do portfolios have to be so specific?

when going for jobs outside where your background of experience is in, do you have to show a bunch of personal projects in the industry i want to go in?

For example say I’ve done a lot of kids stuff in all kinds of media and processes, got good visuals process,etc. and those materials, processes and design methods transfer over to say sporting goods nicely, that is not enough… managers will want to see a few sporting goods projects, right to convince them?

does the portfolio have to be this specific to have a good chance transferring to something else? if yes, why? thankyou

It would help in this economy. To answer why, just think from the perspective of a hiring manager. The economy is tough, you have two candidates that are pretty good, but one has a sporting project, and one doesn’t. Who would you take a risk on? The answer is pretty obvious. Unless you absolutely blow away all competition, it’ll be hard to justify hiring you over someone with industry experience.

That said, you shouldn’t give up. Networking is still essential in today’s digital world (might even be more than before, due to the volume of internet applicants), and you should try your best to find a position at a sporting goods company just to get some experience. Another angle is to find an consultancy that does a wide range (including your kids stuff), appreciates your design skills, and also does sporting goods projects. You could slowly work your way into good relations with clients while getting better at sporting design.

I think it’s good to have a general portfolio that showcases your best projects, and after you land the interview, you can talk about additional, more specific projects. Or you can submit very specific portfolios from the beginning (PDFs). I take the prior route since I have a web portfolio that cannot be customized very easily.

I would like to think the person in the hiring position possesses enough capacity for abstract thought to extrapolate your skills in the toy industry to sporting goods. Good work is good work. Do you want to work for someone who cannot make that leap?

no, but by that logic, I’d never get through the door anyway.

I wonder if recruiters understand this thing about transferrable skills / abilities?

I find it weird that a creative department in industry X would want to staff up solely with people from industry X. Seems like an inc estuous dead end route to follow. They should want people with other experiences to bring to the table - in my opinion that is something that can make you stand out.

I would think it depends on the kind of employee they are looking for.

From what I’ve seen, some jobs require the designer to be productive immediately while others are looking for someone to mold into what they want over several years.

I heard good advice somewhere recently that what employers want most of all is someone smart enough to adapt to whatever projects are thrown their way, but also have a proven track record of getting things done. Smart and the ability to get things done sounds like marketable qualities to me.

i think that one intangible that they might be looking at is your fit with their team as well as your skills, and the fit is more important :wink:

when i started working at Warrior i learned that the company operates like a hockey team; every day is like spending the day in the locker room, so there’s always music, alot of banter (we have a team of 5), and you spend alot of time together outside of work too. two weeks ago i played hockey with the guys 6 times in 7 days. i find it a better fit for me personally compared to previous jobs, i love it!

just bring passion, and you’ll be fine.

do designers over 40 “fit” in?

For sporting equipment it does seem that you need previous experience. I have worked for a few action sports companies and in the interview they pretty much all ask do I participate in sport “X”. If I was to say no and the next candidate with equal portfolio was to say yes then who would you pick the user or the nonuser. It does make a difference if you do the sport and you have been in the field applying products for there use you know exactly why products work or don’t work. I think for other fields outside of sporting equipment say printer design easier for people to say you have good work and you understand design I think you might be a fit. The other thing is most people have used a print. They will have an understand of the problems the knowledge of use is not as specific.

That is not the case. I know plenty of great toy, car, shoe, consumer electronics, what name you designers who would have a very hard time transferring industries. As hiring managers, we are designers, even if we are creative directors. Don’t tell us your skills will transfer, show us. I wouldn’t expect those personal projects to have the same level of refinement that comes with direct industry knowledge (understanding of market and manufacturing realities) but I’d expect to see something. How do I know your super passionate about changing industries if you haven’t taken the time to test it out on your own… Having changed industries twice, I did it as well.

I totally disagree. Regardless of industry, portfolio needs to demonstrate:

  1. The ability to intelligently frame problems on a variety of past work
  2. The ability to identify and address the unknowns within those problems
  3. The ability to work with a variety of client side stakeholders
  4. The ability to seek out appropriate outside resources and expertise as needed
  5. Solid visual skills
  6. Solid presentation skills
  7. Solid creative problem solving skills

Industry is nice to have, but if all the above are demonstrated then what does it matter? Seriously. That person will have the brains to do the work.

