Being a Product Designer – What Does it Take?

How do I react to a generic, blanket email from someone looking for a job as a product designer? Emails asking for a favour and with very little thought behind them tend to get a similar (usually internal…) response from me.

If you’d like some feedback – on the plus side I quite liked the simplicity of your original email and the fact you empathised with me being busy. On the downside, your portfolio is kind of non-existent. So you’ve bunged up some images on Coroflot, whereas the best candidates are showing us coherent persuasive presentations that clearly show off their range of skills and thinking. Think of this as the brochure for you – so you need to show:

1. Process – what was the brief, how did you go about solving it and why the final solution.

2. Research – ability to carry out structured research and come up with logical insights backed up by proof

3. Ideation – good quality exploration through sketching is the foundation of product design. Either show us you have a talent for creative sketching, or go back to night school and teach yourself.

4. Design development – ability to solve the tricky detailed problems and resolve a design through CAD & prototyping etc.

5. Something else – Usually it’s great if a candidate can show us where they’ve gone the extra mile, maybe you’ve taught yourself electronics, or draw astonishing comic book graphics or have worked with children in Africa to design & build washing machines from old bicycles and concrete. These are all real examples by the way…

To put this in context, I have received about 250 applications from students or graduates already this year (more than one/day). I used to try and reply to all of them, but we’re only a tiny business, so I don’t even have the time to file them all now frankly… And I imagine we are not alone. If you want to get ahead, you are going to need to stand out somehow… or be lucky.

I hope this is of help. I know I wish someone had told me this stuff when I was at the start of my career:

Being a product designer

Getting your product design portfolio right

June is the time of year when the final year Product Design Graduates are breathing a huge sigh of relief as their final projects are completed and they get a chance to admire their work aswell as being assessed and scrutinised by tutors, etc. The HR department of Realise has been busy sifting through potential new interns and employees. So with this mind we thought it would be helpful to put together our thoughts on the business of what does it takes to be a product designer?

Product design is a fantastic career. but it’s not easy to say specifically what you need to be good at, because there’s so much you need to be good at! If I had to choose for a young designer, I’d be looking for:

1. Sketching and ability to draw quickly and well
2. Ability to present ideas on paper effectively
3. Creative ideas – this can be an innate talent, but it can also be learned – it’s all in the methodology and design process
3.5 – Good understanding of the design process
4. Practical engineering ability – knowledge of materials and manufacturing methods
5. General understanding of business principles – why and how do businesses invest in new products to make money?
6. Ability to communicate well with clients and show a bit of class (write well in correct English and speak clearly).

7. Perhaps MOST IMPORTANTLY: Ability to be a great support, be nice to work with, enthusiastic, and a generally good person.

If that seems like a really long list… well think of it this way, at least it means that it will keep you entertained for the rest of your life.

There’s loads of good design literature out there… budding designers these days are lucky, there’s much much more support, information and good books than I ever had when I started! Even so, it might never make you rich, it’s not generally a big earning career. This is partly because a lot of people are creative types who do the work for the love of it and partly because it’s still a relatively new profession, (unlike architecture, medicine or law) so we’re not as organised on fees, plus it’s complex, it’s a future investment rather than a “get me out of here now!” motivation and so us product designers are totally undervalued compared to the very great profits we can make companies.

But there you go, if you’re just in it for the money, it’s probably the wrong career for you, as it can often be tough and infuriating at times, and it will be passion that get’s you through that. Oh yes…

8. Passion.

Oh and of course…

9. Intelligence. But if you’ve got the others nailed, you will clearly display this one anyway!