5 years in; looking for a change and not sure how to approach an updated portfolio.

Happy Holidays Core77 Moderators and Fellow Designers:

I haven’t posted on the Core forums in over 5 years; mostly just visiting now and then to read the cool design articles & occasional career-related topics. I’ve just been so busy and mostly satisfied with my career post-grad (5 years in the same company) that I haven’t had the need to ask for advice. I must say though that the career advice I’ve received in the past from those on here as well as the discussions I’ve bookmarked along the way have truly been a godsend.

Ok, onto the topic at hand: I won’t get into too many specifics for obvious reasons but I am not currently happy at my company and it’s been my first full-time position post-grad. Even though I was initially content my first 4 years, some major changes within the company are making me rethink staying on longer. Plus, I’ve gotten the itch to pursue another realm of design: housewares, home decor, furnishings, kitchen/bath accessories, storage, etc.

The company I work at now is involved in “fixtures” for the home & commercial environments. So I have mostly experience designing products for the home environment; both kitchen and bath. An updated portfolio for the current job market would be mostly comprised of said product. I have had the opportunity to work on some exciting product; all of which have already launched so I’d be showing mostly that.

Since my initial entry-level portfolio was mostly comprised of conceptual work as well as internship projects (the ones I had permission to show), I have no idea how to approach a new portfolio going forward and what to include; especially wanting to get into a totally different market: Think Target Corp (their in-house brands), Blu Dot, Room & Board, West Elm, Crate & Barrel, Magnolia/Joanna Gaines, etc.

So here are my questions:

1: What should a portfolio from a junior-level designer be comprised of? Do I still have to show lots of “process” and storytelling as with my entry-level portfolio or this time around, is it more beauty-shots with brief explanations to demonstrate design competency?

2: Should the portfolio include newer conceptual work that is more focused on the industry I plan on entering?

3: Lastly, the layout of the portfolio; what should it look like, how should it read, how much text, etc?

I honestly have no idea where to start and if any mid-level designers have any personal examples of portfolios that they can share for inspiration, that would be extremely helpful to me.

Just an FYI: After 5 years, I was working towards achieving senior level title-ship but that hasn’t happened yet. Promotions take forever here; but I was promoted last year to a cross between junior and senior (we have strange title categories; I will leave it at that). In total, I honestly have 6 years of experience if you count internships. Just had to add that for context.

Any type of assistance and advice you can grant me would be most appreciated. Looking forward to replies.

Thanks everyone!


Best,

Eameser

Hey Eameser, welcome back. A good question for the boards and a good time of year to be reflecting.

A couple of responses below.

First, I would consider you a “mid-level” designer. Some places that is called a “Designer II”… some places don’t have the mid designation in which case I would push for senior. But you have 5 years under your belt with products on the market (#realdesignersship) so that is valuable experience that I think gets you out of the entry level fray.

Second, I think the category of products you want to get into is a short throw from where you are, so your existing work should be pretty relevant. It is not as different as say going from hardware to performance footwear or softgoods. So that is a plus. Putting the rest of my thoughts in line with your quotes below.

Yes, always show process. even as a director level you are showing process, just of a different sort. Show research, insights, persona identification, ideation, concept sorting frameworks, design refinement, design for manufacturing. If you have pictures of production lines or images at retail that really drives home that you have shipped product. If all I see is finished product how do I know what you actually did? How do I know what your daily operating level? Not answering these questions viably risks making your portfolio a pass.

Yes, at least 1 or 2 conceptual projects and maybe 3-5 light ideations.

Don’t over think it. Making a coroflot or chance portfolio can be enough. I like to tell designers, “don’t tell me, show me” so make it as visual as you can. Assume the hiring manager looking at it at Target has 7 hours of meetings, 5 direct reports to manage, and 3 projects of their own. That portfolio link is going to be looked at for 60 seconds before they decide wether or not to put you in the “maybe” pile. Make it visual, make it memorable, clearly communicate who you are and your abilities.

Feel free to post some work here and keep the dialog going. As an example, here is the portfolio of a young designer I know at Umbra:
https://www.behance.net/dmontante

Also, I just thought if another thing, don’t be afraid to reach out to designers in that industry. If you can track down a few designers at your target companies, connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on Instagram. Spark some conversations, offer to get them coffee if you are in the region (or go there), ask to show them your portfolio for feedback when you are ready. A lot of designers did that to me when I was at Nike and frog. If I could I would always take the time to at least look through their portfolio. If they were good I’d get them in the recruitment system whether we were hiring or not. If I could get them in the door I would. Not everyone is going to do that, but it doesn’t hurt to reach out.

Michael,

Thank you for the prompt response! Great thoughts; will take all into consideration, especially the part regarding showing process: “If all I see is finished product how do I know what you actually did?”. It has generated in my mind newer questions/concerns regarding how much do I show on Behance/online portfolio vs. in-person or via email, but we can delve on that later as there are different dynamics at play now whereas before I mostly had conceptual post-grad stuff.

Also like this part: “Make it visual, make it memorable, clearly communicate who you are and your abilities.” It makes sense that I only have less than a minute or so to capture a hiring manager’s attention (just as a billboard on a highway should get your attention and communicate effectively so should my portfolio). All good things to keep in mind as I start devising my updated portfolio.

I will also take to heed your suggestions for more targeted, relevant conceptual work. That way they truly understand my passion for the industry I am considering and not just “looking for a job”. It will certainly compliment the “manufactured/launched product” I’ve designed over the past 5 years.

By the way, I had to look up the #realdesignersship hashtag you had referenced earlier and came across the article you wrote on Core77. Am reading it right now! Very good read. We (experienced ID’ers) are so much more than pretty sketches and conceptual ideas. I am so happy that after 5 years, I understand manufacturing process a heck of a lot more than I did initially (plastic injection molding, metals casting, extrusions, etc). I am a lot more well-rounded because of it. As well as the research, understanding of the problem (not just designing for the heck of it), and creating a beautifully functional solution (and experience) for the end user. I am now a follower on the 'Gram. Thanks for creating it! Hopefully soon I can add some of my own launched projects to the conversation. Not to mention, I am sure it will be a great way to publicize one’s work and experience, and possibly gain the attention of hiring staff/managers if they are browsing! : )

Lastly, thanks for sending over Dominic Montante’s Behance. His work is truly inspiring. I also have a Behance, but it needs updating. Once I feel comfortable listing my own, I will. And ask for feedback.

Thanks Michael!

Best,

Eameser

PS: Agree with your approach about reaching out to designers on Linkedin for networking, and if I am in their local area, asking if they could spend time to meet in person, or even talk over the phone, etc. Believe it or not, I remember that approach from say… 7 years ago when you suggested it to me back then! It actually got me to where I am currently at, so I will start again! I am on it, Yo! Keep you posted.