Table of Contents » Chapter 4 : Employment » Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia » Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia – Industrial Design

Chapter 4 : Alternatives to Academia – Industrial Design

On Industrial Design as a Career Option

essay by Molly Hatch

I came to my career as an industrial designer through a non-traditional route of studio pottery. My work in ceramics has generally been focused on developing surface pattern for simple functional objects. I have always been interested in drawing, painting and printmaking techniques in their own right but also in relationship to clay. Because of my interest in 2D and surface, I work in a way that is easily translated into surface design for most any material being used in industry—from ceramics and glass, to furniture, wallpaper (room as object) and even fabrics.

Several years ago, I was approached via email by tabletop buyers from a major retail company after they had seen my work in the window of the shop at Greenwich House Pottery in New York. The buyers were very interested in wholesaling some pots from me in a large order. While being a wholesale/consignment vendor to galleries was how I was used to selling my work, I knew that I would lose money filling a huge order for them on my own since I was already struggling to break even in my handmade pottery business. My solution was to ask to work with the company as a designer. I would provide them with 2D surface designs and some prototypes depending on the project. The work I have designed for them has done so well that we have continued the relationship over the years and I have been able to design for other companies as well. While becoming a designer meant moving on from my career as a studio potter, it also meant I was able to focus more time, money and energy on making more involved and special artwork for Leslie Ferrin at Ferrin Gallery to sell.

It is very common for retail buyers come across artists in a traditional gallery or craft/art fair setting—basically these buyers find artists the same way you or I would research and look for new artists. Buyers do searches online, visiting popular design blogs like Design*Sponge, or they look to Etsy and other handmade marketplaces for new ideas. Buyers visit specific cities/regions and look at galleries and venues they have researched or that have been recommended to them. Often they hear of artists through word of mouth—the same way we do! One of the most direct ways to put your work in front of buyers is through exhibiting your work at the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) that is a large retail fair that happens twice a year in New York City.

Some reflections on using social media networks:

I use many different social media networks both as tools as well as ways to get my name/brand out there a bit more. There are so many, some of which you can link together in order to “synchronize” your publishing. For example when I write a blog entry on my wordpress-based website, it is automatically published on my facebook page–that in turn automatically tweets the facebook post on twitter. The same synchronizing happens when I “pin” something on Pin it. The “pin” is automatically posted on facebook and then in turn tweeted on twitter. This is a HUGE time saver and it hits everyone who prefers one way of following you vs. another.

In addition to Pin It, Facebook and Twitter, I use Instagram to keep continuous posting of images I take on the web. When you use the Instagram application on a smartphone, it automatically uploads images to the web and people can follow your postings. I use it to follow the inspirations of fellow designers and artists, bloggers and stylists mostly.

Pin It is a wonderful tool that also acts as social networking. I love to research things online, but I don’t always want to keep folders on my computer desktop full of images I have downloaded. Pin It allows me to keep organized inspirational folders of these source images I collect online for free. The beauty is that other people can view what you are keeping in your folders, which means you get to find great source material online even faster!

As an artist who employs assistants and interns on a regular basis, my one comment for this section is that students be warned that their Facebook pages say A LOT about who they are personally and even more importantly as professionals. There have been many times I have not hired someone because I have researched their Facebook page and they didn’t seem like the kind of person I wanted in my studio. It is incredibly important to remember that future employers go to the web to do research about you and that Facebook is an easy place to find. Be sure to keep your facebook page and any other online publications about you or your work very professional.

Business planning:

There are two books that I think you ought to consider recommending as further reading for students that are focused on business planning.

  • Craft Inc. is a great book for those embarking on a craft based career. It will help answer questions abut how to think about what it will look like and the risks you take on.
  • The business planner is AMAZING. I have a whole semester long professional practice curriculum that uses this book as a workbook. It is an incredible introduction to small business planning. The author would be worth having as a “visiting artist.”