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Toren Orzeck is the Principal of Portland, Oregon design studio FUSE, which he co-founded with Mark Schoening in 1996. For over 20 years the studio has specialized in industrial design and product development. In that time, they have designed everything from slick looking lockboxes for General Electric and shoes for Nike and Keen, to furniture for Herman Miller and the lovable, award-winning Furilla. As an industry veteran and a highly creative mind, we decided to ask Toren what he looks for in a designer.
What do you look for when hiring a designer?
That's a great question and most of the time we are hiring interns or recent graduates. I really like the energy of younger designers. I also like that everything is new to the younger designer and I think that's one attribute all of us as designers need to possess; it's that we should approach the design of any new product as sort of a baby or as a being from another planet. Of course, this is kind of an exaggeration but it forces us to implement a thorough methodology and not just make assumptions based on a current trend or common solution set. If we can apply a solid methodology we can, maybe, discover something useful or novel.
What is the problem or what are the problems we are trying to solve?
Who is the product for?
Application of technology (can we reach for a new tech to solve the problem, will it shrink the product or radically change the form factor or even render it to be an app?)
Competitive and adjacent products (context)?
Inspiration (where did this design come from? Is there a visual metaphor or a story that goes with this design? Is there some sort of zeitgeist in the world that can affect this design?)
When I look to hire a designer my number one is:
Can they draw?
Drawing seems to be overrated by the schools, but it is the quickest way to generate multiple ideas to solve any problem. We all need to think visually as that's ultimately what we are generating. I mean, I don't hate the Post it Note ideation process, but words don't show form and it's open to interpretation. I would rather have a crappy drawing as a placeholder.
Next, what sort of projects did this person pursue? I know it's not always the case, and I do try to ferret this out, but most schools do allow students to have some choice. I'm looking for some invention or novelty to their designs. That is: are they identifying a novel problem? Or are they solving the problem in a novel way. Is there a Big Idea in their solution? Often times, the Big Idea, if manifested, can subjugate other attributes if it's big enough. Tinker Hatfield, the guru at Nike, once told me this and I think he is absolutely right.
Design is often about context.
All products follow a similar methodology in the process of going from problem to solution. I like to see the process on at least one product in their portfolio as the methodology if applied honestly often results in that "aha!" or big idea moment.
I also like to see that concepts and the designers have named their products. Words can sometimes be the catalyst to that better solution or big idea. I know for us if the client [likes] our naming they get more invested into our design.
Finally, if we're talking today and want to get into specifics, I want to see proficiency with the Adobe Suite, Rhino or Solidworks, and Keyshot.
Herman Miller Red Orbiter Furniture system
Is there a particular "tell" that signals a good or bad fit?
I want to find designers that have this selfless product love and will "go to the mat" to solve the problem. I'm not a big fan of the nine-to-fiver unless they are the amazing, rare genius.
In my experience, the internal work we initially generate when we first start to ideate is pretty rough. It's the subsequent rounds of sketches, where we start to see the best solutions and, maybe most importantly, we know we've more fully explored so we have a lot to choose from.
So in terms of a tell, a good fit is participation, lots of questions, and a "show me" way of working. I always tell young designers that wherever you work you need to have your standards exceed those of your employer. This way you are always working for yourself wherever you are and you are pushing the project forward as opposed to being pulled through it by your client or boss.
What is your best interview "horror story"?
Man, great question because I actually have one, although I'm actually the cause of the horror part. We were looking for an office manager and we had these two candidates, both very qualified. The first person has this big gap in their resume between positions, so I ask about it and learn that the candidate had lost their partner in a tragic, sudden accident.
The other candidate has a similar gap as well and I ask about it and learn that this person too lost a loved one, in this case a sibling, in an avalanche.
I was thinking to myself, wow, that's unfortunate, but what a coincidence as the timing of the gaps seemed to fit?!
Could these two be connected?
Not holding back and willing to step deeply into this mess of my own cause, I told the first candidate about the coincidence and asked if their partner died in an avalanche?
I was told the death of the partner was self-inflicted. I'm pretty sure this unearthed a flood of sadness and dread. I apologized profusely, but holy cow, what was I thinking?
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What is the single most valuable piece of advice you could give to those on the hunt?
First, I think it may be good to get with someone you trust with good taste to look at your portfolio.
This "good taste" thing is everything. It really is this subjective, mysterious thing. Why is it that so many of Eames products are so good? Is it their honesty? Yes. Their use of materials? Yes.
Next, get on Coroflot and find the good portfolios - the highly viewed ones.
Learn from the pros. Look at Ross Lovegrove or Stephen Peart. If there's a firm or designer that does a great job in showing their work, steal that look.
I know if I see somebody with heart with a love for design but I think their portfolio needs help, I just tell them.
Furilla - Black + Strawberry
Do you have any specific advice for recent graduates, or people just starting straight out from school?
I think I answered this above. Make your portfolio great. You've got to at least get in the door.
Regarding creative employment, what do you know now that you wished you knew then?
This is a tough one as designers are often rewarded for doing the different or challenging preconceptions but sometimes you may not be dealing with an audience that gets this. I'd say stay positive and emotionally cool, and when the employer says jump, say how high?
I know I was a little too emotionally connected to some of my work and I'd really get upset if my work was tinkered with or if the client could not "see" the brilliance I was showing them.
Last things are:
1. I think the more you see the better you get at knowing what good is. This means drawing (or iterate) a lot. This will allow you to make informed choices.
2. Design is often about good taste or the lack thereof. Show the client only the designs you like. We all know the client may pick your least favorite, so leave it out.
3. Different is good. In terms of the nature of aesthetics, we are visual creatures that respond to the new visual. Even the most beautiful thing can become boring. That said, make it better by creating a story around your design that yields this new look. Maybe it's the way the product is made. Is there a new material/process or technology that can solve the problem more efficiently and at the same time yield a new aesthetic?
ABOM HEET "No fog" goggle
Want to know more about Toren Orzeck and FUSE? Visit FUSE!