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For the recent grad: Q&A with Neato Sr. Lead Industrial Designer

As the graduates of 2022 start their new journeys, we wanted to reflect upon some of the journeys of our very own Neato employees. We were able to snag some time with our Sr. Lead Industrial Designer here at Neato Robotics, Jeremy Burgess. In this Q&A, he guides us through his journey to his role here at Neato, what he does day to day, and even some tips to those interested in a career in Industrial design. If we were to take one thing away from our interview with Jeremy, it would be to follow his advice to “never get discouraged along the way or let anyone tell you that you can’t make it, it’s your job to prove those people wrong.”  

Q: What do you do as a Sr. Lead Industrial Designer?  

A: As a Sr. Lead Industrial Designer at Neato Robotics, I work within the product development team where I am actively engaged at all stages of a products development. For a new product, it all starts with a discovery phase. This is where I gather the required data to make sure I’m making good informed design decisions. This includes conducting a competitor product audit, investigating adjacent industries to better understand the current state of the market landscape, and researching applicable emerging technologies. This is also when I conduct in home customer interviews to gather valuable insights that will help frame innovative product opportunities. 

After the discovery phase comes the vision phase. I begin this phase by establishing a set of guiding design principles and analyzing future trends, which helps to inform how I develop the products design language and philosophy. These help me look at those innovative product opportunities through the lens of the newly established design principles, language, and philosophy to find fresh creative ways to package new solutions in a product that satisfies its intended purpose in an aesthetically pleasing and iconic way. This is accomplished with a combination of hand sketches, quick physical prototypes, digital hand renderings, CAD modeling, 3D visualization, 3D printing, and appearance models. During this phase I begin to develop a material, color, and finish strategy to maximize the products emotional impact. 

At this point in the project, I’ll begin to work closer with engineers to develop working prototypes and address early internal packaging concerns. This design and engineer collaboration will continue through mass production to maintain the designs original intent and help provide creative solutions to manufacturing constraints as they arise. I also help with the products packaging structure/artwork and production renderings as needed. 

Q: What’s your favorite part about industrial design? 

A: My favorite part about being an industrial designer is solving problems. Whether it’s solving customer frustrations, solving a new design language, solving difficult CAD surfacing imperfection, solving a manufacturing constraint, solving a problem with usability, or solving for sustainability. 

Q: What’s the most challenging part about your job? 

A: The most challenging part of my job is pushing design and manufacturing boundaries within the project's budget to produce something that is desirable, feasible and viable. 

Q: Did you always want to go into this field?  

A: Looking back at my childhood I think there were many signs that Industrial design was a good fit for me, even though I didn’t know it existed yet. Growing up, I always loved to draw, paint, and sculpt and my parents supported my dream of becoming a cartoonist. I also had a deep curiosity about how things worked and how things are assembled together. I loved to take apart toys and old devices around the house, including my parents' vacuum. When I was first introduced to Industrial design in high school, I immediately knew it was the career I wanted to pursue. 

Q: What led you to your career at Neato Robotics?  

A: Neato is an established brand that has been making great products for years. Historically they have used outside agencies to help with their industrial design. When I learned Neato was looking for someone to build out an internal industrial design capability, our goals aligned.  

Q: Speaking of experience. What type of experience do you need to be an industrial designer?   

A: To get a job as an industrial designer, you should aim to have completed at least two internships before applying for a full-time job. This gives you some industry experience and understanding that companies are looking for on your resume. It’s also a great way to see what kind of company you want to work for and make sure it’s definitely something you want to continue pursuing as a career. Schools often only highlight the most fun and glamourous aspects of the design process, it’s good to see what design looks like in a daily professional setting. 

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your educational pathway and what academic coursework and credentials are needed for a role like yours?   

A: I was very fortunate to have grown up in Southern California. I’m not sure I would have discovered industrial design if it weren’t for my close proximity to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. ACCD happens to have one of the best industrial design and car design programs in the world. I began my education path by attending ACCD’s Saturday high school program from my sophomore to senior year. After high school, I enrolled into Pasadena City College to complete most of the transferable academic classes ACCD required to graduate. I also used my time at city college to build an entrance portfolio, enrolling in design classes that were taught by teachers who also taught at ACCD’s undergrad and grad programs. After taking some car design classes at city college, I decided to switch my career path to car design. Once I had a portfolio I was happy with, I applied to ACCD’s car design program and was accepted. I spent the next 4 years learning as much as I could from my classmates and industry professional teachers, working on my craft, and taking two internships my last year. 

For credentials, any diploma from any college will do. To be honest, it’s not about what school you graduate from, it’s about your work, your craft, and how you express your own unique design voice. I will say that having a diploma from ACCD helps to get you recognized in the design industry, but it’s no guarantee. You get out what you put in and you need to put a lot in! 

Q: What advice do you have for students and recent grads who are looking for a career in industrial design? 

A: My biggest advice is commitment and resilience. I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that now more than ever there are thousands of students graduating from an ever growing number of design schools, from around the world, every year. Industrial design is a relatively small industry with a limited number of positions. If you want to pursue a career in Industrial design, you need to understand that the competition is fierce, so be prepared to give it your all and more.  

Although I recommend ACCD because I had a great experience during my time there, there are many school options available that are producing industry hired graduates that won’t leave you under a mountain of student debt. A great place to start your industrial design career path is to apply for a spot in Advanced Design’s Offsite program at https://advdes.org/Offsite. 

Finally, during your time at college, learn as much as you can from your classmates and foster a collaborative community with them so you can grow together and lift each other up to a place you can’t reach by yourself. Those bonds will help you for the rest of your career and lead to unexpected opportunities! 

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?  

A: Never get discouraged along the way or let anyone tell you that you can’t make it, it’s your job to prove those people wrong. 

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