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True I.D. Stories

The Core77 Design Blog

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Apr 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Editor: Here in Part 5, Accidental Designer gets a taste of the Big Time with a little help from Hollywood; pisses off several hundred propmasters; and finds himself faced with a serious production challenge.


Tradeshows are expensive to get into, but they can be an important part of growing your furniture business. You never know who's going to walk into your booth and change your life.

I'd started selling my tall, padded folding chairs at movie industry trade shows, and there would be a line leading to my booth. The chairs were apparently perfect for Hollywood sets. The orders were still individually small, five chairs here, ten chairs there, some orders as small as one. But I didn't care how small they were and I'd still deliver the units myself. In fact, I'd stopped driving the Ford Ranger pickup and bought a used 15-passenger van from a Korean church; I'd ripped out all of the seats to turn it into a cargo van.

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Anyways, one of the people that came into my booth was a makeup artist with a small order. I delivered the three chairs myself to the Warner Brothers lot in Hollywood.

Well, turns out that person was one of three makeup artists for The Drew Carey Show. This was the '90s, and the peak of that show's success. And I found myself hauling those chairs onto that set.

I'm setting one of them up, and who should walk past but Drew Carey himself.

"Hey," he says, pointing at the chair, "whatcha got there?"

I told him that I designed, built and sold these chairs, and started pointing out the various features. Drew seemed interested. "You mind if I—" he gestured, then sat down in the chair himself to try it out. He wriggled around a bit to get comfortable.

"These are so cool!" he exclaimed. He jumped up out of the chair. "Give me one of these for everybody on the set!" He then hustled off to do something else.

I looked around, trying to figure out how many people were on this set. I'm naively thinking it's a couple dozen, and I'm standing there counting people with my fingers when one of Drew's headset-wearing assistants hustles over to me with a clipboard. She places an order with me for 120 chairs.

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  25 Mar 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Editor: Here in Part 4, Accidental Designer comes face to face with someone he'd been looking to avoid. Following that encounter, his subsequent talent for design accidentally gets him the attention of Hollywood!

Previously: The Accidental Designer, Part 3 - Is This Seat Taken?


"Hey man," Rusty said. He introduced himself even though I already knew who he was. "I've been following you for the past few."

"Oh, ah," I said. What was there to say—what could I possibly say? All I could do was apologize. "Listen man, I'm, ah, sorry—so sorry that I took your, uh—"

Rusty cut me off. "What are you talking about, man?" he said. "Your chair looks awesome." Your chair, he'd said.

"But I took the design from you," I said.

"Yeah, you did, and I took the design from somebody else. And I made it a little bit better. And that guy I took it from, he took it from someone before him, and he'd made it a little bit better. This chair has been around for ages, dude," he said. "And yours looks awesome."

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I was so relieved, and felt a huge weight come off of my shoulders. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should all go out and steal someone else's designs. These days, things are copyrighted and IP'd and everybody's all lawyered up. But that sling rocker chair had come into the world iteratively, like shipwrighting skills. People got better and better at it and the product improved through succession and collaboration. No one owns a shiplap joint and back then no one owned that chair (though I'll betcha someone with lawyers does today).

Rusty and I remain good friends to this day. But before you think I got off easy for taking that design, well, I didn't. Rusty might not have given a damn, but though I didn't know it, the karma was going to come back around one day.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Mar 2014  |  Comments (4)

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Editor: Have you ever been tempted to take someone else's design? What do you think would happen to you if you did? Here we've got Part 3 of "Accidental Designer's" story, as he follows through on a fateful decision.

Missed the last one? Catch up here.


At a craft fair I'd spotted this guy, I'll call him Rusty, selling these chairs he had made. As soon as I saw his design, I realized I could build them myself, even better than he had. And I darn sure had enough wood to make them. Now I have to point out that these chairs were not my design. But before we talk design theft, I have to detour into auto theft. Because in my life there were two cases where people were getting rid of a boatload of wood and it worked out in my favor, and with the first one I ended up getting my car stolen.

Some guy was selling a garageful of teak, which I'd mentioned earlier. These were huge pieces of rough-cut lumber and you couldn't believe how much of it there was. The guy's grandfather had brought it all over from India on a ship in the 1950s. I had this crappy Chevy Astro van, and each trip I loaded it up to the brim with wood, so badly that the van was practically bottoming out. It was a 1.5-hour round trip and it took me six freaking trips to get all of the wood back to the boatyard where I was living.

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By the time I made it back with the final load, it was late at night and I was dead tired. I couldn't lift my arms to unload that last batch and figured I'd get to it in the morning, so I left the car in the lot, staggered back into my sailboat and fell asleep with my boots on.

In the morning I got up and went out to finish the job. But my van was gone. I always parked in the same spot so it's not like I misplaced it, and the keys were still in my pocket, so it's not like a buddy of mine had moved it. It had just disappeared, along with its load of valuable teak.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  25 Feb 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Editor: Here in Part 2 of "Accidental Designer's" story, he engages in one of the more unconventional design/build educations we've ever heard of—and unwittingly lays the foundation for a big next step on his way to starting his own company.