Industry specific work is very relevant and important. Not that your skills shouldn’t also be great, but if two candidates had equal skills, and one had industry experience, it’s pretty much a no-brainer for the hiring people. Industry specific experience gains you knowledge of how things work, how things are made, the market, customers, etc.

At the very least, I’d echo what Yo said in that I’d expect some self-directed projects that focus on that industry. That shows you are really into it, and also how much you already know or have yet to learn about industry specific things.

There are countless things you’d be surprised that are important in any particular industry that comes with experience. I’d interviewed a lot of people before that were outside my industry (footwear) for a footwear specific job, and lack of knowledge and amount of training they’d need was a big factor. As an example I saw a applicant that had no experience in shoe design with a lot of shoes in his portfolio, but they were all pretty much un-manufacturable. He had no idea how shoes were made and if I employed him, it would be a lot of work to get him up to speed.

That’s not to say it is impossible. It also matters at what level the position is. You might actually have better luck changing industries as a more senior designer or manager as there are less hand-on skills needed and more broader skills that should already be developed.


You can disagree, but it doesn’t change the reality of how most hiring managers see things. It is not just about the brains to do the work, it is about the heart and passion for the specific kind of work. Brining products to market can feel like a brisk climb up Everest sometimes. Is the person going to have the necessary gumption to make it all the way up? Showing me a bit of what you would bring to the kind of work the hiring manager does helps to demonstrate that.

I have a consulting bias, I’ll admit. Personally I value novelty, broadness, and variety over specificity and deep experience in an industry. I look at everything product as PD, not industry. It’s 100% problem solving regardless of industry to me. There is a good reason to have some industry vets - they’ll know regulatory, standard practices, dot the i’s and cross the t’s etc - but I have to think that, for instance, a car company would be a lot better served to hire a bunch of non-trans guys to design cars if they’re really trying to differentiate. I think the 021C was one of the coolest car concepts, visually and functionally, and probably because it wasn’t done by a car guy. To use a music analogy, if you hire a bunch of jazz musicians to play music, you’re probably going to get jazz. Nothing wrong with jazz, but you kind of know the outcome ahead of time. It’ll probably sound like a Blue Note record circa 1967. Maybe one will be a really searching musician, and you’ll find another Miles Davis. Or maybe not. But it’s still jazz. (Incidentally, I think Miles’ best work was the result of hanging out with non jazz musicians - his early '70s output like On the Corner and Get Up with It). On the other hand, you could hire Ralph Mooney, Gary Numan, Sharon Jones, and Nels Cline and possibly get something very cool and unexpected. Maybe it’s a train wreck, but since they’re all great musicians it would seem they should be able to do great things. The point is, if you want new ideas, why drink exclusively from the same well as all your competitors?

I agree with you, it should be that way, but most people are more trade focused. In a way, if the consultancy you are in is extremely broad then what you are looking for (breadth) is essentially the same as a car company asking for a portfolio of all cars. Does that make sense? You are asking for a portfolio specifically tailored to your needs, which is to see maximum variety because you need a designer to be flexible enough to handle the wide array of projects and clients your firm handles. Some consulting groups focus on an industry, so those firms might look for more industry specific portfolios.

All in all, it is not a bad idea to do a few self directed projects in the industry (or industries) that are relevant to the potential employer.

I agree with Yo for some positions, bcpid for others, and for an entry level position maybe a combination of both.

of course if your dream is designing scuba equipment, you should live-eat-breath the subject and do side projects to ensure you’ll stand out. also if you’re changing industries, doing a couple side projects shows your interested and can do good work. You might still be at a disadvantage showing on your own though, and a solid track record of cross industry work might better reflect your 50 hr/week on-the-job performance

Students should get a broad exposure to product design I think, try out different industries while they can and get an idea what they like - thus producing a variety of work. I think you’d want to show this exploration, though you might want to make a portfolio customizable to weight it toward whatever industry you’re going after

Back up a couple posts, R posted something about seeing a folio full of nice but un-manufacturable drawings. Maybe the applicant just didn’t get it at all and wasn’t worth the effort, but often jr/entry-level designers need a good deal of mentoring. From what I’ve seen, often perfect employee cantidates that can do everything exactly as you want (for the price you want) don’t exist - you have to invest in them.

And to be clear, I’m not saying every project has to be in the industry in question, but you better have at least one.

Like singletrack said, in sports, the majority of the time it has to be specific.