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A 3D print design career is not limited to entrepreneurs as outside consultants, but includes intrapreneurs inside a company as well. Tom and Tracy Hazzard identify the 3D print design and designer gap of professional individuals who are lacking the skills companies desire. The 5 skills needed to fill that gap are not as hard to obtain as one might believe, and while today’s young students are gaining these skills as young as elementary schools, can we afford to wait until they hit to workforce for this gap to be no longer existent?
Listen to the podcast here:
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career
We got a really good subject today that really is in our wheelhouse and is brought to you by our sponsors over at MakerBot. It is planning the ultimate 3D print design career or just general 3D design career, 3D design or 3D print. We’ve heard from some of you recently writing in to us about how can you get educated for it, some of you looking for a career for the second half of your working career time and others are starting out. We thought this would be a good subject to go over, how to make the ultimate 3D print design career.
We are coaching this in two ways. One is that we are encouraging you to be an intrapreneur as well as entrepreneurial in spirit, both. That way it doesn’t matter here what we’re talking about, you can do this from inside a company or as an outside entrepreneurial consultant, like we are. We’ve done both. We both been on teams internally and externally. That’s what I’m terming an intrapreneur.
We have always treated ourselves like we could pick up and go the next day and we would always be keeping our resume up and we’d always be keeping our skills up. All of those things made us more valuable both inside the company but also outside the company. It gave us a lot of flexibility and freedom to be happy with our design career.
I’d like to add there, before we get into our five main points that we want to make or things that we think you should do to build that 3D print design career, I do think the fact that we’ve had experience being employees at companies earlier in our career and being entrepreneurs, I recommend people actually do that to experience both. Because I think whether you’re working inside as an employee or you’re outside as a consultant, it really helps to understand how companies actually function, the operations of them.
If you’re going to be a good consultant from the outside, you really have to understand what makes a company tick. That’s why the best consultants who make the most money have, at some point, been kicked out of house or left the company and it’s still their client. Those are the ones that make the most money over time.
I actually personally believe that there’s no such thing as job security. If you are the type of person that wants to have a job and a salary and a regular paycheck from a company, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I think that the idea that that somehow is a more secured job just because you’re an employee of a company versus an independent type, I don’t think that’s true at all. I think everybody is temporary in the modern workforce. I think you should treat it that way.
However, this is another reason that we’re encouraging you to get a 3D design career. Whether it’s just the CAD side of it and modelling side of it and not the 3D printing side of it or it’s both, it doesn’t really matter here. We’re using it generally. The reality is, is that you need to be able to have this ability to fill this gap that’s going on in the design world right now.
Politics aside, is it doesn’t really matter what your politics are on this, there is a designer gap right now. If there is this immigration problem and if there’s something that goes on in the future where they’re not granting as many H1 visas and things like that going on in the future, that’s going to create an even bigger design gap. Right now, there’s a shortage of designers, especially ones with lots of 3D skills. They’re getting them from all over the world, bringing them in on special visas, because we just don’t have enough coming up through the ranks in schools and other places.
This is a place. It’s a time especially right now, because our kids are young, they’re learning 3D printing in school. Some of them are even getting CAD, we’ve been hearing that and it’s fantastic. It’s becoming as standard as typing class when we were kids. I’m thrilled with that, but can we really afford to wait for them to be in the workforce? No, there’s a gap right now and you could be filling that because the skills to obtain that is not that hard.
I see the gap growing as time goes forward. We know more and more manufacturing with additive manufacturing is coming back more regionally and locally within the United States. Somebody has to design all that product. As that industry continues to grow, there’s going to be a bigger need for designers. We’re not just saying this from our perspective. It is our opinion, but we also have experience with leaders of large US companies that are $300 and $400 million a year type companies where the owners or CEOs, they network with other CEOs of similar size and even bigger companies. We’re hearing it from them as well, that they see that as the future.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Never Stop Learning
Anyway, here’s what you want to do to make it the ultimate 3D print design career or 3D modeling career for you, really to make the most out of a career, to give yourself the most flexibility, to give yourself the maximum ability to be highly employable and sought after. That’s our goal for you. Here’s the things that we’ve learned over time. Number one, you have to be self-driven and continually learning. I think that is a really important point.