If you're behind on this tale, you'll want to catch up with Part 1 first.


It amazes me that those of you in design school learn your craft in four years. Since I had no plan, I spent well over a decade building up my skillset and learned a lot of things the hard way, though I don't regret a day of it.

After graduating high school I had no notion of design as a career, and more immediately I knew college wasn't for me. Neither was staying in my mom's house. So at 18 I moved out, and started living on a derelict wooden sailboat that my brother and I had bought with money we'd saved up working for my dad.

With every dollar we had spent on the boat, there wasn't anything left over for paying for a space to dock the boat. So my brother and I became experts at "the slip-around," where you'd find a slip someone had recently vacated, then dock the boat there. Eventually Harbor Patrol would realize your boat was in a slip that someone had stopped renting, then you'd get towed to the impound dock. But it didn't take a genius to figure out that paying a $35 fine a couple times a month was a helluva lot cheaper than the $300 monthly rental fee.

I supported myself using the skills I'd learned under Mr. Barkington in that hellish Shop class, particularly that last big boat restoration job. I had also taught myself some new tricks through trial and error, and I talked some folks into hiring me to restore their boats. With the money I saved I was able to buy some boats of my own, real junkers, but I'd live in them, restore them, flip them, then buy another, rinse and repeat. That worked out pretty good.

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People got to know my face around the marina, and I got hired to do odd jobs around the place. Instead of the Harbor Police writing me tickets, I became the guy they'd call if a boat was sinking in the harbor, and I'd go pump it out. If someone showed up in the middle of the night for an early-morning haul, I'd help them get set up. Because I was there practically 24-7, I became the boatyard's de facto security.

Eventually I caught the attention of the local boatyard. They had this old-school shipwright, a really crusty old-timer who wanted to retire, and he needed an apprentice who could keep the work up. I'll call him Mr. Wright, and I'll tell you that this guy made Mr. Barkington look like a kind, nurturing soul.

But I wasn't there for praise, and apprenticing under an old-school guy like that, who really knew his business, was one of the best educations I could get. Soon I was living in the boatyard with my own, legal, slip. And for the next eight years Mr. Wright taught me proper process and procedure, along with a system of wood joinery that was centuries old. He taught me how to balance following tradition with thinking on your feet. I got to use all kinds of unusual shipwright's tools, like a handplane with a bowed, springy bottom so you could plane concave surfaces, tools the likes of which I never saw before or since. He had this special kind of adjustable "story stick" that he used to measure windows, he called it a "Preacher stick." I asked him why and he looked at me like I was an idiot and said "Because it never lies."

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  11 Feb 2014  |  Comments (2)

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Editor: Here "Accidental Designer" tells us the epic tale of how he backed into a career in designing and building by discovering something no one else had. We won't tell you the name of our protagonist for now, as we don't want you to Google him yet and find out how the story ends. Just sit back, enjoy, and see how a man with no formal industrial design training launched into a career many of us would envy.


I knew that I'd screwed up, but knowing it didn't make it any better. I was made to stand up in front of the class, where thirty pairs of wide eyes all stared at me, afraid of what was going to come next, yet glad that it wasn't one of them up there.

You see, before I had any inclination that design was going to make me a success, and before I even learned how to design, I learned how to build. I read in a previous True I.D. Story that the designer learned how to build in his grandfather's woodshop as a kid. Well, I didn't have a kindly grandfather teaching me: Instead I had a hard-ass I'll call Mr. Barkington, who ran the Wood Shop class in my high school. And I thought he was a complete asshole.

Wood Shop was a mandatory class, and Mr. Barkington was quite the ball-buster. For our first assignment, we had to make a checkerboard—pretty basic, cut squares out of two different colors of wood, then put them together in an alternating pattern. Well, I forgot to account for the kerf, the thickness of the blade, when I cut my pieces up. Add up a 3/32" kerf across the entire board, and by the time I got it all together the damn thing was a couple inches too short on each side.

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Mr. Barkington called me out in front of the entire class. "Take a look, everybody," he said, "take a good look at what this fucking idiot did! Jesus Christ!" He held my board up so everyone could see. "Does that look right to you? Hey asshole, do you even know what a kerf is? Jesus, Saint Mary and Joseph!"

As you Millennials can probably tell, I went to high school a long time ago, back when it was perfectly acceptable for a teacher to say these kinds of things to a student. Today Mr. Barkington would probably have been fired, but back then, I dunno, I think we didn't take stuff so personal, or we learned to endure it for our own betterment. When he humiliated me in front of the class, sure, my cheeks were burning, but I didn't cry, or go tell the Principal (who wouldn't have given a shit) or go whine to my parents. And no, I didn't throw the checkerboard out; it became a cutting board for my mom.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  28 Jan 2014  |  Comments (2)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: This True I.D. Story comes to us from "Diceman," who landed a killer I.D. job straight out of school—then fell on harder times when the market shifted, and had to go back out on job interviews.


