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Frequently Asked Questions

The following are frequently asked questions about the industrial design profession, illuminatingly answered by three successful women in the field.

(1) How do designers work? In teams? Alone? For large companies? For themselves?

Designers work in many different environments: sometimes alone, mostly in teams (both small and big.) Each design job is different and which means that each requires a different cast of characters.
- Laurene Leon, Designer, Principal [what is your preferred title?], Boym Studio, New York City

Talking, thinking , sketching, detailing. The "team" school project is rarely repeated in the working world. Your team becomes you (the designer) a marketing person, an engineer and QC or purchasing.
- Judy Riley, Design Manager, Timex Corporation

(2) What kind of education produces the best designers? Where are the strongest programs?

Programs having a large faculty that include adjunct (part-time) practitioners are usually the strongest. A thorough emphasis on materials and processes (production methods) is also a plus.
- Nancy Perkins, President, Perkins Design Ltd.

I don't think the "school" produces the best designer. No matter where they study, students still need to graduate with great sketches, good reasoning and problem solving ability, a good attitude and a burning desire to design something!
- Judy Riley

(3) What should be in a portfolio?

I like portfolios that are quite plain from the outside, sized 11"X14". This can be a zero degree vernacular fake leather thirty dollar job. It's great to open one and find a jewel.

Contents for portfolios vary. If it's your first design job after school, any reasonable employer will expect documentation of four completed school or internship projects. The projects you choose to display should emphasize your process, creativity and skills. Portfolios with only photos of finished models leave your prospective employer clueless.

A really good portfolio project would have contents like this:
-Not more than 2 pages of documentation
-A clear picture of your finished model
-A dimensioned mechanical drawing of several different views of your model (computer drawings are ok)
-Good photos or photocopies of 2D & 3D sketches
-Additional research, color copies of presentation boards, if applicable

A really good general design portfolio would have contents like this:
-A tabletop object
-An animated sequence describing the interface for a web site
-A solar powered car (group project)
-A modular display system made of green materials
-A universal design series of garden tools

The perfect candidate for a position at my office would offer this:
-Macintosh-literacy. Fluency in Adobe Illustrator, Quark XPress, Ashlar Vellum and Adobe Photoshop.
-Creativity. Unusual solutions to problems. Alluring application of materials. Use of high and low technology
-Common Sense
-Good form vocabulary
-Design with an economy of means
- Laurene Leon

(4) Job market: What and where are the best jobs for recent grads?

A company with on-site manufacturing is a plus right out of school. Products that interest the individual will be the most fun and will spark one's creativity.
- Judy Riley

Organizations where a variety of skills can be learned from a variety of people. Where you can participate at many levels of the organization's programs - (as opposed to being segregated.)
- Nancy Perkins

(5) Reading list for industrial designers?

Abitare, Business Week, Contract, FX International, I.D. Magazine, INNOVATION, Machine Design, Medical Device & Diagnostic Industry, Metropolis, OZ Graphix, Visual Merchandising & Store Design.
- Nancy Perkins

Anything but design magazines and books! In my family of industrial designers, that can be post-structuralist philosophy, cultural theory, fashion magazines or good fiction. Reading should go beyond books. Explore nightclubs, watch TV, work out and go to museums regularly.
- Laurene Leon

Raising Your Spirited Child offers good insight into the reasons for certain behaviors. Visual references are a must: ID Magazine - not much inspiration anymore, Car Styling - still good, HOW, Wired, interior magazines.
- Judy Riley

(6) What are the particular challenges that face women designers in the male-dominated field of industrial design?

I think clients are more willing to hire female designers than ever before. The women's movement helped design, too! I think at work and interoffice relationships there are different codes of behavior for male and female designers. Male bosses tend to be harsher on women designers with sexist jargon, for example: she's not good at detail work!

Bad design has no gender! If anything women are better and more observant consumers than men--being the traditional caretakers of tribes, households and families. They can contribute to better product analysis, greater ideation skills, purer form !
- Laurene Leon

Boring meetings?! We have one man and five women designers in our office so I don't know the answer to that question anymore!
- Judy Riley

(7) What should the public understand about industrial design?

Design is a constantly evolving profession. Because of new technologies , boundaries among types of design practice are more blurred than ever before. There are graphic designers designing exhibitions, architects designing furniture, fashion designers designing perfume bottles, and industrial designers designing web sites.
- Laurene Leon

When they purchase a product they encourage the proliferation of like products.
- Judy Riley