I remember when I got out of school, I was done school. I wanted to get out and start working. I did not want to be being taught anymore. In time though, I started to really understand and respect that the school of life continues for a long time. It’s true about careers. Eventually, I opened up my mind and embraced the idea that the job that I do as a designer, I have the great fortune to be able to continue to learn new things all the time and that my job doesn’t get boring and stale, repetitive doing the same thing over and over.
Not only is that fun but I also think you become a better designer if your mind is open to continually learning and improving yourself. You’re keeping your mind flexible, which is keeping it flexible for the creative process as well and new input is extremely important. We say this to designers all the time and we probably said it 100 times over the 400 episodes we’ve been working or something like that. Get out of the office, go to the factory. In this case, yeah, the 3D print factory might be at the end of your desk. But the reality is, you know that that’s not the end product. 98% of the time, it’s not the end product.
I remember being a kid growing up in New England. One of the things we had in New England at that time was the Parker Brothers Game Factory. I remember going and taking a tour of that, all the board games. There were Monopoly and they were molding all little houses and hotels and they were casting all the little metal pieces.
There’s no excuse today because we have How It Works and How Stuff Works. We have all these YouTube channels and all this stuff that gives you an inside look at all these things. Even if you physically can’t get there, there’s no reason for you not to educate yourself in this. That’s what we’re talking about continually learning. Reading, and not just the junk that’s in every week, whether it’s Fast Company or even my own column in Inc. Sometimes it’s just not that relevant to what you need to learn next.
Go and find the good books, actually read a whole book. Go out there and learn from other people too. This is a time to broaden your horizons and find mentors and people to apprentice with, which is possible, and something I want to talk about at the end of this podcast. There are opportunities for you to learn from someone who’s doing something great, whether it’s design or some technical skill or just really has a great technique of how they sketch or how they use CAD.
Being open minded to learning is just really critical. Guess what, look how much technology is changing right now with 3D printing and additive manufacturing. Where would any of us be if we weren’t open to learning about that? Definitely learn and get exposure. I would go out even, if I was in the San Francisco area and anywhere near Sculpteo, I would go and take a tour of that facility. Learn as much as you can. Even if you think you know everything about a subject, go make sure, continue to learn more.
Advocate within your company if you have to, to get to trade shows. Those are extremely important. They’re opportunities for you to learn something new, to see what’s going on, to get outside of the office and just expand your mind at those moments. Those are important. By all means, this shouldn’t be boondoggles and you’re constantly going on one of this. There are companies that do that. Make sure you go on one at least a couple a year that are not the same thing all the time, aren’t a trade show that you’re working but a trade show you’re learning from.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Get Feedback From Non-Designers
Number two, this is where you really need to find friends outside of the design department. These are friends, colleagues, whatever you want to call them, collaborators, people to learn from. I’m talking about, get out, go learn from the sales people. Get out, go learn from marketing, go into manufacturing.
Or my favorite, if you’re at a company that actually sells a product or service in some way, there’s got to be a customer service department. Go talk to the head of the customer service department and learn what are people calling in about, what are their issues or complaints with the products. You will learn more about the good and bad of your company’s products by finding out what people call in about, what they have issues about, what spare parts are being shipped out to them.
This is the thing, your job here is to listen and that’s how you’re going to make your friends here. The best part about this is when you start to step outside of that design department and go into all these different departments in a company, it’s going to open your mind as to how to design better to better utilize the assets that this company has. Because their people, their facility, their equipment, all of those things are assets.
If you can better utilize them, then your design flows better through the process, cost better, all of those things can really happen. The best way to do that is to let people gripe about what’s going on in the department because that’s what they will do. Whatever’s not working, whatever’s frustrating them, is a design problem and challenge that might be able to be solved by you.
You’ll be surprised. If you ask them what their opinion is or what problems they see or what needs to be improved, people love to tell their story. They will talk and you just let them. They will talk and talk and talk. You can learn a lot and by listening to them, you’ll gain their respect.
