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.
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?"It was the President himself calling me! He'd liked my book, and asked if I'd really designed [famous object I mentioned in the last installment]. He followed up with some technical questions—"Why'd you design this part that way, shouldn't it have been like this?"—etc., and I was able to provide answers that demonstrated manufacturing knowledge. The guy seemed to know his stuff, and threw out a couple more questions about how particular things in my book were designed and manufactured. I knew what he was doing: He was testing me.
I didn't mind, and in fact I was flattered, because the questions he was asking showed that he really pored over my stuff. So I answered every technical thing he asked me, and tried to go above and beyond without sounding like an annoying know-it-all (we've all worked with guys like that...). By the end of the test, I felt I'd passed with flying colors.
Speaking of flying, that's what I'd be doing in a few days. Batcopter Boss wanted me to come out to [Cold Weather State] so we could talk some more. I couldn't wait to get home and tell my wife about it.
They sent me a ticket, and three days later I landed in Cold Weather State. It wasn't until I finally got outside the climate-controlled airport that I got that first blast of fresh, cold air. I don't know how people live without it. Through my own little cloud of exhalation I made out a pretty bad-ass tricked-out Audi AWD wagon by the curb, and I was admiring it--when I noticed that my name was written on a sign stuck to the window.
Batcopter Boss had come to pick me up in his ride. As I threw my bag in the back I saw his snowboard gear in there and I liked the guy right away. He was a few years older than me, but not like any boss I'd had yet; he was laid back, youthful-sounding, smart—the kind of guy you wanted to have a beer with.
He drove me straight to their "office," and coming from a metal warehouse, this place seemed like freaking paradise. It was a large ski-chalet-type building converted into his design studio, with double-height ceilings, multiple fireplaces, huge windows overlooking snowy vistas. It was a Saturday, so the place was empty, but I could see the sketches, drawings and models on top of all of the large worksurfaces.
The workspaces were open-plan like the warehouse, but surrounded by exposed wood and with those views, I didn't care. The warehouse I worked in smelled like cleaning solution; this place smelled like cedar. He showed me around the various areas, including the desk where I'd be sitting. He explained that the model shop was off-site due to the size of the machinery required, but that with the long lead times involved in this type of work, how it typically wasn't a problem. I thought he was joking when he told me there was a shortcut to the model shop that we could access via freaking snowmobile. (He wasn't joking.)
He also mentioned that the rear half of the building was his buddy's ID firm, the one that I'd read had shared the same address, but we didn't get to discuss it further.
We sat and talked for at least 90 minutes, initially with him feeling me out, and culminating with him showing me some of the freaking awesome projects they were working on. The Batcopters themselves were a totally new area for me, but I had enough technical acumen and enough of a design mind that I was able to keep up with what he was going over, although I did have a lot of questions. At the end of the talk, he put the drawings back in the flat files and sat down across from me.
"So," he said, "do you want to do this?"
"Well, we should talk about salary," I said, trying not to sound overeager.
"What do you need?" he asked. I liked that phrasing: not "What are you looking for," but "What do you need."
My wife and I had discussed this in advance. We had a family to support and couldn't afford to take risks; so with the worst-case scenario being that she might not be able to find a job out here, I had to be able to cover the nut.
"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.
All specific names, companies, clients, designers, and details will be kept anonymous to protect the innocent. You needn't write the story out; a Core77 Editor will interview you to produce a write-up (and to be sure you ain't pulling the wool over our eyes to win that sweet gift certificate!).