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.
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.On some level you could say I was a quitter. Meaning in high school, I quit the baseball team because I wanted to spend more time in my grandfather's woodshop, and decided I'd rather be making sawdust than chasing fly balls. My grandfather had taught me how to build things as a kid, and I advanced from a laminated maple cutting board on to larger things like furniture, cabinetry, and an articulating desk lamp that eventually helped get me into ID school. (Ironically, I also ended up turning a baseball bat.) It was empowering to learn to use a planer, a lathe, a drill press, a router, etc., and I'll always be grateful to my grandfather for teaching me those things. I think making things in that woodshop is what sparked my eventual interest in industrial design.
While plenty of guys can use woodworking tools, there was another tool I learned to use that most guys, I later found, avoid: A sewing machine. My high school had compulsory Home Ec classes where they tried to teach you life skills like cooking and sewing. None of the guys in my class were very enthusiastic about using a sewing machine, but maybe because of my woodshop experience, I just looked at it as another tool: You figured out what you wanted to make, then figured out how the tool could help you make it. I didn't see what all the fuss was about.
It didn't hurt that I wasn't, like, sewing hems on cloth napkins or making drapes; I learned how to make a fleece cap that I could actually wear when I went snowboarding. As an added bonus, the various mountains I visited all sold patches in the gift shop, and I'd use my mom's sewing machine to sew the patches onto jackets and bags. And eventually I started making my own bags.
Fast-forward to me applying to, enrolling in, and graduating from design school with a Bachelors in I.D. I landed a killer job right out of the gate, and after just two years I was getting paid ridiculously well. I won't tell you what the job or the company was, but I know you need an analogy; so let's just say I worked for the company that made an online version of Dungeons & Dragons, and that although the game was digital, the trend at that time was for people to play the game with real 20-sided dice. And let's just say I was one of the guys the company hired to design the 20-sided dice, and that these 20-sided dice were selling like hotcakes.
I got to travel for work quite a bit and my co-workers were cool. I'd forgotten all about sewing, but one of my co-workers had this ratty cycling cap he'd wear every day and looking at this tattered thing drove me nuts. I'd break his balls and tell him I was going to make him a new one so he could retire it. But I didn't have access to my mom's sewing machine anymore, as I was no longer living at home.
However, I had another coworker who used to make puppets as a hobby, and I asked him for sewing machine recommendations. Soon I was the owner of a brand new industrial sewing machine. I cranked out the cycling cap and my coworker finally got rid of that rag.
Before I knew it, I was making cycling caps in my spare time and selling them at local fairs. Not that I needed the bread; as I've mentioned before, the job paid pretty darn well. Life was good, and I rode that job for five years.
Then the axe came.
Those 20-sided dice weren't selling so well anymore. In fact they weren't selling at all. Because no one was playing Dungeons & Dragons anymore, as the game was no longer "hot." In an effort to survive, the company was going to branch out into different types of online experiences, but as it turns out none of them required physical products to go along with them. In short, there was no longer any need for an industrial design department.
So after a good five-year run, I was out of work.
The good news was I wasn't worried about money, at least not yet. I was legally eligible for unemployment, and between that and the nest egg I'd socked away, there was no pressure for me to scramble for some crappy job just to pay the bills. So I took my time looking for work.
After nearly a year of laying low, I finally realized that hanging out at home drawing 21- and 22-sided dice concepts and making cycling caps to sell at craft fairs was not why I was put on this earth. So I started pounding the pavement again, which is how I wound up interviewing at this softgoods company. Back to that interview.
Since we'd all established that my sketches were muddy, my marker style was outdated and my perspective left something to be desired, I finally pushed on to show my modelmaking/building/CAD work. At this point I began to make some headway, as the panel of folks interviewing me could see that yes, I actually had some areas of competence. That one junior designer still had a puss on though, particularly when I briefly went back to some sketches I'd done of a bag. But the Design Director's opinion of me seemed to have improved, and he listened intently while I tried to explain what the sketches represented.
Then I reached into my bag and pulled out another bag, one that I'd made, the one that was in the sketches.
At that point everyone in the interview, including sour-puss, leaned forward across the table to see. I handed the bag over and everyone passed it around, opening the zippers, peeking inside, pulling parts of it inside out to see the construction. In short, they were impressed.
The tone of the interview completely changed, for the better, after that. The designers eventually filed out of the room, leaving me with the Design Director. "Well," he said, "your sketches leave something to be desired, and there's a lot of stuff you'd need to work on, but we'd like to offer you the position," he said.
I thought about it.
And I turned it down.
I can take criticism okay, and far worse things have been said to me during school crits, but it was the attitude of that one designer that turned me off. He had a really condescending, holier-than-thou type of vibe, and the stuff he'd said about my admittedly sub-par sketching wasn't constructive or edifying, it was just unprofessional and frankly, dickish. And if I took the job I'd have to work with that guy. Yeah, no thanks.
What this interview taught me was to always try and show my strongest abilities as a designer and to keep practicing those weak points so they become fewer. Not all of us are great at sketching, or maybe your CAD skills are terrible, but if you are an amazing public speaker, use that to your advantage. If you can sew, or sculpt, or make things or whatever, let that be known.
I eventually landed on my feet, by the way. I now work for a company that makes one of the tools that a lot of industrial designers use. I just pray none of you are using it to design 20-sided dice.
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!).