The best part about that that I found in my career was, because I was a good listener, because I was curious about how things worked in the other parts of the organization, because I really wanted to make their job better with what I put in and what I designed, they respected that and they wanted me on project teams. I got placed on better and better teams and got better positioning than other designers just because I made great friends.
In case you don’t realize it, design and product development careers have the unique aspect of touching and being involved with every different department in a company. Whether it’s finance, sales, marketing, production, customer service, all of them. You have a need as a designer to understand all those things.
You’re designing your product that needs to be sold by the sales people. It needs to be easier for them to sell, it has to have something unique about it that marketing can talk about. You have to deal with finance and the cost and the margins and all these sorts of things. You have this opportunity to learn so much about how companies work.
You don’t want to do their job. That’s really the critical thing here, is you’re learning enough to help them but you’re not learning enough so you could do their job. That’s not important and it’s not part of your course skill base. You need to respect that boundary with them.
My best experience doing this was back at Herman Miller, when I was on a project team with Scott Bartlemay, a very good friend of ours, who was in the purchasing department. He was known to be a little bit of a renegade, which was a fun position. He was happy to be friends with a designer. The two of us really radically changed the way that material program worked there by getting the best suppliers in who could give us the best prices but who can also give us the best designs.
By collaborating together and working together and making those choices together and really setting the criteria together and respecting each other’s position on that, we didn’t step on each other’s toes. We just made a great program that outsold anything that had been introduced in years for them. That’s what I want for you guys. I want you to really go out there and find advocates, friends, collaborators, people who can help make you successful in the organization and who you can help make successful in return.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Eliminate Your Ego
Let’s go on number three because I like this one. The idea that you should not hold on to your designs with a tight fist. You shouldn’t be clinging to your design and saying, “This is the best thing ever and you people are all wrong.” Do you know how many times I’ve heard that ego? Oh my gosh, too many times. It always goes badly.
Every designer has an ego. That is a necessary part of being a designer, I believe. But that doesn’t mean you should be unwavering and stubborn because you will just be labeled as being a problem person, being difficult all the time. There is something to be said for understanding, despite what you think would make a better looking design. Instead of holding up to some design ideal you have in your mind for what you think it should be, being willing to listen to input, the real needs of other departments and other considerations.
It’s not compromise. Design is not the same as sculpture. As an artist, as a sculptor, you’re really able to create something that just pleases you. Whatever the rest of the world thinks about it may not really be all that important. When you’re a designer creating a consumer product, you have to balance the needs of the designer, you, and the needs of the company that you’re part of and the needs of the user, the needs of the consumer or the end user.
You really balance those three things. Then the best designs, the most successful designs happen in the crossover of all of those three. We like to look at it as all things considered. It’s never anything as just to know, we always consider the input of others and we weigh them. We don’t act obstinate in any meeting ever.
What happens with us is we get repeat jobs. We get clients who come back to us again and again. We have the same people who move from different companies and come back and bring us back into their new company. This happens again and again because of the way that we work, because we aren’t obstinate and we aren’t difficult.
I saw this early in my career, both at Milliken and at Herman Miller as an in house. I can’t tell you how many designers, they were like, “That’s the last project that designer is doing.” It’s only because you just don’t need to work with people that are that obstinate. At the end of the day, I have to say that every time we add one of those designers, the products were bigger failures than the ones that were more collaborative and considerate.
One of the things we found is that, as outside design consultants to large corporations, that when we would design a product that was successful and then a company decided at first they wanted to try to do it on their own and not pay extra money having an outside consultant come in and design the next generation of product, they would try to do it on their own and fail.
The retail buyers or whoever the ultimate customer or gatekeeper was, was not satisfied. Then they come back to us in a rush saying, “All right, we need some help. We’re not able to hit the mark.” hat’s the time you charge them more. You definitely have the ability to do that then, for sure.
This is the other thing, is that if you’re not that kind of obstinate, always argumentative about your design process, when it’s really critically important and you know that it’s important. You’ve picked your battle and when you stand up for it and you then argue for that at that time, it means something and most often they back down.
