So you just graduated this past spring, and now you’re looking for a job as an industrial designer. Times are tough, but you’re pretty confident in your work. You wish you had some connections, but the couple internships under your belt will only get you so far. First things first, you’ve got to build up your network. So you designed a “sweet” logo, started a new blog and twitter account, and bought a great new pair of glasses to interview in. You’re all set, right? Think again. Most of your peers are doing the same things, and your best chance to make a good impression is to stand out from the crowd. Here are five popular methods of self-promotion that I challenge young designers to reconsider.
Don’t Design A Logo
…Especially one that uses your initials. I’m not sure why we do this, but industrial designers feel a strong need to brand themselves with a logo, and they typically involve our initials in some sort of ligature. Because the majority of us aren’t good graphic designers, these logos typically fail to make the impression we’re hoping for on our websites and portfolio covers.
Instead, borrow a page from the 2D design playbook: type your name in a simple, classic font and let your work speaking for itself (like here, here, or here). Now that you’ve saved yourself a few hours or more, why not do something more productive for your portfolio? Enter a design competition, back sketch one of your old projects to make it more current, or learn a new piece of software. Whatever you do, make sure you’re investing your time towards something that helps you be a better industrial designer.
Don’t Write A Blog
Last time I checked, designers spend most of their time drawing and visualizing ideas, not writing about them. There are plenty of good reasons to start writing about design, but before you do, ask yourself why it matters to you. Blogging is popular and easy, but unless you’re a writer (and most designers aren’t), you can probably find some better way to promote yourself or refine your point of view.
Spencer Nugent, co-founder of IDsketching.com, offers this advice. “Think of something unique you can bring to the table. One of our most unique and popular posts was on microwaving prismacolor pencils to keep them from breaking. That post alone brought over 10,000 new visitors to the site. Stick to your guns and be prepared to defend your point of view. You’re putting yourself out there for EVERYONE to see. Not everyone will agree with you, so you have to be prepared to stick to what you believe in.”
If you do decide to write a blog, “post about topics, not yourself,” says Nugent. “We try to post things that people will find interesting. Sometimes we post about ourselves, but we try not to. Again, pick a theme, or concept for your blog and stick to it. Your blog is a design project too!”
Don’t Follow Me on Twitter
Twitter has exploded over the last year, so it isn’t a surprise that you’re on it, searching for the best designers to follow. Don’t rely on Twitter to make meaningful connections, because you’ll just be one in a hundred people following me. I’m not even that popular. Follow reBang and you’ll be one in a thousand. When you have this many followers, receiving messages can be more of a nuisance that anything else, and that’s not the impression you’re after.
Instead, consider commenting on my blog. More specifically, ask me a thoughtful question. It shows that you take the time to read the content and engage in a conversation that isn’t ruled by abbreviations and a specific number of characters. Even better, get me to follow you or do some fantastic design work deserving of a blog post! Remember, social media tools help you network with people, they won’t do it for you.
Stop Wearing Pumas
I can spot a young industrial designer from 100 yards away. Here’s the look, top to bottom: Eccentric eyewear (optional), simple graphic tee, bold watch and/or belt, relatively dark denim, and Pumas in a bold colorway. Don’t get my wrong, Puma makes some great products and I’m really just picking on them as an example. There are a few other designer stereotypes, one of which probably comes to mind for you. I don’t like the way designers so quickly adopt their own stereotype. We tell our clients to differentiate themselves, but we can barely do it ourselves!
We lose credibility when we can’t walk the talk. What we wear says a lot about who we are. Let’s be designers, but be ourselves too. If you don’t care about fashion then your work can speak for you. If you’re one of those people, you should at least consider buying a pair of tailored, non-pleated pants.
Stop Saving the World
…Unless you actually are. Designers have identified that their skills can help people beyond the mass markets of the first world, but we’re far from making a big impact on our own. The truth is, some designers like talking about making a difference more than they like actually doing it. Raising awareness is only a small first step towards fixing one of the world’s many problems. If you really want to make a difference, think about volunteering at a soup kitchen…or moving to India.
Ramsey Ford is an industrial designer who recently took on this challenge by moving to India and starting the non-profit Design Impact. “Last year, I attended the ‘Design for a Better World’ conference at RISD. What struck me most about the conference was that the common thread was not design, but entrepreneurship. The mantra for the weekend seemed to be, ‘shut up and do it’.” Ramsey plans to make a real difference by gaining empathy for India’s true design needs. Admittedly, this is pretty bold, but what have you done lately to design a better future?
I hope this article challenges you to reconsider some of the more popular methods for creating a personal brand. Before you pour hours of work into any project, think about your key strengths and what makes you stand out. Choose projects that will help show those off. After that, if doing some of these things still makes sense, then go for it. But seriously, don’t design a logo, especially one with your initials.
About the author: Michael Roller is senior industrial designer at Kaleidoscope, where he leads award-winning design efforts on a range of consumer products. As adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College of DAAP, Michael mentors industrial design students through the Design Communication course. Focused on understanding the dynamics of design within business, he writes about this overlap at the aptly named blog Strategic Aesthetics.