Industrial design tips for beginners

Industrial design tips for beginners

For an Industrial Designer, there are few things more significant than your portfolio. It’s the number one reason you still haven’t landed your first design job. Alternatively, it’s the main reason you got the job you are in. We all understand its importance, so here are a few pointers.

Industrial design tips for beginners

By no means have I figured it all out or published a blueprint for the ultimate portfolio. However, I’ve learned a lot along the way and received some great advice from top guys at places like IDEO, Nike, Fuseproject and Google – and I feel there are some really great points to pass on.

Show your process

Your portfolio should not look like a catalog of the products you’ve designed. You’re not trying to sell your products, you’re trying to sell you. In order to do this, you need to show your thought process and how you got to the end solution. If you only show images of the final product, then that is the only thing you can be judged on. With no evidence of initial ideas and how you approached different aspects of the project, you make it impossible for a reader to assess the thinking behind your approach. If I’m reviewing your work, I may dislike a certain aspect of the final design, but might appreciate the way you got there. If you don’t show the development journey then you don’t allow for this appreciation.

Convey multiple skills

In order to sell you, think about what capabilities you can convey. One great exercise is to note down a list of the skills you have, and make sure these skills are evidenced in your portfolio. Rendering is only one skill. A lot of portfolios fail to show a range of skills beyond KeyShot, so think about incorporating hand sketches, Photoshop renderings, Illustrator linework, and prototypes.

Present projects

In recent years, I’ve seen graduates compile a page of random drawings and group them on a page titled ‘Sketching’. This presentation style of miscellaneous snippets is not the way to go. The work should not be grouped by skill. There’s no story in that. More importantly, there’s no storytelling ability being conveyed. Instead, your portfolio should be presented through projects, and the skills are entwined within those projects. Not every project needs to communicate every skill. One project might focus more on a mechanical challenge and another may focus on form, but the skills are integrated into projects – not isolated in a separate section.

Tailor your work to the business

When you build your level of design experience, you have more projects in your locker than you need for an application. So, you base your decision of which projects to include based on which are the most relevant to that specific business. When you are just graduating, you can still adopt the same mindset even though you have a limited number of projects. The way you can do this is by shifting the focus of the project. You are in control of your portfolio and have the ability to draw attention to whatever you like. For a large, complex project you will not go through every aspect of the design in an application portfolio. So, if you know that the particular role you are applying for requires more of an understanding of mechanics, then draw more attention to that aspect of the project. Tailor your portfolio for each application.

Focus on the role

I often get asked by industrial design students if they should include graphic design work within their portfolio. The answer is always no. The reason is because your portfolio itself should be a shining example of your sensitivity to graphic design, layout, and proportion. The question normally comes from those who enjoy developing brand identities on the side or have a graphics freelance gig designing menus for local restaurants. There is a tendency to include things just because you can do them. Just because you can, it doesn’t make them any more relevant. Photography skills are important as a designer, but not as important as being a great designer. That is what must come first and foremost. Make sure that you don’t infringe on your ability to present yourself as a great designer by clouding the portfolio with a lot of ‘side skills’. I’ve seen 22-page design portfolios where the last 8 slides were personal photography. This is detrimental. Instead, plant a seed in your résumé by mentioning other skills and present more detail in the interview (if you land it). First and foremost, focus on communicating the fact you can design great products.

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