After School Smack is a new feature here on SolidSmack where we talk with current design students about the current happenings of their budding design careers. We’ll discuss everything from how they’re approaching the wide-open field of industrial design to how they’re keeping their portfolios fresh and their mind in the game. To kick us off we’re talking with the talented Jason McGinnity, a senior in the Transportation Design program at Pasadena’s coveted Art Center College of Design.


What’s up Jason? How has your summer break been?
My summer has been great. I recently finished an internship at Samsung Design America at their new studio in San Francisco. That was a great experience. There’s nothing like working in an advanced studio. It will definitely feel odd going back to the studios at Art Center after that. I spent the rest of my summer back in the Portland, Oregon area going on hikes and cycling and working on a personal project, as well as taking advantage of the many microbreweries in Portland.


Okay, after school snacks. We have a cricket and mayo on white bread sandwich or a Voodoo Doughnut infused with bacon grease and imitation crab. Which do you choose?
I would definitely go for the Voodoo Doughnut option. I’ve never been a fan of mayo or white bread.


Good choice. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got interested in design?
I have had a design mindset my entire life. I remember back in second grade that my best friend Jonathan and I used to build restaurant interiors out of LEGOs. We would have conversations about how people would move through the spaces we were designing. I was really lucky to have a class in high school with an instructor who knew what industrial design was. He saw me sketching cars in his class, and that’s when he pulled me aside and told me that I could actually draw cars for a living. Ever since then I’ve focused on becoming an industrial designer.


Why did you choose Art Center and what specifically are you focusing on there?
I hopped around a few different universities before ending up at Art Center. The last school I was at was the Art Institute of Portland studying product design. I took a transportation design class with an Art Center Alum and former car designer and he saw my sketches and pushed me to apply to Art Center. I dropped out for a few months and built a transportation design portfolio on my own time and started at Art Center in January 2011. I’m now in my sixth term and I am so glad I made the decision to study there. The work environment is electric. There’s this insane level of competition and camaraderie that I’ve never experienced at another school.


What has been the most challenging part of school up until now? What has been your favorite class so far?
The first thing that you have to master is time management. A lot of students start at Art Center right out of high school. I honestly don’t think I could’ve handled the work load at 18. I started at Art Center when I was 22. I had worked some great jobs and had been to multiple schools, and all of that prepared me for the daily challenges at Art Center. Working at Starbucks talking to strangers constantly really was what prepared me to hop up in front of 25 people every class and sell my ideas without breaking a sweat.

My favorite class so far was the fifth term mobility class. That was my first sponsored studio (Piaggio), and the project allowed me to combine all my product and transportation design training into one project. I ended up building a full-scale cosmetic model of the e-bike I designed in less than two weeks. It was a crazy rush and I’m really happy with how it turned out. That project was what led to my internship at Samsung.



What sort of tools (including sketching, software, and digital fabrication) are you using most frequently?
I still like to do all my initial ideation sketching with ballpoint, but I’m slowly transitioning to a mostly digital workflow. I have a 22 inch Wacom Cintiq, and that is what I spend most of my days on. I like to integrate CAD into the early stages of design development. I find that it allows me to really manage proportion properly from the beginning. To me, proportion is the key to effective design. Proportion is something that non-designers react to without being able to explain it, and it’s a gut reaction for most people. If the proportion is off, most people will immediately feel it and be put off. Design is a business tool. We’re selling products. The overall proportion of the product needs to be right. So does the proportion of the details. Effective designers can communicate when it’s right and when it’s wrong.


How have you been tending to your portfolio and marketing yourself?
Every designer knows that portfolios are a constant work in progress. I’m currently completing a personal project that I have been developing for the last 8 months or so. I’m using this project to showcase who I am as a designer and it is to an extent what I personally would want in a car interior. Over the years I’ve seen that graduates who developed projects outside of school that they were passionate about seem to end up in studios that fit what they really love to do. Studio projects in school really help designers to open their minds and step outside their comfort zone, but if you don’t use that knowledge or new skills to develop a project or two that you’re really passionate about it is going to be difficult for studios to know what you’re really all about.

As far as marketing myself, I built my own website to showcase my work and I also have a portfolio on Coroflot and Behance. The most important thing is to stay in touch with the people you meet. You never know where a great opportunity is going to come from.


What sort of internships or other work have you been able to grab while still in school? How did you land those?
I am a huge supporter of networking. Every job I have ever gotten was through someone I knew. My internship with Samsung was thanks to an instructor at Art Center. He heard about the opportunity and thought I was right for it. He called me up and said I had two hours to get a portfolio together for him to send off. I now look to him as a mentor as I move forward with other opportunities. I have another great internship opportunity in the pipeline that is thanks to a former professor. Being a designer and getting to develop our ideas all day is great, but being around creative people is what really makes the design field so much fun. That and working on projects we can’t tell anyone about. That’s the really exciting stuff.


What’s your dream job and where?
My dream back in high school was to be a designer at Audi. I think that still holds true. Design Center California would be an incredible place to work. They do projects for Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, and Lamborghini. That kind of diversity would be tough to find in other studios.

I eventually want to end up in design management. I equate design studios to professional sports teams. The head of design has a team of designers that he/she can use to develop the best product possible. Designers are a very diverse group with skills in many different areas. When the machine is run properly the outcome is beautiful design and successful products. My dream is to be the guy who orchestrates that.

Every job I’ve ever had was great because of the people I worked with. You can be working on an incredibly exciting project, but if the people you work with suck you are going to be slow to get out of bed in the morning.

What advice would you have for a student entering design school for the first time this fall?
Work your ass off. Sketch like there’s no tomorrow. If you want to succeed in design, you have to be able to communicate on paper. Explaining your ideas with words doesn’t get you very far in this industry.


What’s your favorite tip or trick you have when designing?
Play to your strengths. As a designer you’re goal is to effectively and efficiently communicate your ideas. There’s a time for developing new techniques and skills and a time to get to the point and show your ideas in the most efficient way you know how to.

Jason can be contacted via his website.

Are you a design student? Do you know of a talented design student? Join us for After School Smack! Shoot us an email with a few portfolio samples or a link and your favorite kind of after school snack to!


Simon is a Brooklyn-based industrial designer and Managing Editor of EVD Media. When he finds the time to design, his focus is on helping startups develop branding and design solutions to realize their product design vision. In addition to his work at Nike and various other clients, he is the main reason anything gets done at EvD Media. He once wrestled an Alaskan alligator buzzard to the ground with his bare hands… to rescue Josh.