I’m sure it is elsewhere), to a more concise method of explanation. I’m working on it, though!

bespter, thanks for putting your comments the way that you did. You’ve given me some serious thinking to do about what it is I actually have, and want, to offer a company. I’m feeling more and more like I’m a builder/maker/experimenter/do-er, and I love the hands-on environment of the workshop and in-the-field research. In short, I like to make things that work based on first hand experiments. At the same time, I agree that it’s important to communicate ideas well and it’s something that I am trying to improve on. Thanks for your comments - they helped me tune in a bit! P.S. What is it about designers and food…? I also have an obsession with everything culinary.

Stephen, it sounds like you went through an ordeal to get where you are. I was aware that it could take that long, and I’m prepared to go through it (even the lawyer) but I’m starting to realise that maybe I don’t need everything to move as super fast as I thought I did. The final months of an ID course don’t leave you the most rational human being - especially in terms of seeing everything as a deadline! Time to read up on the laws and start planning a route.

I’m also keen to explore the option of starting in a multinational company in the UK and then trying to move to one of their international stations (although it’s obviously not as simple as all that…).

Thanks again for the advice. I’ll keep this post updated with my trials and tribulations, should anyone be interested, in the hope that it might help someone else in my position in the future.

My apologies . Didn’t mean to come off this way.

Its supply & demand. Each year visas are issued to foreigners who fulfil the demand for skills required in USA.

A list of every company who has filed and been issued a visa for a foreign employee is available online.

It may be better to research this in depth so you are aware which companies are likely to give you the opportunity you seek.

You need to go direct to the source online. Just search google.

Good Luck on your quest.


Hi Dan,

I know I am two years late in replying to this thread but I am also in a similar situation to yourself.

I did my undergrad at Central Saint Martins and am aiming to work in the US. A lot of my old tutors are RCA alumni and a lot of my peers will end up walking down their corridors at some point.

I’m finding that in the US it seems to be a lot about the visuals. It seems like in the UK and Europe emphasis just isn’t put on communicating your design in a polished manner, our work has much more of a deeper meaning to it.

US grads are taught to sketch from day one and it clearly shows. My tutor visited an American school where they are required to 30+ pages a week of sketches - we were required to do 30 per project…

Back on topic I am trying to find a way to best showcase my skills in the research methodology and connecting a user to an objects in a US market. So far it isn’t going as well as I hoped but I hope you did not give up trying!

iamdave- Don’t get hung up on sketching dogma. Yes, for some reason the US often seems fixated on “ID sketching”- (often banal, clichéd, and stylized…) The ability to communicate with the end of a pen (or stylus) is, as you know, only part of the creative process, and what any prospective employer will look for is the broader skill set, along with innate talent, strong project narratives, ‘deeper meaning’, and some kind of interesting personal design philosophy or perspective.

There are definitely companies in the US that put a premium on European design talent, and will go out of their way to rustle-up an H-1B visa- once you’ve demonstrated you’ve got what it takes. Target the outfits that resonate with you and focus your folio/CV accordingly.

(As a disclaimer, I’m ex RCA, have taught at Central, and now work in the US)

One of the best responses I have read on the boards yet! Expertly put.

Thank you for this excellent response and I am thinking it would be nice to have a chat with you…

Your response is as a breath of fresh air and exactly what I needed to read. I was hoping that my European design skills and being educated at a top school would have like you said, had employers bend over backwards to have me onboard. As the responses the OP got seemed to focus on ID sketching rather than the fact he could offer a lot more than a Photoshop render I’ve gotten myself stuck in a bit of a rut.