Designer Interview techniques that kill you! Are you about to become 'Design Fodder'.


So we all wade through the relentless wave of top 10 tips for interview success but how about a reality check… that’s what I’m going to give you right here.

As a designer looking for the next gig you will be asked, fawned and beseeched with the usual drizzle from yr recruiter who really often doesn’t give a damn if you get the job or one of the other 10 candidates they have lined up… nothing new here… you have become design fodder in the long queue.

So, if you are coming in as a  freelancer, trying for role crossover or a plain outsider position the odds are stacked against you when compared to the restless star in the competitors yard.  You stand to lose yr concepts and it is up to you as to whether you want to put your product design at risk.

How to tackle that reality?… not easy but possible.


You need win a great role … not lose your great designs.

  1. Watermark all yr design sheets and write a clear IP statement on each tear.
  2. State this to the recruiter and interviewer at the outset … none of  these designs in part or whole are to be used, copied, re-printed etc.  
  3. Register key designs.

Start from holding on to your position of integrity and take it to the interviewer or better still, to the recruiter.  Try to get as much information about the role prior to interview stage.  Is the role ready to go… how has the role come about… are there any internal applicants…

So just how real is this job position anyway?  

Honestly a large amount of phantom recruiting goes on in order to procure new ideas and products – shocking, but fact.  What is crucial is that you go into a mid weight or senior interview eyes wide open with some filters in place.  The most useful gauge you have is asking direct and open questions= mixes.

Ask the question:

Is this position ready to go?

What kind of a response have you had?

What interested you in my work?

Listen to the feel of answer… remember these people are professionals and wear the right veneer for the right moment, but they don’t like being second guessed early on and the tetchiness of their position often lets slip clues as to what is really going on:  in short questions throw them – so if the answer is shaky, irritable or unsure then guess what… this could be your ‘design fodder’ time…

Worst case scenario?  Don’t think about it.

Scenario 1:  Phantom role: Employer has no real position to fill … they also have no new trend… the are hunting for yours!

Scenario 2:  Position is coming over the horizon but not yet confirmed… SC 1 really

Scenario 3:  Position is a goer… but you may still have a long way to go.


Spotting a genuine Scenario 3:

ok so the interviewer states early on that this role is very important and the right person must be found… sounds obvious? Sure but if you don’t hear and feel this is the case, the chances are you’re  in downtown design foddersville.  Moreover if the interviewer feels like they have changed tack, gone smooth yet non committal, without stating something positive or negative, the chances are they are starting to see you as free trend development.

They want to feel you out.  They have decided you are not the one, usually because of seniority or fear for their position… but yr work is really hot and your concepts are temptingly for free.  They’ll make a move…

The atmosphere changes or gradually gets smoother because they want you to start rolling out the under the surface stuff, ideas, insight and insider news.  In a real interview setting the atmosphere twists and changes according to your shared ideas.

Remember this, the UK retail design PD  industry is a small club and they all know what underwear they have on… chances are if the role is a goer they already know who they want in a sideways move or poach, from a blue chip competitor –  M&P furniture designer flipped over to Shop Direct in Feb 2012 – yet SD interviewed 40 designers to get free hits, trend and more trend.  Well think about it if they are paying a recruitment company 10k they want their money’s worth – even at the expense of yrIP (Your intellectual Property).

Scenario 2:

This one can drag out but one thing’s for sure, if you are one of the luck few on the shortlist they want yr inside leg.

They’ll set you a brief and task you on a comp shop.  Again it’s all about gathering insight at your expense.

Scenario 1: 

That old sinking feeling.  They’ll get you on a brief… a project to design 2 models and start filing yr concept and skewing it just away from litigation…

Nah can’t be true!

Does this sound familiar or are you about to accuse me of being a complete cynic!?

Wait up!

Below are 2 design concepts I made in 2008 in good faith, for a brief set  for major design management role… a brief set by the blue chip allowed them to explore new concept FOC with a top flight, proven product designer.. myself.