I was on time for my interview at the softgoods company. Five people filed into the room, a mix of junior and senior designers and the company's Design Director. After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to brass tacks and I cracked my book open.

I started off by showing my sketches, which, frankly, are not my strong suit. I hoped to blow past that and get to the things I was good at, modelmaking, CAD and fabrication, but the interview took a left turn. There was some general murmuring about the weak quality of my sketches, which I could handle—design school crits can be brutal and do a good job of fortifying you—but this one junior designer clamped on like a pit bull and just wouldn't let go. He kept going on, and on, and on about my "shitty" sketches; I looked around the room to see if anyone was going to rein this guy in for saying the word "shitty" during a freaking job interview, but all I saw were disappointed eyes looking at my book.

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Ah, how far the mighty have fallen, I thought, reflecting on my last ID job, where I probably made more money than the Design Director did here.

Let me back up a sec and tell you how I got to this GD interview in the first place.

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  14 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

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This is our first non-anonymous True I.D. Story.

As a musician and sound engineer, Stephen Ambrose spent the '70s touring the world with hard rock acts. This led him to invent the world's first in-ear monitor, essentially the progenitor to the modern-day earbud. In this True I.D. Story, Ambrose—who went on to commercialize his invention by founding Asius Technologies—reveals why Spinal Tap's "11" is, in real life, more like a 3.5.

Editor's Note: This story is primarily paraphrased from a conversation with Stephen Ambrose, and is not comprised of direct quotes. If there are any factual and technical errors here, they are mine, and not Ambrose's.


As a sound engineer in the 1970s, roadies used to hate me because I'd show up for the tour with 23 flight cases and they all had to be hauled; musicians, especially the hard rock guys I was working with, need to hear themselves on stage, and they like to hear themselves LOUD, the thinking went. So there was a lot of gear.

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Aside from the roadies, I had a financial incentive to develop an in-ear monitor; if I could make something that fit into your ear and gave you that crucial feedback, then you wouldn't have to ship 10,000 pounds of speakers all around the world. The air freight on those speakers was pretty expensive.

A lot of [these rockers] had actually developed hearing damage from years of being up on stage, though they'd never admit it. Image, you know. So one challenge in designing my in-ear monitor was that it couldn't look like a hearing aid, because no rocker wants to look like he's wearing a hearing aid—even if he really needs one! So I made them out of gold so that they looked like jewelry.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   1 Jan 2014  |  Comments (0)

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Core77 2013 Year in Review: Top Ten Posts · Furniture, Pt. 1 · Furniture, Pt. 2
Digital Fabrication, Pt. 1 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 2 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 3 · Digital Fabrication, Pt. 4
Insights from the Core77 Questionnaire · Maker Culture: The Good, the Bad and the Future · Food & Drink
Materials, Pt. 1: Wood · Materials, Pt. 2: Creative Repurposing · Materials, Pt. 3: The New Stuff
True I.D. Stories · High-Tech Headlines

For 2013 we rolled out a new section, one that's quickly become a reader favorite: True I.D. Stories, where industrial designers in our readership stepped forward (albeit anonymously) to tell their tales. What can go wrong for an industrial designer? The short answer is, lots.

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First, "Newbie Designer" sounded off with "Off the Grid," the tale of his first ID business trip. The newly-minted exhibit designer was flown across the country to oversee a store installation, and the trouble started nearly as soon as he got to the store.

» True I.D. Stories #1: Off the Grid

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Next, "Design Minion" told us his story of "Fun in the Sun." The designer of recreational pleasure craft found no pleasure during his first, hellish, on-site product catalog photo shoot.

» True I.D. Stories #2: Fun in the Sun?

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Then we got into epic tale territory, as "Good Ol' Boy" took us through his multi-part adventure of going from useless, unskilled design grad to getting his dream ID job. It was by no means a straight line—this tale has more crazy twists and turns than a spy novel!

» True I.D. Stories #3: Get a Job, Any Job!
» True I.D. Stories #4: My Master(s) Plan
» True I.D. Stories #5: Game of ID Thrones
» True I.D. Stories #6: Opportunity Knocks. And Her Name is Amber
» True I.D. Stories #7: Money, Revenge, and Miscalculations

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  17 Dec 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: The conclusion of "Family Man's" cross-country tale! After he confronts his boss about shorting him on his salary, said boss suddenly drags him into another ID firm that shares the same building. How is this going to be a solution?


"[Jimmy the Bear], this is [Family Man]," Batcopter Boss said, introducing me. "He's a talented designer. And right now he needs some extra work."

I didn't need extra work, as far as I was concerned; I needed to be paid the correct amount for the work I was already doing. But I kept my mouth shut for a second, to see just what the hell was going on here.

Jimmy the Bear got up and came around from behind the desk to shake my hand. I call him Jimmy the Bear because that's what he looked like: A big, bearded gentle giant type, who moved and even blinked ponderously and deliberately. "How are you doing, Family Man," he said, encasing my hand in his huge mitt. "So what's your skillset?"

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Batcopter Boss excused himself while I ran down my list of credentials. Jimmy motioned for me to follow him back out through the door and into yet another office.

