Interview with Ms. Carol Crews, Practice Manager

at Doblin, Chicago

  1. What advantages do employees with a graduate degree in the visual arts bring to your company?
    We hire people with graduate degrees in design almost exclusively from the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology. Many of them come with a background in a field such as communication design, which is important because the way we present our work is very visually-oriented; our visual design sets us apart.
    As example of the advantages these kinds of people bring to Doblin, we have someone here now under contract who has a well-rounded set of skills and a background in communication design. He's been through a graduate program with a focus on user-centered design, social interaction, business strategy and design prototyping, design thinking. He built on his background with these new skills to become a synthesis powerhouse. He can not only present ideas on the fly, but he can also develop those ideas into recommendations that we can make to our clients - it's a learned skill which he gained through his graduate program.
    Using him as an example, his advantage is that we need a balance of people here at Doblin. Our consulting practice itself is a diverse group. We have anthropologists on staff, information specialists - people who find out what's been written up and get the facts and figures; we have people with design backgrounds and business strategists, typically MBA type people. A lot of people have ties to the arts - a former dancer, a former arts education teacher, there are lots of arts in our background because creativity is so central to what we do.
  2. Are there specific positions at your business that must be filled by employees with a graduate degree?
    Two roles that would be highly preferred: one is Senior Information Designer, which supports everything we do for our clients. The other is an Invention/Brand Specialist - anyone that I would hire into that role, I would require to have a Master in Design or at least a masters. I don't want to say that we wouldn't ever hire someone with a masters in, say, painting because you never know - we're an eclectic group. More typically we hire people with design and business backgrounds.
  3. When considering candidates for employment, how important is their graduate school's reputation?
    It is important because it's another input - what I mean by that is that our firm is small, and our resources are stretched tightly. We have a little over 40 people. I need help making quick decisions, so wherever I can streamline by knowing about the school that someone comes from, it helps me make a decision. While it matters, it's not make or break, though. Ultimately, we're more interested in getting to know the person to see if they'll be a good fit. We almost never hire someone without some consulting background.
  4. What advice can you give to graduating MA/MFA students on how to find and get the best job?
    Generally, the things that I look for when I'm interviewing are experience and how that fits the position. I will not hire someone into a role they're not ready for. Someone came to us a while back and said that Doblin was his dream company; we told him he needed more experience, so he went out and got it - two years later, he was working with us and still is. Persistence is great - enthusiasm is key. I look for a spark when I' 'm talking to someone. If they can really articulate their enthusiasm about how they can add value, then I really look for that.
    Writing skills are also key. I cannot stress that strongly enough. I think that even if there's a specific job you really want right out of school; if you can't get that right away, you should have a plan to get there. Have a plan for your career. A lot of people just let it happen to them. What are you willing to give your life to: we spend more time at work than anywhere else. If you're not interested in what you're doing, it's not worth it.
  5. Do you recruit from any specific art schools/colleges for employees? Why or why not?
    We recruit from Institute of Design because it has a unique combination of research, social science, design thinking and business strategy; those together constitute a lot of our consulting work. Graduates come ready to plug in and play - they hit the ground running. I don't know that anyone else has the same kind of program at all - although Carnegie Mellon has a strong design program, and I would look at anyone coming from there.
  6. What's the salary range for a newly-hired MA/MFA graduate?
    For design consultants, with experience and being able to come in at a senior level, the range is $60,000-$80,000. There may also be a situation where we would hire people with less experience, like in a junior consultant role, and in that case you could go down to the $40,000-$60,000 range.
  7. How is the job market right now for MA/MFA graduates?
    I have to be honest, it's really rough. There were a lot of people in the last few years going into the high tech arena. For a while you could almost name your salary. With the massive layoffs, the marketplace has seen recently, it's a tough place to be right now. It won't stay that way, but it's going to be tough for a while. It forces you to look for ways to articulate the value you can add to the companies that you're targeting.
  8. What does your company do?
    Doblin is an innovation strategy company. We have two components: Customer Experience Consulting, and Innovation Acceleration, or Executive Education.
    Customer Experience Consulting is typically for large companies that are looking for new products and services, and sometimes whole new businesses. We're not doing the cost-cutting work that a lot of other consulting firms do. Our multidisciplinary teams gather research and make discoveries, analyzing this information into frameworks and patterns, and work closely with our clients to come up with new offerings for their customers. We typically deliver these ideas, along with design principles from the research we do, after we have developed them into systems - and we like to work closely with our client-side team during the whole idea development process.
    In our Innovation Acceleration work, we communicate a strong point of view in defining what innovation is and how companies can make it a discipline within their organizations. We hold highly-structured workshops during which executives come up with new business ideas. The inputs we use are their capabilities, innovative examples from outside their industry, customer insights, and industry trends. So, we model for them a process, and at the same time they are coming up with ideas that they can follow through on and post-workshop.
  9. Please write and answer another question you can think of that would benefit prospective graduate students.
    How can graduates of visual arts programs make their degree work for them and fit into the working world?
    Graduates should be willing to figure out ways of practically applying their arts education. Also, be willing to open up to acquiring new skills to make that background even more practical. There's something remarkable about having an education and a masters in the arts - especially in the business world. If you can really harness and channel the creativity, adding strategic skills and the ability to apply the creative to business needs - that's a real strength. That creativity is a valuable and rare thing. It gives you credibility, especially if you can combine it with other, more "commercial" skills. This broader range of capabilities helps you collaborate with people different from you - which always results in more powerful results. And as you build those capabilities, you are more able to adopt the vocabulary of the people you're working with. That communication is critical.

Employer Profile: Doblin

Number of Employees: About 40

Salary range for your MA/MFA graduates: $40-,000-$60,000 at the junior level; $60,000-$80,000 at the senior level

Degrees important to your hiring decisions: Masters of Design (MDes)

Your Mission: Doblin is an innovation strategy company specializing in Customer Experience Consulting, and Innovation Acceleration/Executive Education.

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