Be the Next Jonathan Ive

Design recruiter RitaSue Siegel divulges what companies want in design executives (think Apple), why collaborative is the new cocky, and how the bottom line is as important as blueprints.


Who she is: RitaSue Siegel, president, RitaSue Siegel Resources


Who she’s placed: Shiro Nakamura, SVP design, Nissan (since promoted); Andreas Haase, director of industrial design, Concord Camera; Phillip Joe, product designer, Microsoft

What are the hot spots in design?

It used to be that everyone wanted to work in a consultancy like Ideo because that’s where there was variety and the best designers. That’s not true anymore. You have just as good designers working inside companies, even ones not renowned for design, like Hewlett-Packard. The benefit of being inside is you get a better understanding of the problems in manufacturing or production because you’re right there.

What do companies expect when hiring design talent?

The big trend right now is the search for designer as turnaround agent, or design savior. These are designers who think strategically and speak the language of business, in addition to being incredibly talented. In the past two years, more companies have come to us asking for a VP of design or a creative/design director who can give them a personality — an instantly recognizable visual language for their products. They actually say, “Find me a Jonathan Ive [Apple’s VP of design],” but they call him “Jonathan Ives.”

That tells you not everyone gets it 100% just yet. How can you tell if a company “gets” design?

The best way is to look at how they touch customers with their presence. Improving customer experience is what all design-conscious companies are aiming for. You can find evidence in the littlest of things, down to the type of statement a phone company sends its customers.

So how do you make sure designers get the business side of things?

Designers today are expected to be equally as conversant in business and brand strategy as they are in design strategy. When a designer shows me something in a portfolio and I get all excited, I have to ask, “Was that successful?” If they don’t know the sales figures, they’re out immediately because they have to understand the bigger picture.


Designers are notorious for being cocky. Will businesses stand for that kind of behavior?

In the old days, designers could have disdain for people. They could say, “I don’t care if they like it, this is good.” You don’t get very far today if you don’t have great collaborative skills. You have to be the kind of person who doesn’t just want to talk to other designers, but really gets a kick out of talking to a marketing person, a writer, or a finance guy to find out how other people do what they do, what process they use. Because all of that helps you as a designer.

We’ll ask our candidates, “If you made a presentation at the highest level of your client company and recommended a design direction and the client said no, what would you do?” It’s a trick question because the correct answer is, “It can’t happen, because we’ve been working together all along, so it’s never a surprise in the end.”

About the author

Danielle Sacks is an award-winning journalist and a former senior writer at Fast Company magazine. She's chronicled some of the most provocative people in business, with seven cover stories that included profiles on J.Crew's Jenna Lyons, Malcolm Gladwell, and Chelsea Clinton