I’ve had to do that a couple of times. When I did it, it was advocating for what I thought was going to make this sell better with women. I almost never bring that up in a meeting unless I have to because it makes everybody uncomfortable, which is ridiculous because most products are bought by women. It makes everybody uncomfortable so I almost never say it in a meeting.
Twice, I had to bring it up to push the issue and say, “You need to test this.” I pushed it with a buyer and the sales people. At the end of the day, it was the right choice to make because they were much better selling products. It was the right thing to advocate for and not back down.
If you can get to that point, and sometimes I think it’s hard as a younger designer, a new person within a company to really fight for some of those things you really believe in. It may be not until you have some successes that then you start to get credibility. Because in reality, sales cures all in this world. You just need to prove yes, it sells and it sells because of what you did developing that product, making it the right thing that met all those different needs.
If you’re not arguing all the time, when you pick that time, they take you seriously and they respect it. That’s why I say, don’t hold these designs so tightly, they’re not precious. You’re going to design a lot more things over time. You’ll just move on and when you’re right, you’re right and they’re wrong. Great. It could be the reverse tomorrow.
I think the best designers are willing to not let each design be so precious and be able to say, “All right, that one … It’s not working or it’s not the right time.” To be able to set it aside and move on I think shows a really good designer.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Learn to Lead
Number four on our list is really important, especially if you’re a junior designer or you’re in a small company and you just don’t have the opportunity to manage people. Because managing people is actually a very critical resume builder that every person should have, every career is going to look for someone who has managing experience of some kind. Finding a way to lead when you’re in a department that’s really small or in a business where you’re maybe one of two designers, it just doesn’t make it as possible. Finding a way to do that, such as starting a research project, founding a cross functional team.
When I worked for Herman Miller, one of the things that I got to do was lead a sustainable design team, a green team. One of the very first ever. I got to lead that team. It’s more like a glorified organization job. You kept minutes and you got everybody in the meeting on time. It was like being a nanny, to be honest with you. But on my resume, that looked amazing.
Finding an opportunity to do that is so good, even if you have to create that opportunity for yourself. You have to be able to walk into some future interview and be able to say, “Yeah, there just wasn’t an opportunity for me to have direct reports but I had a team that I led.”
The other thing that I’d like to add to this is that if you get the opportunity … This happened to me once where I was hired as a senior level designer at a company at one point earlier in my career. Between the time that I accepted the position and the two weeks between that and when I actually started the position, I got a call from someone at the company saying, “Wwe decided we need to have someone be the design manager. Yes, design products but also be the design manager.”
If you’re offered that formal opportunity at any point, you take it. You absolutely take it because now that experience will be on your resume. You will have that direct management experience. That’s just taking advantage of an opportunity, but most of what we’re trying to talk about here is taking initiative I think to create that opportunity if it doesn’t exist for you.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Don’t Pigeon Hole Yourself
The last one we really want to talk about is diversification. This is a controversial one in certain areas because people believe I’m going to be a gaming designer or a VR designer or whatever that is that you want to be and why you’re learning. Or user interface designer it could be, if you’re not in 3D.
You want to do that and then you end up saying, “I want to go from this gaming company to this gaming company to that gaming company,” and just work your way up. That’s great, but the reality is the more valuable designers within those groups have a broader range of experience.
For us, we’re sought after because we pretty much handle just about any category in mass retail. Our niche is mass retail products, things that are sold at mass market and online, at Amazon. But we can do pretty much any category within that. We stay away from food and chemicals just because we don’t like to work on those products because they have a whole different set of dynamics.
Other than that, we have any category. That’s been extremely valuable for us because that broad view of it has given us an ability to take on any project within a company, because you never know what’s going to happen within a company. You never want to get typecast as a designer. It happened to us even in the furniture industry where we got known for designing home office desks and TV stands.
Within that same company, they’re doing chairs. They would say, “Oh, but that’s not what you do. You design desks and TV stands.” Guess what, it’s not that I can only do those things, I can design any kind of product. That’s what people outside of the design discipline don’t understand, that what you specialize is a process for how to design things, not necessarily in a specific kind of product.
