How to get your first role in product design

Published on: 27th September 2017

Getting into the world of professional product design can be tough. Securing a role in world-leading consultancy like DCA is tougher still. New Design magazine recently asked DCA’s Director, Nick Mival for his advice to students on how to achieve their first big career step.

In a competitive recruitment environment, what can graduating designers do to stand out?

Work hard during your degree, the best work always stands out! If your portfolio is average it is difficult to get past the door. If you have work which could be improved, leave it out or improve it. Keep your CV simple, publicise your best projects on social media, contact everyone including the best recruitment agents and take early opportunities rather than waiting for the perfect job.  

What skills and qualities does DCA look for in a new recruit?

Bright, positive and resilient. Product design is not easy and these qualities are both essential and timeless. I graduated 25 years ago this summer. As I exhibited at New Designers in 1992 3D CAD was in its infancy and the internet had not hit the mainstream. The tools and skills of the designer to craft and communicate new ideas were very different and have constantly changed since. In this context we look for designers that can embrace change and new technologies. Right now product designers who are truly excellent in both the digital space as well as the physical world are rare and sort after.     

At the moment, what are design courses doing well? What might they do better?

We recruit globally from many great design courses around the world. The best courses are preparing graduates to craft great user experiences seamlessly across both digital and physical interactions.  If a graduate designer joins our company they immediately work in a very multidiscipline team. They will work alongside the best mechanical, electronic and software engineers as well as a very strong research team of design researcher, strategists and human factors specialists. We look for graduates who have a depth of expertise in design combined with the curiosity, understanding and flexibility to reach across traditional inter-disciplinary boundaries. In this context the design courses need to collaborate with different courses like engineering, psychology or computer science.    

Finally, if you had one piece of advice for a young designer, what would it be?

Keep designing. A graduate’s work becomes static and old very rapidly. I still remember the feeling of exhaustion finishing my major project and my reluctance to do anything constructive for the following weeks, but it is vital to keep working. Our team meet many graduates with portfolios which haven’t been touched for weeks, months or even years after graduating. It is difficult not to employ an enthusiastic designer with a prolific, sustained output of great work. It is very easy to say no to someone who says in an interview ‘I would have done that if I’d had more time’. 

Published in New Design, Issue 128/2017