Morgan McMullin is a Senior Designer at Polyconcept
Morgan! Your fabulous head dresses and hats and winter wear never cease to amaze. Thanks so much for taking some time to talk shop with me! Let’s dive right in. How in the world did you get into being an industrial designer and more importantly, why?
Originally, I wanted to go to art school. The thought of supporting myself on an artist’s income, however, terrified me at the time and so I was pursuing other creative avenues. The near-final plan was to go to school for film at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas but then I saw some work from a now friend who was studying Industrial Design in Pittsburgh and realized it was exactly what I hadn’t known I wanted to do. I have always tinkered with electronics, model planes and polymer clay (I remember making clay accessories, shoes, furniture and whatever else for Barbie make-believe scenarios) but never had thought of making a career out of it.
Ah yes, the eternal artist struggle. I, too, initially went down the fine arts path before discovering ID. Was there a defining moment that lead you down that path?
I think just knowing it was an option sealed the deal. I didn’t know about Industrial Design. I knew about Graphic Design but was not quite as interested. The idea of designing 3 dimensional objects seemed more natural to me.
You know, that is a great way to put it. The three dimensional world connects with people more often, yet we don’t often recognize that connection. I might have to talk about that in a video soon. So with that, if you were starting out fresh in ID, is there anything you’d do differently?
I think it’s different now. The internet was still young – in the sense that we know it now – when I was getting into college and ID. It didn’t help that I was coming from a small town and had a limited knowledge about what was available to me. Because of that, I think knowing about options for post graduate work or even understanding a few areas of Industrial Design that I particularly liked might have been helpful. It’s hard to say… One change might have made me more successful. It may have even discouraged me from following through. It’s hard to say.
Well what sort of advice would you give to people just starting out that don’t know where to start?
Know what you enjoy designing. When you have an idea of what you like – whether it’s furniture, shoes, clothing or cars – that will allow you to excel without the forced motivation needed to do something you don’t care about. You should also make sure it comes naturally. You may love designing furniture but have no passion for drafting or building in general. You have to crawl first and it’s important to understand every aspect of the process. It makes you more successful with what you chose to focus on. Half of the battle though, is knowing what you like.
Do you have a dream project? And why is that your dream project?
I would love to renovate old campers. Not just airstreams – though, we all KNOW they are simply beautiful – but any ol’ camper would do. I wouldn’t mind designing my own series of campers either. Here’s why: I had a furniture design business for a while and it was awesome. Since my recent induction into motherhood, the idea of making anything is daunting – at least for the next couple of years. Designing cool campers combines so much of what I love. Furniture design, re-design, renovation, the challenge of working in a small area mixed with peak ergonomics… I love the idea of having to be thoughtful about every aspect of the design and imagining how I feel when I experience a design that makes me say, “Oh wow! The designer totally knows me.” I really enjoy the idea of a symphony of thoughtful and ‘duh’ design.
If I recall correctly, you are extraordinarily detail oriented. How does that play out when you are coming up with ideas? Are you able to hold onto a sense of “the big picture” when you are such a detail oriented person?
I am definitely a bit obsessive when it comes to certain details. I have found that it is best to identify a theme up front to keep the big picture in place. Referring back to my previous answer, if I was creating (or re-creating) a camper that was for beach camping, I might include details specific to one’s experience at the beach. The floor might have a grate that keeps loose sand off the walking surface while the roof may have a unique venting system to keep the camper cool in the daytime and perhaps the side of the camper opens to allow it to be used as a patio… And now my wheels are turning! Identifying a theme keeps me on track though for sure.
Haha! I love when design challenges appear out of thin air like that and get people going on tangents in their mind. I’m sure you might even want to start drawing those ideas out…which brings me to my next question: Which is more important to you, the ability to convey your ideas or your ability to draw?
Both are important. If you can’t do more with one, you have to make up for it with the other. I can sometimes draw my idea only to find that it’s not conveying what I want and requires some explanation. When communicating with people who don’t share your language, though, drawing skills trump the verbal end of communication. If I can’t communicate something with a drawing, I use prototypes or images of similar features or functions to close the gap.
Effectively, it comes down to the ability to communicate. I’ve talked about this many times and can’t emphasize it enough. Your ability to communicate effectively, regardless of the channel is the most critical part of the process. When you are communicating digitally, what types of software do you use and in what phase of the design process?
Ideally, there is a conversation about the design which leads to sketches, a list of features and outlining the overall story – or theme. I generally follow that with either a hand sketch or computer illustration and then, if it’s required, I create the virtual 3D model. For computer illustrations, I use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop and if available I might use a digital sketch program like Alias – when working with something like a Wacom tablet. For my 3D models I have been using SolidWorks but have used Form Z, 3D Studio Max , SketchUp and have dabbled very lightly in Rhino.
When you’re testing out an idea for functionality for your company, is it done in reality or do you work in software? And why?
It depends. Working at Leed’s, if there is a 3D model to support the design (for, say, a hard molded item) I will test tolerances and functions in the software. If it’s something like a cut and sew design, I will create a crude prototype and send it to our factories once I know the function is good to go. It depends on what makes sense in terms of time and efficiency.
I imagine that promotional goods that come out of your company are on much more compressed timelines, so I could see how efficiency is a high priority dynamic in your process. Moving so fast must come at a certain cost to other parts of the process and I imagine that you need to keep some sort of design philosophy in place when working to keep you on target. What is your primary design maxim?
Mainly because everything I do changes either with time, trend, customer, etc. I generally strive to create design that addresses a problem. I firmly believe in design for the customer/end user. I guess you could call that my maxim in a way. Maybe it’s my history as a service industry person, but it’s definitely the constant in my work. It’s like an empathetic approach.
That growler is amazing, by the way. I could totally see that on EveryDayCarry or Uncrate. Is there a project that you’re particularly proud of that reflects this maxim? (please submit photos of this, it will be an important show/tell moment.)
I’m currently working on a few things that I think represent my maxim – as you say… One of the strongest items I’ve done to embody this would be an item that I designed for Leed’s – a promotional product company. The idea is that the user may prefer various temperatures of beverage. The multi-function lid and double wall body allow for use with both hot and cold beverages without the need for changing lids.
Morgan, I love watching your career move forward and can’t wait to see what you do next. Thanks so much for talking with me. It’s always a pleasure! Where can people see more of your work? Final thoughts?
I’m no expert on anything really – especially the human condition and how it evolves. Knowing that keeps me on my toes. I don’t know what the next big thing is or how it will change our lives, but I’ll continue to search for it. What I do know is this: if you chase the best of what life has to offer – and you never say never to it, you (whether you’re an aspiring designer or an experienced one) may just find that next thing. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. Keep searching, experiencing and remember that supporting designers are game changers too.
Morgan can also be occasionally found on Twitter dropping thoughts on design and life here.
Are you a professional 3D artist or designer? I’d love to talk with you about your work! Reach out to me here and maybe you, too, will be featured in the ProTalk!