In this room two guys were sitting in front of some monitors. They looked pretty young, I had at least ten years on both of them. On a large table against one wall were some drawings for the coffeemaker I'd seen the other guy working on in the model shop. Jimmy started describing where they were in the project and what more needed to be done, quizzing me on various parts of the drawings; I offered input and pointed out something on one of the drawings that I thought would be a problem to mold.

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Underneath the messy stack of drawings was something that didn't match, and I pulled it up to ask about it. They were drawings for a toy design, another ID area I had experience with. Soon Jimmy and I were talking about that project too. Now here's the thing: At that point I didn't have a lot of money, I didn't have a lot of what I considered professional respect or renown, but I definitely had a shitload of experience. And in that 15 minutes, Jimmy saw it—because next thing I knew, he was asking me how I'd like to head those two projects up. A half an hour ago, he didn't even know my name.

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   3 Dec 2013  |  Comments (4)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: After a nasty paycheck surprise, suddenly underpaid "Family Man" has to figure out where he went wrong with his new employment contract. Has he screwed himself and his family, or are they getting screwed by the company?


It was well after closing when I got to the office, so everyone else was long gone. I flipped the lights on, headed over to my desk and ripped the drawer open. There was the contract. I pulled it out, slammed it down on my desk and started reading through it, to see where I'd screwed up. To be told you were going to be paid an annual salary only to have some clause slipped under your nose in the contract stipulating you'd instead be paid hourly wages—this made me angry, and I had to figure out where I'd make the mistake so that I'd never make it again.

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I spent fifteen minutes going through the contract from top to bottom, and could find no such clause. So I read through it again. And again. Then, a fourth time.

There was nothing in the contract like that, no clause, no loopholes. It was totally straightforward. I was supposed to be paid $85,000 a year in biweekly installments, no ifs, ands or buts. So I had read the thing correctly the first time. That made me breathe a sigh of relief since it meant the error wasn't mine, but my anger shortly returned. The boss was shortchanging me.

I went home that night angry, and when my wife asked me what was wrong I lied and said I had to learn some new software for work that was giving me a headache. I couldn't bring myself to tell her how much less money we were going to have, not until I talked to the boss and figured out what the hell was going on.

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  19 Nov 2013  |  Comments (4)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: "Family Man" has quit his old ID job and moved his entire family cross-country to work for specialty manufacturer "Liberace Batcopters." He's also negotiated a huge salary bump for himself. Now it's time to settle into the new job—what could go wrong?


This might sound strange, but even though I was new, my first week at Liberace Batcopters was the first time I really felt confident as an industrial designer. On that first day, a Tuesday, I was a little nervous; up until then everything I'd ever designed could be held in your hand, or at least picked up, and here I was designing pieces of a massive vehicle of a sort I'd never even ridden in. But as the week went on, the confidence started to happen as I realized that, on some level, design is design. The scale of my new projects created some new challenges, but it was all very manageable. When you lay things out in the proper sequence and you attack the design problems from the correct angle, your experience will carry you through.

The first week went by in a blur. I was redesigning a shroud to cover the gun turret that fired Bat-a-rangs to make it more aerodynamic. One of the engineers confided to me that no matter how sleek I got it, it wasn't really going to do a damn thing for the drag coefficient, but that they would compensate by adding more thrust and burning more fuel. Our clients, you see, wanted the aesthetic change and weren't the type to worry about burning more fuel, especially since a lot of them had made their fortunes by sitting on its sources.

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continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   5 Nov 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: Where we last left off, "Family Man" was in the middle of an important salary negosh. But with a wife and two kids to support, money is just the first hurdle he needs to clear. Can he get the clan to the other side of the country?


"I can't do it for less than eighty," I said. That was exactly double my salary back home. Less than what my wife and I made together, but the cost of living out here was slightly lower.

"Eighty grand," Batcopter Boss said.

"That's right," I said.

He leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers behind his head.

"I can't do eighty," he said, grinning. "I'll give you eighty-five."

I thought I heard him wrong. I didn't. He was offering me $85,000 a year.

Before I knew it we were both standing and shaking hands across his desk. But I told him I couldn't finalize yet, that I still had to sort some things out. See, if I was a single guy, it would have been a done deal right then and there; but my name in this story is Family Man, and there's a reason for that. The money Liberace Batcopters was offering was great, but now I just had to make sure I could provide a good home for my family.

When I told Batcopter Boss what I needed to do next, he said he'd ordinarily accompany me, but that he had to finish up some things. So he opened a desk drawer, pulled out a set of keys, and tossed them to me. At first I thought they were the keys to his Audi, but I was wrong; he led me around the side of the building to where there was a freestanding garage. He punched a code into a keypad, the door slid open, and inside was a shiny, cherry-red, jacked up Ford F-150 with a Batcopter logo on the side. "Company car," he explained. "Try not to scratch it."

