Advice for starting small personal projects

Hey Guys,

I’m a junior level freelance product designer, but most of my freelance projects are not really big/interesting enough to put in my portfolio. So I’ve started to do small personal projects ranging from 2 days to maybe a week for development and to put in my folio.

Here’s a link to my first attempt:

Do you have any advice about these types of projects to get the most out of them? Do you think a mini brief, sketches and CAD model/render is enough to get attention and show development? Or is more depth needed to show off a range of skills?

Much appreciated!


Those are exactly the projects I want to see in your portfolio.

I did hit your link and it is apparent you are just starting out. And the fact of the matter, please don’t take this as a slam, you know little about the new product development process. No worries, I knew nothing when I first started. That is why we were all called newbs at some time in our careers.

So as your potential employer, I want to see your material where you were directed to do so much more so than the stuff you made up. I’m not saying don’t show your personal projects, but you lead with the real stuff. Case in point, one of my interviewers was fascinated with a plastic bag I designed. Could not have cared less by the fancy floor-standing diagnostic instrument. Go figure.

Each mini project should have a skill your trying to highlight.

With bigger projects you can show the full range. But on these smaller bites. Focus on something and blow it out.

The light project needs more wow factor.
Focus on one/two thing. Examples I immediately thought about for this project.

Details - focus on fully detailing out this project. The cord, the plug, where the cord enters the body. The feet, the label. The shape of the bulb. the color of the light. Its a simple project at first glance, but could be much more refined.

Renders - its a light project, render it in the dark, gif of it glowing brighter. Wow me with some suspense. The project is all about lighting, show it in your renders.

Interaction - the lighting interaction here is cool, play it up. Make prototypes.
I thought of this.

Basheer does a great job of showing prototyping too

Card board mock ups would be great here.

iab, thanks for your response and feedback - your critique is very welcome.

I’d say for 75% of my freelance projects (around 10 or 11 to date) I have signed NDA’s. Until the products are realised or my clients allow me to publish work in my portfolio, I can’t communicate most of my professional work.

This would be catch 22! Hence the personal projects. I’ll see what I can do with the 25% of projects I’m free to share.

Sain, thanks for the awesome feedback! To be honest 1 extra day spent on the project could probably achieve 1 or 2 of the points you suggested. I did consider lighting the bulb up in Photoshop and now feel pretty silly for choosing not to.

I think my portfolio design is letting the quality of my actual design work down, but that’s not a discussion for this board!

Thanks again.

Be sure to contact your clients and ask what can be shown. For example, I have NDAs with all of our suppliers. With one of our IM vendors, we allow them to show a part or two but not the entire assembly while it is under npd. What I find funny is seeing at a trade show a part that was in a project killed several years ago.

That’s a really good point - there might be plenty of work my clients are happy for me to share without showing the final assembly or protected components. Thanks again.

I’ve updated the project to include some quick and dirty prototypes and improved visuals - feel free to check it out and comment

Thanks again for the feedback guys.

You say your portfolio lacks big/interesting projects, so to correct this you choose to design a small, simple desk lamp?

‘Interesting’ is the key word as a project doesn’t have to be big, but it does have to be engaging, your lamp design isn’t really solving a problem, you’ve chosen a really familiar form and currently it’s still not very well resolved ( you need to really consider the details, the size of the radius on the edges, is the glass frosted, how does it fit together, how does the collar stay where the user leaves it without sliding down etc) the devil is in the details.

the next thing is that you are trying to do these projects in 2 days to a week. This is the wrong view to take, for a portfolio piece, it takes as long as necessary to get in to your portfolio, so if it takes a month, so be it. I feel you are rushing your personal projects because you want to expand your portfolio as fast as possible. You will (hopefully) get further with one strong, interesting and well resolved project, than you will with three rushed ones. Unfortunately good things take time.

Finally as it is a personal project, make it personal. If it gets into your portfolio and you get an interview, the interviewer will want to know about the project, why is this piece in there. If all you can tell them is that you needed to come up with something to pad out your portfolio it will look bad. If you challenge yourself with a strong brief, and come up with an interesting design that tackles a problem and allows you to explain your thought process and the end result, you will get much further, even if it takes a few extra weeks.

This was actually a project I did earlier in the year more for fun than anything else - it wasn’t intended to be big or particularly interesting. So apologies for the lack of context in my original post. The reason I asked for feedback on this particular project was because I wanted to understand what is expected of a personal project that I’d be showing to potential employers. Now that I have all of this amazing feedback I have a better direction for my next project.

Going back to your feedback, you’ve definitely said a few truths that I needed to hear! Definitely agree that personal projects need to solve a problem, go into much more detail and should not be rushed.

Thanks product tank - much appreciated.

Saw this. Thought of this thread.


That’s an interesting concept. I like the interaction and the reminder to turn off the light. But hopefully it doesn’t turn off as frequently as in the video!

Thanks for posting iab.

Nice idea, but that light would annoy the shit out of me.