Above:  2008 Model  Below: NGPD proposed models 2008

… top:  my bold colours choice which included muted variations and plains

above… what came about thereafter: their colour combo change aligning away from their neutral darks and firmly toward my ideations

above: … my bold check 2008 – we discussed disjointing check pattern as an option or adding pattern match ‘interval’ piping

and … their bold check 2010

At the time of these concepts landing on the table of the retailer they faced design stagnation, with boring satin steel frames and black or navy upholstery. Fit for a funeral, emasculated and dull.

There were a host of other details lifted from my brief such as mini polka dot fabrics and frame schemes.  These two concepts above and their background trend maps re-shaped the brand direction for this UK major.

I didn’t get the job.

No one did… it was a bitter case of Scenario 1:  The genuine Phantom role.

Beating scenario 1:  the IP trap

State clearly your intellectual property rights and wishes – ”I do not consent to… ”

When I attended this particular interview I withheld my most dynamic portfolio; yet that seemingly smart and intended safeguard still wasn’t enough – the work I made for the design department interview brief was enough for them to grab where the market opportunity lay… and take my core concepts.

In the interview setting you must have work that is tailored to do 2 things: show yet hide.

The only other real safeguard is in your ability to disarm.  By levelling clear cut questions from the start of the show you will feel out whether this is on, or RIP.

Ask questions early

You must ask the following questions early on in the interview.

  • Have you seen many people for this role?
  • How do I fit?
  • What did you think of my CV?
  • How soon do you want to start this role?

If you get a hesitant, or unsettling, mediocre responses to these questions, then my friend you are being lined up for trend ingestion.

Apply open questions:

  • I don’t get the feeling you have the role ready… is that the case?
  • You seem unsure about me in some way… what is concerning you?

If they mutter … beautiful… lovely and make occasional notes without committing – yr gone.

Expect the expected

If you must get sucked into an interview with a H St blue chip make sure you only show work that suggests where you are at.  The chances are you will get the job on personality rather than specific designs.  Those like me who carry specific designs will always make the balance sheet look good.

If in any doubt stay freelance and enjoy a direct, fair, rewarding career.

What say thee?  Are these images above what they seem in your mind?  Let me know in comments, thanks.





Design drift UK – Steve Jobs supakudos!

“To design something really well you have to get it. You have to really grok what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to thoroughly understand something – chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that. Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask a creative person how they did something, they may feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after awhile. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people have. Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”

Steve Jobs

This convergent thinking is crucial to divergent invention and evolution.

The world thrives on this type of end result.  A great product, service new mythological commerce led environment.

Yet as these end points are judged winners and losers so too are those creatives who make them – judged without groking what they are all about.

A great HR/recruiter will have instinct… they will get what you are about… 

This quote above swings me around to the key challenge facing diversely experienced creatives.  Those key individuals are often the first to go – why?  Because others find them challenging.

They are the ones who are curious, instinctive, analytical,  smart and yet something about them is annoying (they are different and it shows).


One of the biggest disasters in the creative career industry to emerge over the past 30 years is institutionalised unprofessionalism.  Those guilty posses finite ability to fill in boxes and jealously guard too much risk.

As a trickle down designers have been generally heading in a few directions for practice none of which do a lot for UK when compared to the music industry or the Mary Quant/Conran prime era – excluding architecture, salvation resting with  Mr. Dixon and McQueen of course.  UK design loss includes creatives working in:

   Other work





That we have so few examples of UK design success belies that fact that we are a nation with huge reserves of creative sav.  There has been a cultural shift that has affected the way we view ourselves.

We have been taken from one primarily unique British industrial place to another corporate peer approval setting… led by a rounding down, politics and banking… we now we are conditioned to act more than ever as they do… as administrative peers

1960-70s UK design and manufacture decline 

FACT: In the past 10 years there has been an high loss in University teaching positions matched by high university administrative employment drives.  Many talented teachers and creatives now work in bars and offices.