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continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  22 Oct 2013  |  Comments (4)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: Where we last left off, "Family Man" and his wife decided to give up their safe life and move their brood to where they really wanted to live. To get there, Family Man needs to chase down what might be the most unusual industrial design job we've ever heard of—and he's got to prove that he's got what it takes to design Batcopters for Liberace. Does he? And how much money does it take to feed four mouths?


I e-mailed my portfolio to Liberace Batcopters, Inc. that very next morning. I wanted to do some more research to try to find out what that other ID firm was, the consumer products one that shared the same address as Liberace Batcopters, but I didn't have the time; I had to get to work.

Where I worked back then was clean and air-conditioned, a prerequisite in this hellhole of a hot state, but it was kind of soul-crushing. We're talking an aluminum warehouse, maybe 60 by 200 feet, filled with cubicle farms. Industrial lighting. Concrete floors that I was pretty sure would ruin my knees for snowboarding.

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The design group was pretty small and I shared a cubicle cluster with a fellow industrial designer I'll call Rick. Rick was the only good thing about this mediocre job; he was a talented designer, a funny guy, never got stressed out, and we could talk motorcycles, guns and snowboards all day when the boss wasn't around. (And that was a lot, since our boss had quit two weeks ago and they hadn't found a replacement yet.)

Rick and I had grown close in the years that I'd been there, we were both present when our sons were born, we'd gone on hunting trips together, our wives got along (important!), that kind of thing. I was tempted to tell Rick I was applying for a job at Liberace Batcopters because I knew he'd think the vehicles were cool, but something told me to hold off on that. And anyways, it would probably be days before they got back to me, and there was no guarantee I'd get the job.

Well, I wasn't at work for more than an hour before my cell phone started vibrating. Rick hadn't heard it, so I put a cigarette in my mouth like I was going out for a smoke break, scooped up the phone and made for the door, to take the call out in the parking lot.

By the time I'd made it out there, I'd missed the call, so I dialed it back. It was from an area code I didn't recognize. "Hi, this is [Family Man], I just missed a call from this number," I said.

"Hi, [Family Man]," said the male voice on the other end. "This is [Batcopter Boss] of [Liberace Batcopters]. We got your book this morning, do you have a second to talk?"

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   8 Oct 2013  |  Comments (4)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: This True I.D. Story comes to us from "Family Man," who spots a rather unusual ID job listing and hopes he can chase it down for the betterment of his family. With a wife and two young children to support, the stakes are higher than for you single folk; can he pull it off?


I'm not bragging, but the fact is I designed [something that became pretty famous]. And I know a lot of you designers are in the same boat and did something similar, but never got any credit for it, like I didn't.

You wouldn't think the designer of [famous object] would be making just $40,000 a year, as many units as that damned thing sold. On top of that, as this story begins I had [famous object] to my credit, two degrees in Industrial Design, both a Bachelors and a Masters, and four years of work experience, yet I found myself an underpaid Senior Designer cranking out consumer products at a fairly mediocre company. I can't tell you what I was designing, or where we were located, or you'll figure it out; but let's just say the weather there was hot and if you had children in the '90s, chances are high you used something I designed.

Now I noticed that all of these True I.D. Stories have come from single guys, so my story's a little different. The reason I could afford to have a lousy $40,000-a-year salary in a major U.S. city is because my wife made more than that. We had a four-year-old son and a newborn (also a boy) just eleven months old at the time that this story starts. Between the two of us we made just about six figures, and that was enough to get us a 1,400-square-foot house just outside the city that was about $150,000.

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We were comfortable, and more importantly, my wife's career was fast-tracked. All we had to do was wait for a few years, and then something in my wife's career was scheduled to happen, and then we'd have a lot more money. So all we had to do was sit tight. I could stomach designing [certain category of unexciting consumer products] for another four years because I had my eye on the prize, and I knew we'd be able to provide a financially secure future for our two boys.

Well, all of that changed when we took a little vacation.

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  24 Sep 2013  |  Comments (0)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: Where we last left off, Design Ninja had practically killed himself to generate 100 concept drawings, in an effort to impress the design consultancy where he'd been hired. Now it's time for the client presentation. Will they be wowed?


I felt both relieved and worried, standing there at the baggage carousel, watching my giant plastic bins come tumbling down the slide. Relieved that the airline hadn't lost them, and worried that the drawings might be damaged. I wanted to take the tape off of the bins and check them right then and there, but my boss said we didn't have time; our flight had been slightly delayed and this was one of those in-and-out meetings.

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Before I knew it we were in a minivan taxi on the way to Ninja Throwing Stars LTD's headquarters.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  10 Sep 2013  |  Comments (0)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: In Part 2 of Design Ninja's story, we look at his rather...enthusiastic approach to his first work assignment at his new job. If you missed Part 1 of this story, catch up here!


You can't learn to be a ninja in two weeks, but that's what we industrial designers are often asked to do. Our skills, creativity, technical acumen, and understanding of human nature are supposed to enable us to re-think existing products and re-design them in just months, though people may use these objects for years.

