Employers We Love: Priority Designs

September 18th, 2012 by Katlin McNally
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From left to right: Mike Lorenz, Sean Svendsen, Sherry Jones, Chris Daniels, Todd Mendoza, Mark Mnich, Harlan Peden, Rob Green, and Kiel Mohrman

If you visit Priority Designs in Columbus you will likely run into some CCAD alumni, whether in the engineering studio, the prototype shop, browsing through fabrics in the materials library, or playing racquetball on the court they have in their lunchroom.

Priority Designs is a leading industrial design consultant and product development firm that works with companies such as Adidas, Mead, Lowe’s, TaylorMade, and more. We talked with several CCAD alumni employed there to ask what it’s like to work not only in a creative environment, but also alongside fellow CCAD alumni.

Meet Model Maker Rob Green (Illustration 1997), Senior Industrial Designer Michael Lorenz (Industrial Design 1991), Industrial Designer/Prototypist Todd Mendoza  (Industrial Design 2008), Senior Designer/Director Business Development Mark Mnich (Industrial Design 1997), Industrial Designer/Model Maker Kiel Mohrman (Industrial Design 2009), Senior Industrial Designer Harlan Peden (Industrial Design 2004), and Senior Industrial Designer/Insights & Brand Director Sean Svendsen (Industrial Design 1992).

Q) What is it like to work with other CCAD alumni?

Rob Green (RG): It’s strangely similar to the group projects we participated in during school. CCAD put an emphasis on group projects while I was there. It is how most projects are done in the workplace; multiple people are involved in the process of taking a project from idea to final deliverable. Knowing how to work in a group setting, being able to set egos aside to complete a task, and the ability to pull your own weight are abilities I have noticed in other CCAD grads.

Michael Lorenz (ML): One characteristic that stands out, in my experience, is the ability of CCAD alumni to communicate visually, through rapid sketching and other techniques, with confidence. Early in the design process when concepts are generated through sketching, whether digitally or [with] pen and paper, it should be clear what the intent of function and form are. Also, [CCAD grads have] a tendency to push the envelope in terms of material, form, color, mechanism, etc., and really get the details nailed down, which is revealing of a fine arts background.

Todd Mendoza (TM): We’re all family here. Working with CCAD alumni is really is no different than working with other industrial designers or mechanical engineers. We all come from various backgrounds that complement each other’s skills.

Mark Mnich (MM): Of course we often know many of the same people and, depending on our age, can sometimes recall the same instructors. We respect each other knowing that we’ve gone through the same grind and pulled those all-nighters. Eventually, we discover that most designers have a lot in common, no matter where they went to school.

Kiel Mohrman (KM): It’s great! Alumni are easy to work with and the projects always run smoothly. I’m guessing that what we learned at CCAD contributes to this.

Harlan Peden (HP): It definitely makes for a fun environment. Sharing our stories, ideas, and experiences from CCAD adds to our creative environment.

Sean Svendsen (SS): CCAD alumni are great to work with—CCAD grads are highly creative and generally have amazing artistic skills.

Q) Why do you think Priority Designs has a lot of CCAD alumni?

RG: With several other design schools close by, I doubt that proximity plays a large role in the decision. I would have to say that the students that are hired at Priority are the standouts in their class. When coming out of school, the strength of one’s portfolio and the internships that are under your belt are two key factors for getting hired, and a positive attitude always helps.

ML: Just a guess, but there is an emphasis on versatility at Priority Designs in terms of product category, material application, and level of mechanical complexity that creates a working environment that is suitable for a designer that is multifaceted in skill set, or at least multifaceted in interests.

TM: We’re a local company, minutes away from campus. Not to mention the talent that arises from basic foundation studies to extensive studio classes, all directly related to that specific career field.

MM: Proximity certainly has a hand in it, but we try to stay engaged with [CCAD] students by hosting tours of our office, reviewing portfolios, critiquing projects, etc. This interaction helps us identify the top students, so when it’s time to hire we know who to call.

KM: The hard work ethic and skills acquired at CCAD have a lot to do with it. When you’re done with the program, and if you’ve applied yourself, you’ll have a decent skill set to work with.

HP: For starters, Priority Design is located in Columbus. PD over the years has also been available to CCAD for critiques, in studio workshops, and assists with senior theses. This involvement allows for students to have an early exposure to PD, as well as helps develop a rapport that can lend itself to opening up future job opportunities.

SS:  I’ve found that CCAD alumni have higher visual communication skills than [those from] many other schools. Because of CCAD’s focus on fundamental art skills development, students get a deep grounding in fine arts. I find them generally better at sketching and 3D form sensitivity, which I think makes designs more emotionally compelling.

Q) Any advice for current students or fellow alumni who want to become involved with a company like Priority Designs?

RG: Make your portfolio as strong as possible. Feel free to contact any potential employer for portfolio reviews prior to graduating. Learn what they are looking for, because that will be applicable to most companies you will be applying to. Take the suggestions given to you and attempt to work them into your portfolio; it will usually improve the quality of your presentation. It also never hurts to get involved in portfolio competitions and win awards before you graduate; prospective employers look at those activities.

ML: When I was in college I had the benefit of being in a class where there was competitiveness, but also a willingness to share and critique each others’ ideas. I think that having a sharing attitude and not being afraid to critique and be critiqued while in school pays off big in professional life.

