The pivot really started when I made a plan to pull together a portfolio. Prior to pursuing design, I had only heard of the term ‘portfolio’ from my friends who had decided to attend art school for undergrad. A few of them had gone to Parsons, Art Institute, and RISD to study a discipline in the fine arts.
At this time in my career, I did not understand how to bridge my engineering experience in hardware development with industrial design. Furthermore, I did not know how wide industrial design could be as a field, or how technical it could be for those pursuing it.
But, I was curious – curious about product design and the emerging digital interfaces that were showing up on phones and other consumer electronics. So, for me, the pivot came when I decided to pull together a ‘kitchen sink’ of all my activities in order to produce a portfolio. It was really a kitchen sink; random illustrations, paintings, mechanical engineering patents, side build projects, and some early iconography work to show my digital graphic capabilities. I was not sure how to put it together, but I looked for resources online and bought books on Amazon that talked about how to present creative work. Later, I submitted these portfolios to graduate design programs for feedback.
Through my career evolution, I depended on my interactions with other accomplished alumni to help me understand my own journey. In my graduate program, I relied on a couple of designers who had recently graduated and were working as professional designers. They helped me to understand how to leverage my professional experience along with the new skills and understanding I was gaining in the program.
I also leaned on organizations such as the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) to provide me with resources such as portfolio reviews and sketch nights. These meet-ups became opportunities to meet people who had started in one career field and then shifted into becoming full-time designers. This effort to connect with people also revealed to me agencies and other types of creative groups full of designers with diverse backgrounds.
There have been many notable moments. A few stand out more than others, including being offered an acceptance letter to three different graduate-level design programs. Even though this was an academic moment, it was a notable moment. I also think it has been incredible to receive offer letters from agencies such as IDEO and frog. I think it says a lot about the chance that really smart people are willing to take on me. In the end, some of my most notable moments were when my immediate creative peers validated my efforts. That always feels great.
I think that the element that gets the most overlooked as a product designer is listening. I think that as a product designer, it is easy to rely on one aspect of communication – the talking part. I have met many product designers who enjoy hearing themselves talk or don’t talk at all and lose focus by distracting themselves with their own solutions. I am guilty of being a poor listener to clients, internal stakeholders, my creative team, and also to the people who we are designing products for in the first place.
Listening – especially active listening – is such a huge part of creating experiences that people remember positively and also it helps us really address latent needs. I now understand that a sign of a mature design staff member is their ability to thoroughly and actively listen. It is the first move before acting with intention.