The key decline and design death of the UK automobile industry is a great example of UK old school corporate getting it catastrophically wrong.  This coincided then with the ‘Common Market‘ approach and today in the deplorable migration of design and manufacture to Asia and China.

UK design has always included the making and proving.

Prime example here is the death of the British icon the Morris, Austin Mini. It’s subsequent reinvention by German car maker BMW has lost the orginal delicate refined features for the sake of an overly aggressive profile. The follow on from the Mini the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina sank the British car design industry because 1. the new models were plumb ugly. 2. there was little in the way of innovative processes to support the growth of new ideas after the furor of the mini (the Range Rover gave us the flipside of the coin – but no new design coped with the main challenge to create a mid range,  family 4 door saloon car).  In the 60s and 70s the nation followed British Leyland because BL became our new design beacon – along with furniture store Habitat (the inspirational fountain of Ikea).  The loss of this I believe has affected ‘brand’ UK design psychology till this day.

But what really died was the public perception and pride in design talent of Britain.  

USA don’t suffer that today with the likes of Steve Jobs do they?

Stagnation Trend

Today our UK design industry flirts with the modern.  And it ends there.

One of my concerns is that a core human right to knowledge (which is a thing entirely based on the imagination and creativity) has been farmed out from those who need it most to those who can pay through the nose for it.  UK youth 14-24 age group. Our employment psychology is mapped out on lines that still denigrate creativity and preference the tick in the box.  We have few examples of as Ken Robertson puts it serves the modern era.

Steve Jobs can be and exceptional pain to work for yet supakudos inspirational – because he is the perfect visionary designer who believes in risk and change.

Jobs succeeded not to solely form up stunning planet changing PD but to cut through the wall of hostility to get through each day – his world is one of the most hostile commercial corporate environments.  

I got this quote from the book The Art of Project Management by Scott Berkun. What he says about that Jobs quote above is flawed:

“The only criticism I have of this quote is that it implies something special about creative people that can’t be obtained by noncreative people. I don’t believe people are born into one of two exclusive piles of creative geniuses and unimaginative morons.”

It’s flawed because it is scared of saying something pragmatic, and risking rebuke and peer group rep. It is like saying you can use any cheese in top Italian cuisine… this is patently bull – 36 month Parmigiano Reggiano is very different to Kraft cheese slices.  Mother nature creates difference: our better ideals preserve equality – best we can.

What Scott fails to address is the reality: most of us have our creativity overrun by poorly perceived education and lack of creative vocational training initiatives.  

“In other words at the age of 3 most of us have the same faculty as Stephen Hawkin… at the age of 10 virtually none of us do.”

What happens in the intervening years?

Don’t rock the…

The boat is capsized – if we don’t push hard it will sink.  Boat rockers turn into great oars(people)men and women.

I saw a job ad the other day for an Industrial design position in UAE stating only applicants who have studied at RCA may apply.  That is frankly a disgrace for both client and HR – but mostly HR for not having the savvy to bite the bomb, point out the obvious and scrap the ad.  

For designer like me, who can look at a successful career on one side and today at not much work on my table on the other, my senses must remain as keen as ever to win the next client.  Gaining employment as a senior mid weight is incredible difficult for me because my CV shows too much “deviation” in the minds of HR – there’s not enough retail… they tell me.

And that is exactly what Steve Jobs is not saying.  Without a depth and range of experience (including LIFE experience) and reflection the design industry is at risk of remaining rudimentary and populated by those that cannot grow across the deep and wide potential they possess.

Give me another Job any day.

Perhaps life experience gives us the greatest cue: live twice the life, work twice as hard and dig away at the creative world.  There are a lot who are no longer able to do so.

God bless you Steve Jobs.

Nick Garrett

Thanks to

BMW brutalism overbearing compaired to Fiat’s sensitive Fiat 500 rebirth?