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Design partners Visit : Cathal Loughnane

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Tuesday morning last we had a Guest speaker in UL, one Cathal Loughnane, Creative Director at Design Partners, Dublin and San Francisco. Cathal was asked to speak to us about what a career in Design might be like, and I was very pleased with the talk, as it provided some much needed and hard won insight into the world beyond the glass corridors of the PD&T centre is like. We learned about what the other Product Design courses in the country are studying, and more importantly what they think of the Designers Limerick produces. What our strengths are, our weaknesses. We have the single best model making mentor in the country, and a hands on approach that the other courses really envy. We have a chance to explore through carving, sculpting, chiselling, a skill highly prised at Design Partners.

We’re not so good at the Sketching however. As a student who is young in the lessons of sketching, I can certainly see where he is coming from. Fortunately, sketching is a skill available to anyone in possession of a pen and some form of canvas, napkins and envelopes are easier to come across to practice drawing on than lumps of blue foam to carve. 

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Cathal gave a great series of examples of what potential employers are searching for in a portfolio. Having an online representation of your work is an absolute must. The presentation of that work is even more important. An employer will typically get landed with hundreds of applications for any advertised position, so the time you get to impress them is fractions of a second. You need to show your strengths immediately. You also need to have the right presentation. It needs to be visually appealing, indicative of your best work, and also be what the employer happens to be searching for right that second. You need to prostitute yourself, and that’s not entirely a negative thing.

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When I was in Amsterdam after my leaving certificate, I saw the girls in the red light district. Each girl was trying to advertise the same product, but the time taken by the customers was highly competed for. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m the one selling myself, I can certainly appreciate how important it is to display your best work upfront and obviously, no puns intended!

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He also talked excellently about storytelling. Adam had previously highlighted how a cohesive story can resonate with us and cause and emotional attachment. If you can get a customer to place that attachment on your product, you’re in a powerful position to command a high price. Cathal relayed that opinion, and even supported it with the evidence of the Dublin Airport electronics duty free shop: Every week the area dedicated to Sony, Phillips and Panasonic headphones is being taken over by Emotionally charged brands, notably Beats by Dr. Dre and Skull Candy, even if Skull Candy are in a slight decline since the arrivals of Beats. In a sense, what he is describing user centred design based on what the customer would choose, not what the manufacturer wants to sell them. He told an anecdote about the product development of a UE Bluetooth speaker, where the manufacturer wanted to swap polished aluminium for cheap plastic for the handle. Cathal really had a hard time explaining to the company that to do so would detract so drastically from the appeal that the pricepoint would have to be reduced markedly. The company saw an opportunity to save on their manufacturing costs, and wanted to push for it. An impasse was almost reached. Cathal then had to be quite rigid in his professional belief, and explained that the line of endearing products they were developing requires that the buyer feels like they have gotten a good deal, and that they feel like the device is really precious to them, which is almost impossible to achieve in cheap plastic. On a side note, look at your iPhone. Glass, not plastic. And that’s €899 well spent in many books. Image

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