Sometimes we forget that all industrial design stars had to start their careers somewhere, and some even struggled in landing their first jobs and building their portfolios. A new book, ‘Breaking In’ details the more than 100 interviews Amina Horozic conducted to uncover the secrets to building a portfolio that will get you hired. Icsid caught up with Amina to talk about how the idea for the book came about, trends in the hiring of industrial designers and some of her own advise for making it in the industry.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your background as an industrial designer, and your experience finding and being accepted to your first design job. Were you drawing from personal experience?

In short, I’ve been lucky.

I graduated from College for Creative Studies in Detroit, specialising in automotive design. 2004 was not an easy year to land a job, let alone a car design job. My first gig at Chrysler was largely thanks to CCS’s Career Services Director, Cathy Karry, who was always such a big evangelist for all of us. She recommended me to some Chrysler Design VPs at a design event, and the rest is history. She saved me a lot of trouble of revamping my teasers over and over.

I left Chrysler in 2008 to pursue an MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. It was then where it became notoriously difficult to get any design consultancy’s attention because my portfolio consisted solely of cars. I landed nearly every interview, but the employers were worried that I would defect back into car design as soon as I saw an opportunity, or they thought I couldn’t design anything but cars—they had zero confidence in my commitment to be a great industrial designer, regardless of the category. I had to make up several side projects to broaden my portfolio and showcase that I could do more.

Q: How did the idea for this book come about?

This is the second book in the “Breaking In” series by Tuk Tuk Press, the first being Breaking In: Advertising by William Burks Spencer. I was introduced to the publisher via a mutual colleague, while I was still working at frog. I simply loved the idea of the book. I’ve made a portfolio or two in my lifetime and it is gruelling, hard work. The chance to demystify the process a bit and provide insight into what the global industrial design leadership is looking to see in portfolios, was an opportunity I could not miss. I was also curious to hear how they themselves broke into the field.

Q: How did you develop the list of questions and list of designers who contributed to the content?

Essentially, I came up with questions that I would’ve asked as a student, when I was trying to land my first internship or job. Then, I tailored the questions to each individual designer, but I also wanted to ask the same main questions to everyone. This way, it would allow the readers to compare and contrast their answers and get a better sense of what each was looking for. When you’re building a portfolio and trying to get a job, your goal is clear—get hired—so, the questions focus on what will be helpful to the reader.

As for the list of participants, I had criteria from the publisher that the interviewees had to be management level designers, or essentially, designers who make hiring decisions. As our field is broad—encompassing everything from automotive, to consumer electronics and furniture—I was determined to cover all of the branches. Industrial design is practiced many different ways, through consultancies and corporations to solo practices and academia—I wanted to make sure to cover all of those organisational setups. Naturally, as a woman, I wanted to include women in industrial design leadership positions as well—something that was unfortunately the most difficult to find. Finally, I was adamant to have a global representation, to show that opportunities abound everywhere, so there is a designer featured from literally every continent but Antarctica. The list sprouted from these guidelines.

Q: What has the response to the book been like?

So far, it’s been fantastic! We get mentions and notes of thanks on Twitter and Instagram by ecstatic students. That just makes my heart grow to the size of Texas. I feel indescribable joy hearing that people are finding the content useful, that it’s helping them in understanding how to build a portfolio, and how these design gurus think and what they find important.

Q: Did you notice any trends in hiring techniques, either globally or regionally?

One thing that stands out is that sketching ability is still very, very important across the board and through varying aspects of our industry. The bottom line is that drawing is a designer’s first language and in order to break in, one must master the fluency. Rare is a designer who landed a job without an ability to sketch.

The second is the ability to tell a story through design process. This applies to both individual project’s story arc, as well as the arc of the portfolio itself.

Q: Was there anything that surprised you in the responses?

Nothing that I can think of at the moment.

Q: Was there something that especially resonated with you?

That nearly every designer interviewed struggled just as hard, worked just as much and dealt with just as many obstacles as any of us. Some of their personal breaking in stories are very humbling.

Q: What words of advice would you offer to a young designer looking to break into the field?

First and foremost, do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of not being the best in class, do not be afraid to ask questions, do not be afraid to ask for more time of your instructor, do not be afraid of feedback, do not be afraid to choose a night-in of sketching, over a night-out of partying—and conversely, do not be afraid to take a break, in order to be productive.

Don’t just study design, live it.

And, I’ve been saying this one everywhere, so I’ll sound a bit like a broken record—but if you truly want to be a better designer, and a human being—get enough sleep and eat your breakfast.

To obtain your own copy, or to find out more,


About Amina Horozic
Amina started off her career as an automotive designer at Chrysler, penning the 2008 Dodge Magnum. There she also worked on numerous pre-production and concept exterior and interior studies, as well in-depth and immersive design and consumer research with teams from Cheskin, IDEO and Arnell. The next step in her career led her to prestigious frog design studio in San Francisco where she designed products for many notable clients such as Nike Foundation, Moving Comfort/Brooks and Landscape Forms. Alongside a global design dream team, Amina was the lead industrial designer behind the Aether Cone. She’s currently Lead Industrial Designer at Yves Behar’s fuseproject in San Francisco. Amina has degrees from College for Creative Studies (BFA) and California College of the Arts (MBA).