Question of the week: How do I Hire the Right Designer for me?

Another fantastic Design Sojourn Reader Question! This week its by Fred from Switzerland. He writes:

I am an avid reader of your blog. I like it’s broad scope and honest
opinions. I also like beautiful well-designed products.
Which brings me to my question about industrial design. You see,
we’re a group of friend with a clever idea for an electronic gadget
and we need an industrial designer.
Here in Switzerland, there’s no shortage of watch designers, and we
found one we think is good but he has little experience in
electronics “enclosures”. I would value you expert advice on this
point: is it important?

The short answer is basically yes and no. Let me explain.
A while back I wanted to do some bottle packaging design work, but my portfolio had a tons of well developed consumer electronic products. I was rejected from the job, because the person, an advertising type non-designer, felt I had no experience in packaging work and thus not suitable for the job. However if the person truly understood the design process he would have seen a design methodology or process based deep in researching and understanding the market and consumer as well as, excellent understanding multiple manufacturing processes. In fact I would consider a bottle design a walk in the park in terms of complexity.
You see the Industrial Design profession is build on a foundation of a strong methodical process that can be easily applied to the designing of many things. From toothbrushes, cars, furniture, or a pen, the process most designers take is more or less the same.
So back to your problem. You see a designer’s portfolio is a reflection of the potential of his work, so if you can find a designer that has done consumer electronics then that’s great. But if you cannot, then the answer is not so cut and dry. I would consider the following points when looking to hire a designer or help:
1) Does the designer you are intending to hire have a strong design process and understanding in what it takes to make a product?
2) If he/she is more of a design stylist I would be more concern if he/she can produce a product that would satisfy your brief.
3) That being said, does his design style meet your branding and marketing requirements? No point getting someone like Philip Starck if your product is meant to be a serious business to business solution.
4) Is your potential designer hire experienced enough and have a portfolio of varied and well developed products?
5) Finally can your potential hire exhibit a good understanding in manufacturing processes and materials?
I hope this helps Fred and all best of luck in your hunt!

  • Design Translator

    August 15, 2007 at 9:36 am Reply

    Thanks for dropping by and your note. I think the problem solving ability of designers can be put to good use under many situations and environments. In particular the ability to study a company’s strengths and weaknesses and apply strategic solutions is a probably a characteristic of the best designers.
    Hey Jim,
    I have no doubt that there are advantages if you have a long time affiliation in a particular industry. Shoe design is a good example. Also in reality, designers do not work alone, and do understand their limits. In this question the person asking happens to an engineer looking for design help. Thanks for dropping by and great blog btw I will be keeping track of it.
    Hi Nick,
    Thanks for your comments, and you are right. The design environment now is much better than the last 5 years, and many companies are starting to see the value of design not only in delivering solutions, but on a strategic management decisions as well.

  • nick

    August 15, 2007 at 5:30 am Reply

    Some companies are clued up on the experience/no experience issue. The firm I’m working for – more of a traditional Industrial Design firm than anything else – was approached by a food company. We made it clear we had no experience (managing expectations) and they replied with “no thats a good thing, we need some new thinking”. It is important to note sometimes there is value in naivety.

  • Jim Rait

    August 15, 2007 at 12:52 am Reply

    I would be wary about stretching design skills too far into another area! I spent 15 years leading a structural plastic packaging team that worked with packaging design houses to ensure the design was fit for purpose. It needs more than just an industrial designer to create good packaging. Great design is crucially dependent on how much the client puts into the creation of the brief and colaborating after! The Design Council is a good place to start finding out what you want to know!

  • csven

    August 14, 2007 at 10:51 pm Reply

    Good answer.
    I’d only mention that a good designer may challenge the validity of the original idea, which can seem frustrating to people. That, imo, actually should be part of the reason for hiring a designer who follows an objective process: sometimes what’s discovered is counter to what’s expected.
    That doesn’t mean it’s a problem, of course. I’ve worked with clients who have investments in How Things are Done (tools, trained labor, aso). Good designers understand that they may not want to pursue something that’s discovered during the process because it’s counter to what they’d hoped and are unprepared. However, the client can still limit the scope to accommodate their existing investments while further examining the unexpected result for markability.
    Better that they be aware through their own efforts than have a competitor make them aware.

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