TM: Networking is key. While in school it’s important to meet and keep in touch with as many people in the industry as possible. Timing is everything, just as much as having a strong portfolio that accentuates your skill sets. We hire people not only for what they do, but who they are.

MM: Extend yourself beyond the requirements of the assignment. Like most employers, we’re looking for skills, passion, and commitment. We want people who are willing to keep asking questions and continue pushing themselves and those around them. You have to be highly adaptable; our world can change with a phone call.

KM: Don’t be afraid to reach out to [an employer] and show them your best work; if the quality is there then there is no problem getting matched up with a company like Priority Designs.

HP: Take an active role in visiting/touring or even having a portfolio review with local design firms. The design community is a close-knit group and having exposure and a line of communication open with any design firm can go a long way in helping a student find their first job.

SS: Work at making your portfolio visually impactful. We get tons of portfolios sent to us, and most of them don’t stick in our minds—they all look the same. You need to be distinctive, but in a way that is still appropriate. Use fewer words, and instead tell your story with simple compelling visuals. We see so many portfolios with tons of text and diagrams trying to tell a complicated story about the innovations they’ve created. The sad reality is when we get portfolios sent to us, they literally get about 10 seconds to catch our attention. If you didn’t instantly grab us with amazing visuals that tell a simple story, we move on. The marketplace of real products is the same. Consumers only give products on the shelf the same 10 seconds. Your portfolio is your shot to prove you know how to design successful products that can sell. If you want a great job out of school, your portfolio better be amazing.

Q)  Why do you love your job/working in a creative environment?

RG: What I like the most about my work environment is that we are rarely doing the same thing twice. There are projects that you are not as excited about, but that is always tempered by interesting and sometimes exciting projects that do come along. Plus, learning new skills is something that is always encouraged. It helps everyone when you can add a new skill set to the company’s bag of tricks.

ML: For me, the variety of experiences and challenges are fulfilling; there are always things to learn about technology, how things work, and human nature. And in a creative environment people tend to be optimistic and willing to share ideas. And of course, getting those projects that really improve life for others is what you tend to appreciate the most.

TM: I love being able to use my creativity to solve complex problems that arise in every product or project we work on. I also love that it’s different every day at Priority Designs. Since we’re a consultancy, we’d be working on appliances for Electrolux one day and then Nike golf clubs the next. We’ve fabricated concept bicycles, designed firearms, and engineered medical equipment. You really don’t know what client or what type of product you’ll be working on when you come into the studio on Monday morning.

MM: After 15 years, I can still make the claim that every day is different. It’s hard to imagine another job or career that can make that claim.

KM: I get to work on different projects every day; work never gets boring. I could be working on a project the size of a fork-lift one day and as small as surgical devices the next. Anything from prototyping to ideation, we do on a daily basis, so it stays super fresh.

HP: It’s fun, creative, goofy, exciting, and always different each day. Creative minds in a collective group can get crazy. Each day is a whole new task, and a whole new set of constraints, and a whole new objective. Projects can go from the most complex to the most simple and to-the-point. It’s great to have that uncertainty of what you are getting your hands into each day—it adds to the excitement. And having a group of people who you can bounce ideas off and work with to come to a common final result is extremely gratifying.

SS: I love the diversity of projects that we get at Priority Designs. It’s a fast-paced environment where we never know what we will be working on next. I can be designing golf clubs in our studio one week and the next week be conducting insight research on industrial equipment at the world’s largest copper mine in Utah. (That really happened.) The size and experience of our firm allows us to enjoy ever more challenging projects from the world’s most recognizable brands.

Q) What past experiences do you share and remember from being a student at CCAD? How has this impacted your professional career?

RG: The ability to work with deadlines and under pressure are two experiences that I will never forget from my time at CCAD. Short-timeline projects, especially in a group setting, were emphasized while I was there. Working at a consultancy, those skills are used over and over to deliver projects to our clients in a timely fashion. We always try to over-deliver our services to keep our clients coming back and telling others about Priority Designs.

ML: Honestly, what I remember the most is the exhaustion and sometimes despair of trying to get everything done well and on time. Also, being in a group of students that shared and critiqued out of a spirit of competitiveness, but also good will is something I remember. As trite as it may sound, these are the kind of experiences that prepare you for the real world.

TM: All-nighters. You may tend to think that once you’re in the “real world” they don’t exist anymore, but they do, at least they do here, anyway. Far too often we have large corporate clients with ridiculous lead times, and the bottom line is they have to get done. Unlike school, though, you can obviously not miss a deadline.

MM: Many of the design assignments at CCAD left some latitude for interpretation. Being resourceful and planning your work was critical to performing well. That holds true outside the classroom; not every client comes in with a clearly identified development path. You have to adapt to the situation, utilize your skills (and those of your co-workers), and follow through with passion and commitment.

KM: The hands-on experience was great. Being able to try everything or anything I wanted to do really helped me figure out the direction I wanted to go when I graduated.

HP: All-nighters, staying in the studio burning the midnight oil trying to get work done for a critique the next morning. It is still so true in the real world. There are times when it’s “all hands on deck.” Clients in the real world can sometimes have an unrealistic deadline that you have to meet; that’s when you buckle down, cancel any plans, and work till it’s done.

SS: I met some wonderful students when I was at CCAD. I still work with several of those people today. These relationships allowed me to find a great job at a great studio and have helped me build a great career.


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One Response to “Employers We Love: Priority Designs”

  1. I find this very interesting.I enjoyed reading the exchange of conversation.