As I mentioned in the last post, I'd just scored a sweet gig at [Best Design Consultancy] and already had the first project where I was running point, so to speak. The gig was to redesign ninja throwing stars (not really, read the last post) and I'd spent the last two weeks trying to master them. Now I was ready to produce what my new employer had asked of me: Thirty to forty concepts for a re-design. Hit with a bolt of inspiration, I grabbed my pen and sat down to sketch.

I had a particular approach in mind, and I started burning through ink and paper. I was really eager to impress my new employers, and my approach was this: I'd been asked for 30-40 concepts. I was going to give them 100. And these weren't going to be 30 good concepts, 30 okay concepts and 40 shit concepts, I was going to crank out 100 concepts that all had merit. Because I was a goddamned design ninja.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  27 Aug 2013  |  Comments (1)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: This one comes to us from "Design Ninja," who early on in his ID career finds himself grappling with something many of us have: Should I go Corporate or Consultant?


Loosely speaking, as big-city industrial designer looking for full-time work there are two paths you can pursue straight out of school: Going consultancy or going "in-house," i.e., corporate. After undergrad, I discovered the hard way that my book was good enough to get me corporate work but not good enough for the consultancies. So I landed a job at a certain corporation's in-house product design department.

Corporate work was fine for me in the beginning. The hours were great (strictly nine-to-five), I never minded wearing a suit, and I got along great with the four guys and one woman in the design department. But the things I were designing were all in the same family of products—let's say that I was designing restaurant equipment—and after a while you get tired of doing soap dispensers, injection-molded dish racks and coffee stations.

After a few years I decided I had enough ambition and talent to do more than that. That's not to say the guys who worked where I did lacked those things, it's just that they were content, and I was not. So I started secretly sending my book out to several consultancies in the area. I scored a few interviews, but during them it became clear that my narrow focus in one area of products was not adequate.

So I did what Good Ol' Boy did and went back to grad school. The decision didn't come lightly, but I looked at some of the older guys at my job's design department and decided I didn't want to end up there.

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My grad school story isn't as epic as Good Ol' Boy's, but I achieved what I wanted, which was an improved book with a good range of stuff in it. Money was an issue for me, so during grad school I only interned at corporate design places because they paid more. But it was consultancy work that I really wanted to try. It sounded so exciting from what I'd read about it, to get to work on an interface for a car dashboard one month, then a cool retail store, then a line of furniture.

Straight out of grad school I was pretty proud of my book, and sent it to the Best Design Consultancy in the city. I knew I wouldn't get the job, but I wanted to aim high and work my way down.

They called me in for an interview—and I actually got the job. I couldn't believe it. First place I'd applied to! I'd been prepared to flounder for a couple of months and freelance to pay the bills, but here I was with a job at [Best Design], basically a week after getting my Masters.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  13 Aug 2013  |  Comments (6)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: Here we arrive at the final chapter of Good Ol' Boy's quest to attain his dream job at [Hot Design Consultancy]! There's a twist we didn't see coming. And if you missed the first, second, third or fourth part of this story, catch up first!


At the beginning of this story, I'd just graduated with a Bachelors in Industrial Design. After getting rejected from Hot Design, the consultancy where I really wanted to work, I'd then spent:

- Two years working a crappy, barely-ID job
- Two years busting my ass in grad school
- Nearly two years working for a Consumer Electronics giant under an Evil Boss—and being severely underpaid, at $35,000 a year

Now, six years after that first mess of an interview, I'd aced my second interview with Hot Design and parlayed a short freelance gig there into a full-time job offer—a Senior Designer position paying $60,000 a year. For most people, to get what you'd been chasing for six years would be good enough. But me, I've got what you call a personality flaw. I can't let some things go; I hate the feeling of people getting over on me.

So I wasn't going to just quietly quit my gig at CE Giant. I wanted my Evil Boss, the guy who'd screwed me with a salary lower than what an undergrad makes, to eat a nice shit sandwich that I would make for him.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  30 Jul 2013  |  Comments (6)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: At the beginning of this tale, "Good Ol' Boy" set out to chase his dream job. Here we learn that sometimes opportunity knocks on a door you didn't even know was there. If you missed the first, second or third part of this story, catch up first!

* * *

I had been promised a Junior Industrial Designer job at Consumer Electronics Giant for $42,000 a year. But after a boardroom shuffle, the new Evil Boss now told me the new offer was $35,000 a year.

"Take it or leave it," Evil Boss prompted.

"I need a day to think about it," I said.

Evil Boss pointed to his desk drawer. "I've got a lot of books here, [Good Ol' Boy]," he said. "There's a lot of designers that want to come work for me."

I was pretty sure he was full of shit about having people's portfolios in his drawer, and about people wanting to work for him specifically, the damn egomaniac; but there was no doubt that this was a gig a lot of designers would kill for. "So you want an answer right this second?" I asked.

"You have twenty minutes."

What an a**hole.

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I went into the shared office where I worked, sat down, and made a quick list:

continued...

Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  16 Jul 2013  |  Comments (4)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: This is a continuation of "Good Ol' Boy's" story of chasing his dream I.D. job. If you missed part 1 or part 2 of this story, check them out first!