Finding ways to diversify yourself within that, whether it’s in product categories or in materials. It might be you are a 3D print designer for metal and plastics and ceramic. You get yourself diversified into those types of things. Those are always great ways to go about it and trying to broaden your ability to fit into a future career path that is going to give you more and more opportunity.
This is one of the toughest barriers to break through for a designer against people in organizations that are not designers. Because people who are not designers think, everybody, if they’re good at their job, should be a specialist. We’ve even had retail buyers at Costco at one point say to our client, the manufacturer, the company who’s going to sell this products to them, when they’re trying to branch out to a new category in to say, chairs, when they’ve been selling TV stands.
The buyer looks at them and said, “Chairs, but that’s not what you do.” You can even come up against buyers that have that mindset, which is unfortunate. It happens in a lot of places. In that perspective, it blocks you in and keeps you from growing as a company. It’s the same viewpoint here, it’s going to keep you from growing as a career person and an individual, as a designer just with interest. You don’t want to get stale and bored.
No, that’s the great thing about product development, is there’s just hundreds of thousands of different kinds of products out there of all different types. You can never work on the same product twice if you want to. You just need to obviously take advantage of opportunities and find those projects or companies to work for. Specialize in a process, not in a type of product, and make sure you do work very hard to diversify in that way.
Planning the Ultimate 3D Print Design Career – Final Thoughts
That brings me to my thing I wanted to talk about earlier when we mentioned apprentice. We are looking at 2017 and coming up very, very shortly. We are thinking about, do we want to, because we’ve had quite a few requests for it, do we want to have some classes, apprenticeship style programs. Something that where we can help you learn the design part of 3D printing?
We don’t want to teach you how to use the machines. There’s so many places out there. You should learn from the manufacturer. If it becomes a part of it, we’ll help you. Or learn at your local maker space or if you have the opportunity to be close to a place like Vocademy, there lots of places you can learn that.
We like to be very CAD agnostic here. We really don’t want to specialize in any kind of CAD because we want to help all levels of designers really. What we really want to do is help you guys figure out how to design products in the 3D print realm.
What is it that you want to learn? What do you think that you’re missing out there? What would you like us to teach you, to help you with? Would you really like to have some opportunity, I don’t know how we’ll structure it yet, that remains to be seen, to do workshops even if they’re online or apprenticeship opportunities, internship in a way? I would also call it project based learning too.
Would you like some of those things? If so, what would you like? Please give us some feedback because we’d love to hear from you about this. We’re thinking of starting some new programs that would be available on 3DStartPoint.com, our website where the podcast lives, and having more resources and opportunities for people to get educated in design for 3D printing.
It’s one thing to be educated in CAD, and that’s critical. You do need to dive in and if you don’t already, you need to learn CAD if you’re going to design anything in this industry. Maybe that’ll be a part of it, it probably will be. Design in and off itself I think is this critical gap and need that’s out there. We have the ability I think to help teach that.
What would be the best methods? What would work best? Is it online courses? Is it more webinar style learning? You want to spend a day or weekend with us learning. We could do a workshop. We could do onsite workshop and learning that way, sure. There’s all kinds of processes we could take and ways we could do this. We’re really open to it. We’re just starting to think about how we might formulate that and what the topics would be, what the projects would be.
The other thing I want to say is the episode on Locknesters that we did, it just aired. Listen to that one if you haven’t already, if you’re working backwards through our playlist here. Listen to that one because that episode is really a good example of how we advise apprentice and work with designers to really help them understand and improve their process and help to broaden their thinking. You get a little insight into our collaborative process there.
Understanding that that example is much more of a general business mentorship than it was design, but the process that we tend to do things is similar. It just gives a little insight as to what it’s like to work in collaboration with us, especially if it was a workshop. I think if it was a course or a webinar or something, it might be different. If it were an onsite workshop thing, it would probably be more like that.
Please give us comments. You can do that anywhere on social media @3DStartPoint. You can also go to the website, 3DStartPoint.com, and leave comments and fill out a form, whatever you want to do to get us the message there.
- Inc. By Design Column
- 3D Print Market Gap
- On Air 3D Design Consultation
- Hazz Design – Accelerating Business Growth
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