Career Stories

Dominic Southgate

Founder and Managing Director of a Design Consultancy Boxclever

Design Management Industrial Designer

What is your current role?
Founder of a Design Consultancy specialising in professional and industrial products. Boxclever was founded in 2002 and has grown to a mix of industrial designers and mechanical engineers. My actual design work is now only around 20%, primarily my role is in client management, project scoping and quoting, Mentoring of junior and middleweight designers, finance, strategy, running the ‘business’.

Tell us about your career journey to date?
I was hired within three months of leaving NCAD Industrial Design in 1993 as a modelmaker. Product/Industrial Design was very different, there were few jobs in consultancy, and in-house usually meant you were one of a minimal design team in an Irish SME. Modelmaking was the usual route into consultancy as the most junior role. From there I grew to junior designer, middleweight designer, senior designer to general manager of the consultancy. I left and started Boxclever in 2002 working mostly with Irish companies in all sectors. For the last ten years we have targeted professional and industrial products, which means our client base is now worldwide. CPD was initially HR and some business training through the IMI, over the last number of years I have completed several courses with Design Skillnet. I have only ever had two jobs, my last CV was 1993, but I have been able to guide my own career through founding my own agency.

How does the reality of your career differ from your expectations?
I never expected to run my own business, as a designer the work is all you think about. We don’t exist in a bubble; I now enjoy the business side of design.It can be surprising how quickly the design sector can change around you; international factors can quickly affect business.There are two types of founders – those who want to be in complete control and those who need a partner. I quickly found I was the latter; I need someone else to bounce ideas off. It also makes taking time off easier.

What three skills do you believe are crucial to succeeding in this career?
– Confidence but not overconfidence. Overconfidence as a designer is as bad as lack of confidence. Know that you always have much to learn.
– Business training. If you are thinking of starting an agency and moving from a freelancer to employing even one person, get the basics in place as soon as possible.
– Be open to new skills, and not just technical skills. To grow as a designer you need to be client facing, there are important soft skill that need to be worked on…

What advice would you give someone considering a role in this sector?
It is a great time to be getting into industrial design, from just developing physical products 20 years ago, the sector now leads into UX, service design, industrial design, and many others You can create a role that is tailored to you and work for yourself, in an agency, or an in-house team.