* * *

Going into my second year of ID grad school, life was good. Sure I lived in a dorm, but room and board was paid for by the student loans. I was supporting myself through ID internships and then a summer ID job at [Manufacturer of Soon-to-be-Obsolete Products] that paid pretty good, because their products weren't obsolete yet.

My Alias skills had gone from almost zero to literally knowing more than the teacher. My portfolio had expanded well from both the internships and the classes; the school pulled in good corporate partners and we got to work on cool projects, like "What should Appliance X look and behave like in 15 years?" And during that summer job, I got to work on designing an entire line of [redacted], which I knew would impress [Hot Design Consultancy], where I really wanted to work.

Most importantly, I had taught myself to hustle. And sometimes when you hustle, you have to be a little ruthless. That's why I can still sleep at night knowing that I've done what I'm about to tell you.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   2 Jul 2013  |  Comments (5)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor's Note: This is a continuation of "Good Ol' Boy's" story of chasing his dream I.D. job. If you missed the first part, read it here!

* * *

Chasing the Dream

After quitting my crappy job designing supermarket interiors, I hatched a plan to get my dream job at [Hot Design Consultancy]. They were located in [Cool City], where I really wanted to live, and they had awesome clients.

I spent a few days holed up at Mama's house flipping through I.D. Magazine and clicking through the then-very-primitive Core77—swear to God—thinking about my situation, and eventually realized I needed three things to get this job: Skills, a Book, and Opportunity.

Skills: I could already draw a damn sight better than most of the folks I'd graduated with, but this was the mid-'90s, and all the top design firms at the time used Alias. I knew Hot Design Consultancy used Alias, because during my failed interview, they'd asked me some Alias questions. I'd taken basic Alias classes during undergrad, but not enough to get a good handle on it. So during the interview when the Alias questions got tough, I'd flopped on the answers. I knew I needed to learn Alias, but how? Back then there were no 3D programs you could run on a home PC. A Silicon Graphics workstation, which you needed to run Alias, ran about 70 grand.

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

A Book: Coming out of undergrad, my portfolio sucked. It was filled with weird conceptual stuff and didn't show any real-world critical thinking and any intelligent, realizable solutions to current-day problems. And Hot Design Consultancy had made their name developing realizable solutions to current-day problems. I had to show them I could be a valuable member of their team.

Opportunity: I'd blown my first interview with Hot Design, and my chances of getting a second interview two years later, after all I'd done was design vacuum formed fish and bacon displays, weren't good. So how would I get the opportunity to interview with them again?

That's when I realized: The key to getting a job with Hot Design was not to have to go through an interview at all.

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |  18 Jun 2013  |  Comments (6)

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This is a true story. Descriptions of companies, clients, schools, projects, and designers may be altered and anonymized to protect the innocent.

Editor: This True I.D. Story is a good one! Fitting in that it comes to us from "Good Ol' Boy." Enjoy!

* * *

The Design Grad Blues

Maybe it's not fair to say my school's industrial design program, at a well-known university in a big-ass city, didn't adequately prepare me for the real world. But I'll say it anyway. As one example of the low demands placed on us, during my final year I basically spent an entire semester making Muppets. And I got an "A."

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

By the time I graduated, I had a portfolio full of weird stuff. The school encouraged us to do bizarre conceptual work and my portfolio was loaded with it. When I look back at that stuff now, I don't know how anyone made heads or tails of it. And people who interviewed me for jobs, particularly the job that I badly wanted, couldn't either.

My Plan to Get a Job

During senior year I'd heard of [Hot Design Consultancy], and I very badly wanted to work there. That was the only ID job I wanted. They did awesome work, they had great clients and they were located in [Cool City], where I really wanted to live.

But I figured I'd better cover my bases. I moved back home to [Below the Mason-Dixon, East of the Mississippi] after graduation and looked through I.D. Magazine—remember them?—to locate 50 ID firms, then I faxed out 50 resumes. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Turns out 12 of those fax numbers were no longer in service. I got two faxes back saying Thanks But No Thanks, they weren't hiring. Then I got two other faxes back saying I could come in to interview.

One of them was from [Hot Design Consultancy]!

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   4 Jun 2013  |  Comments (4)

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Industrial design is like surgery, auto racing or a military operation in that things can go horribly wrong. And they often do, although no one really talks about it. In this new section for Core77, we'll take stories from working industrial designers—namely, our readers—willing to recount some of the humorous, maddening or just plain stupid things that have happened to them on the job. While the stories you'll read here are true, companies, clients, and of course designers are all anonymized to protect the innocent.

Got a "True I.D. Story" yourself? Find out down at the bottom of this entry how you can talk to one of our editors and win yourself a $25 gift certificate to Hand-Eye Supply.

This next True I.D. Story comes to us from "Design Minion."

The Job

I was the only industrial designer on staff at a small watercraft company down South. Working on boats was cool; as the sole designer I got to do everything from the earliest concept sketches to modeling the parts, designing the boats' graphics, doing the tool drawings, and I'd even be out on the line for the first builds. Real A-to-Z of product development.

