Career Q+A Series: Dean Poole

Published:  September 18, 2011
Career Q+A Series: Dean Poole

Whether you’re just starting out in the design industry or have recently graduated, there are always going to be a few questions about the best path to take to land your dream job.

In this six-part series, we asked six leading creatives for their advice, concerns, tips and opinions on getting a head start.

Today’s advice from Dean Poole.

Dean Poole
Co-founder, creative director, Alt Group
Studied: Fine Arts Sculpture Major, University of Auckland, Elam School of Fine Arts
Graduation year: 1993

1. What is the greatest piece of advice that you were given during your design education?
I still believe in what my lecturer Greer Twiss said: “You fail as an educator if a student doesn’t leave the system with their own inquiry.” They don’t have to make great stuff; you don’t have to have good ideas. You just have to be able to change the world, which means that you’ve got to have a way of viewing, or having an inquiry, that is personal to you. Sometimes you need someone to give you permission to do something without worrying too much about what others will think.

2. Should design graduates concentrate on one area and be really good at it (print, web, type etc) or be an all-rounder?
Being a designer can be likened to a decathlete. You have to be good at many things. But honing a core skill is essential – but this only happens over time.

3. What is your opinion of the current state of design education and, if anything, what can be improved?
The current design education is set up around the ‘myth of creativity’ as an individual skill.
Yes, some people have an innate ability to make random connections that inform original thoughts. But, as a discipline, design is a social activity, not a solo pursuit. If you can’t collaborate, you can’t design. Most designers arrive at our studio without any experience about shaping ideas with others. The education system needs to place a stronger emphasis on design as group activity.

4. What qualities impress you most about current graduates, and which skill-sets are lacking?
To be fair, design education and the design industry are two separate worlds. It’s more of a leap than a transition. When graduate designers start with us, they start at ground zero. They usually have good computer knowledge, but lack frameworks for thinking, which is a base skill necessary for all good communication.

5. How important are a designer’s educational qualifications? Does it matter if they hold a degree or masters? Does it matter what institution they went through or what kind of education they received?
Anyone can be a designer; they just have to be obsessive about design. We have a designer that came from 10 years as a legal secretary.

6. When hiring, do you prefer to see a physical portfolio or does an online presentation of work suffice these days?
People are usually more interesting than their work. You can tell whether they like the idea of being a designer or actually want to design.

7. What is the biggest challenge about being a designer that you did not think/know about when you were a student?
Everybody is a designer and has an opinion about design: your client, their boss, the boss’ wife, the neighbour’s nana… The biggest challenge is developing processes that enable others to make a decision.

8. If you could start your design education again, would you do anything differently?
I didn’t study design; I trained as a sculptor. I would like to be a poet.

9. What are some changing considerations for the designer of tomorrow?
Predicting the future is exactly that, predictable. To make some sense of how design may change tomorrow, you have to look backwards. Design as a profession has a lot to do with the role it performs in society. Designers have always responded to shifts in society, whether they are technological, environmental, cultural or social. During the Industrial Revolution, design was instrumental in uniting art and industry. During the 20th century, the role of design changed to defining a modern world of mass production and mass consumption. At the start of the 21st century, design is changing again; we’re moving into economies that now deal with creativity and innovation as the drivers of wealth creation. The role of design is changing from one that is purely about signs and objects, to one that is also about actions and thoughts. It makes sense that design will function more as an integrator, rather than a stand-alone service. Rather than designers being invited in at the end of the process, to create aesthetic solutions to formal business problems, designers will be brought in to help shape the end-to-end process of an offering. The question is, what will designers need to be integrating: the environment, the crowd, the next technology?

10. What would be the biggest piece of advice you would give to a student who is currently studying design today?
You live once, leave a message.

From desktop magazine.

Frame illustration: Heath Killen.

One Response

  1. “you’ve got to have a way of viewing, or having an inquiry, that is personal to you. Sometimes you need someone to give you permission to do something without worrying too much about what others will think”. I agree, the best advice you can give, to be authentic.

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