I taught Interaction Design, Multimedia and Human Centered Design for approximately six years. Firstly full-time, and subsequently in a course driven manner (think of General Assembly and their diverse curriculum of coursework). The students I interacted with went from high school to recent college graduates, working professionals and everything else in between. The point I’m trying to make is: I’ve been able to witness and understand the aspirations and questions that come from trying to get into and also the challenges of navigating a professional world that is constantly shifting. I’ve also gotten additional questions throughout the years from various professionals wanting to get feedback on how they can shift the direction of their career and come into the Design World. With that in mind, I decided to shape up this article in the hopes this offers some opportunities for reflection.
Finishing a Degree and Getting Started. Once I finished college I immediately started applying for jobs. And frantically doing so. I remember going to my first job interviews and being completely overwhelmed by the interview process itself and by the fact that there were so many applicants all vying for the same position. I finally understood, point blank, the harshness of what was lying ahead (a bit like now, where you go to LinkedIn, and you see positions listed where over 200 people have applied for it). Due to some issues in the processing of my Army enrollment in Portugal (at the time everyone had to do mandatory service), no one would hire me since I was basically a viable candidate for that enrollment and no company would invest in someone only for their employee to be taken away for the most part of a year. As it happens, I started to apply for education programs, essentially to compliment my own education. I figured, in between applying for jobs and a tutoring part time I had commenced, why not continue to learn and educate myself in topics that were not solely Business centric, as it had been the case with my Bachelor’s program. I applied for a variety of programs, one of which was a Post Graduate program in Multimedia and Interaction Design, which also included a focus in Pedagogy (the audience was focused on recent college graduates, wanting to further specialize their skills in Design and New Technologies). I had already learnt Information Technology in college, and the duration of that post graduate program and its syllabus seemed pertinent and impactful (even if in hindsight, and based on my degree and academic background, I wasn’t necessarily the best fit for that program itself). Once again I had to go through a collective interview process, with a wide array of people all competing for 12 slots (50 or 60 people competing for a few spots, something that never changes). Turns out I was one of the selected (I couldn’t even believe myself). And thus and for all intended purposes, started my journey in the Product Design World.
This lengthy introduction is meant to highlight the following: everyone’s journey is going to be unique, not everyone is going to college, and even those who do, may not finish their degree. However, understanding what drives you and what you’re personally interested in, can be the catalyst to open doors that you never thought existed. The question and the answer always lie within each and everyone of us. What motivates us and what is it that we want to be doing with our lives.
I finished that Post Graduate program, and in turn it transformed my life completely. Looking back, it was an intense year, one filled with creativity, discipline, laughter, so much studying and getting to know people who I now call friends, who have stayed with me ever since. However once that course ended, I was back where I started. What do I do next? Thankfully one of my good friends, managed to schedule an interview with the owner of a small Design Studio. That particular gentleman was needing an intern/production artist, someone who could help out with some of the CD-ROMs/KIOSKs that were being built at the time (yes, I’m ancient). I showed up with my resume and the final project from the Post Graduate program (a CD-ROM with connections to the Web), and got offered that position. It was an hourly paid internship, and truth be told, I didn’t stay for very long. But those 5 months allowed me to understand the path I wanted to embark on, not to mention I continued to be enrolled in other courses while I was there (at the time I was finishing a Professional Photography course, and immediately after finishing that first year, I enrolled in an Advanced Arts School for Web Design). My point to illustrating this journey is: it’s important to invest in continuous education, but also and just as importantly, refine your craft and realize where your ambitions lie. For me personally, at the time I wanted to use the Teaching certificate I had gotten, and realized I could combine a steady income, with my passion for Design (Interaction and Human Centered Approaches), all in the context of Academia. And after applying for quite a few schools, going through interview processes, I finally got accepted to one.
Internships. Ever since I’ve been able to create Design Teams or manage Designers, I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with people on those teams who have a variety of backgrounds, academic and professionally speaking. One of the common threads that has permeated those experiences, is the fact that I’ve been able to interact with interns who come from very different backgrounds themselves. Those internships have been opportunities for these soon be recent graduates, to gain a deeper knowledge of the industry, job market, and how they can shape their path in order to increase their changes for success. In my personal case, and as I described above, my internship allowed me to muscle my skills which I had learnt from the Post Graduate program, but also it gave me the perspective to understand where I wanted to go next. When it comes to my tactic in hiring and subsequently interacting with interns, the perspective has always been: what can these professionals take something from this experience, and how can they also add meaningful value to what is being done. If anything, a successful internship should allow for the person who goes through it, to better understand the inner workings of a particular industry and craft, but also start to realize if that universe is something that they want to be involved in. For me personally, it allowed me to further understand how some particular Interactive products were made, the cost and strategy behind it (including commercialization, relationship management), but it also allowed me to tilt my own direction towards another aspect of my skills, that I would have otherwise not entire contemplate, had I not been through that early professional experience. My point is: for those who are finishing college or any educational program, if you get a chance to do an internship, apply for it. Chances are, it will always be a learning experience, and hopefully one that is also financially helpful.
Getting Out There. Many students I interacted with and people who have reached out since, have repeatedly asked the following question: “I’m a recent graduate, and I have no portfolio. What can I do to get myself out there and for people to notice me?”. Getting noticed is something that is going to be a long journey for any Designer as they go through their professional career. For those who are just coming into this industry (or even for those who have been in it long enough), think about storytelling. Portfolios essentially tell a story of who you are, but demonstrating what you have done. If you’re coming to this industry with a blank slate, sometimes with some Academic Projects in your back pocket, sometimes without that, think about how you can tilt that to your advantage, by telling the story of what drove you to this point, and what is prompting you to continue. Emphasize aspects such as what informs who you are, what you’ve experienced and what you have done. And please do so in a genuine and authentic fashion, without falling into the trappings of trying to adhere to a trend or what you think people want to hear. Remember, each point of view is a unique one, and each and every one of you have a story to tell that is intrinsically yours. Find a way to communicate it consistently, and that will eventually start to open doors. Yes, there will always be competition and many voices clamoring for attention. And that’s what’s interesting about the Professional world in general and the Design world in particular: we as Designers have the opportunity to communicate who we are just a bit more singularly, without having to fall into the trappings of an overly suffocating model. Just to wrap up, for those who want to read a bit more about portfolios, I have written quite a few articles on the topic which you can check here and here.