I was also the only creative person on staff. My boss was the head of Marketing, and anything even slightly having to do with art—or really, just anything he didn't want to do—he pushed off his desk and onto mine. So on top of the rest of my workload, I was also doing POP displays, our tradeshow signage, our brochures, sketches for big-box stores on how to display our product, et cetera.

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

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Posted by hipstomp / Rain Noe  |   6 May 2013  |  Comments (3)

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Industrial design is like surgery, auto racing or a military operation in that things can go horribly wrong. And they often do, although no one really talks about it. In this new section for Core77, we'll take stories from working industrial designers—namely, our readers—willing to recount some of the humorous, maddening or just plain stupid things that have happened to them on the job. While the stories you'll read here are true, companies, clients, and of course designers are all anonymized to protect the innocent.

Got a "True I.D. Story" yourself? Find out down at the bottom of this entry how you can talk to one of our editors and win yourself a $25 gift certificate to Hand-Eye Supply.

First up: "NewbieDesigner" tells us about his/her first on-the-job I.D. disaster.

* * *

True I.D. Story #1: Off the Grid

As a freshly-minted Bachelor of Industrial Design, some years ago I landed my first job at an exhibition design firm. It was a small operation, just eight people, but very successful due to the patronage of major corporate clients like [Telecom Operator] and [Consumer Products Manufacturer]. We did everything for them environments-related: Exhibits for tradeshows, signage, retail environments, even custom executive offices and residences for some of the corporate bigwigs.

I had to share an office with a junior designer, I'll call him JD. Nice enough guy but I couldn't stand him—he was the kind of guy who said accidentally racist or idiotic things, like the time the office ordered Chinese takeout and I started eating it with the provided chopsticks. (I'm Asian-American.) JD commented that chopsticks were stupid, from a design standpoint—fair enough, that's his opinion—then went on to say that anyone living in America shouldn't be using chopsticks no matter what kind of food they were eating. I told him my parents use chopsticks, and he said "Yeah but I mean American people." (Both of my parents are U.S. citizens.)

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

Anyway...

The Assignment

Occasionally I'd have the office we shared to myself, as JD would be sent away to oversee one project or another. Those days were heaven. But I'd only been at the job a couple of months when they said I'd be going away, too; they were going to fly me to [U.S. City] to oversee a retail installation. Ordinarily JD would do it, but he was busy with another job, and while they wouldn't normally send someone as green as me, there was no one else free.

My boss, who was a super-nice guy—I couldn't understand how he'd hired JD—told me the job would be simple: I was to fly out to [Consumer Products Manufacturer's] flagship store in [U.S. City] and after they closed at 6pm, I was to oversee the installation of the new retail display system our firm had designed. It was a straightforward operation: We had these Master Display Guide Booklets printed up that showed you where each product was to be displayed within the system, and my job was simply to see that the store display matched up with the Guide Booklet. (To give you an idea of how long ago this was, we did all of the Guide Booklets in Quark Xpress.) It all sounded easy-peasy.

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

I was to spend the night there at a swanky hotel, and the next morning I'd head to the store before they opened to meet one of the corporate bigwigs, a VP of something or other, to show him what we'd done. This job was my first introduction to corporate stuff, and I knew this guy was important because people used both his first and last name. What I mean by that is, we had a lot of meetings at our corporate clients' headquarters, and people were always introduced by name and department, like "This is Janice from Marketing" or "You'll need to talk to Tony from Operations." But when it was someone important, it was always "You'll be meeting with [First-Name Last-Name.]"

I was excited and a little nervous. I'd never been to [U.S City] and was looking forward to seeing it. (This was before I realized a business trip means you get to see the airport, the hotel and the workspace.)

The Mission

My flight landed on time, and I checked into the hotel without event. The store was directly across the street from the hotel—so much for seeing [U.S. City]—and I headed over to the store at 6:01pm to meet with the manager.

The center of the store was filled with crates. Our new display system had been delivered, and we started unpacking them all as the installers arrived. I should explain what the display system consisted of. This store had an entire wall comprised of painted concrete, and a grid of holes had been drilled into it, with the holes then lined with metal sleeves of which only a neat, stainless steel ring was visible. It was pretty cool-looking, and the store had done this so that wall-mounted displays could be swapped out at will; it was just a matter of designing racks, shelving or hanging cabinetry with metal tubing protruding from the back, at intervals that aligned with the grid system. You could just plug and unplug whatever unit you needed into the wall.

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Illustrations by Alex Basio

For this company's new line of products, our firm had designed a series of stainless steel racks comprised of square tubing welded together, and with circular support rods that would fit into the holes welded to the back. We had carefully designed these racks to fit every current product that our client wanted to display, and there was a lot of product.

The Design Fail

Going through my Guide Booklet, I located the first rack unit to be installed. The installers got up on ladders to plug it into the wall. "Hey," one of them said, "we've got a problem." I went over to inspect. The tubing protrusions did not line up with the grid, so there was no way to get it into the wall. The manager looked concerned.

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