Functional Portfolio

I am working on the 4th iteration of my portfolio and I wanted to do something different. I realized that us IDers, specifically those into design strategy find it hard to showcase those skills through a traditional portfolio. I am turning the way portfolios are done on its head and I wrote a small blogpost describing what I’m trying to do.

If you’re a prospective employer, what would be your first impressions?

sid v -
Grad Student - Art Center College of Design

I’m interested to hear what everyone thinks of this as well. I’ve been thinking of doing something similar with headings such as sketching, rendering, engineering, etc., however I’ve been told to show more process in my portfolios and feel like this format would then make it hard to show a project from start to finish, unless maybe the categories were arranged in such a way, and a flagship project was shown at every step?

Always better to avoid the stale, traditional portfolios in my opinion. This is a great idea. Through doing it your showing your thought process in the actual structure of the portfolio. I’m not an employer but if I was this would be the type of thing I’d be looking for

It’s a good idea. But don’t get caught up in making the new format a new archetype for everyone, focus on creating the absolute best possible solution for what YOU want to convey about your skills.

A prospective employer’s job is to ‘read between the lines’ of a portfolio to try to understand about how you work. About how you think, your personality and your character traits. They need to judge whether you could do that particular project they had last week/month, and envisage how you would fit in with the team that did it.

So I like how you are creating a format to create a story about each project -that will enable you to communicate those nuances of why you made one decision over another, why you liked a project or process, or where you in retrospect would have done better.

If you allow the reader to understand WHY you did what you did on each project, they’ll be able to understand YOU a lot better, beyond just the skills listed on the resume.

What’s so different about the portfolio you are making? I’m not getting it.

For each project you show different aspects and different skills. Sounds standard to me. I wouldn’t focus to much on trying to reinvent the portfolio just show your process, skills and projects. That’s what a portfolio is for.


It’s kind of an information overload. Strategy is a tough thing to display (it’s a lot of information) and I think it needs to be digested into something that is quickly understood from a high level view, but if someone wants to dive into details they can do so as well.

I don’t feel like this is much different than a typical portfolio. You should use case studies/projects to showcase particular skill sets. That’s always been the goal.

Thanks for the feedback everyone. It is a better storytelling tool and I’m going to design it keeping that in mind. I want to create a better experience for the reader. Hopefully should have it done in a few weeks. Will post it up for your feedback.

@rkuchinsky - I’m trying to organize my portfolio by skill and not by projects as it is usually done.

Keep in mind employers want to see process. Not just skill. Your portfolio should show that.


Not just skill :smiley:

One of the most important skills you need as a designer is to communicate your ideas clearly and concisely in a visual manner. Your portfolio should be able to show all of your skills in that fashion. Your thought process, research, ideation, prototyping, 3D Visualization, and Graphic skills. Employers want to see consistency, structure and creativity in everything together so they know what they are going to get from you when employed … and if that doesn’t work, wow them with your sketches. good luck!

I have to agree with this. I don’t really think this qualifies as a reinvention of portfolio. I know at school they always tell us to show process, along with sketches and renders. You aren’t just being hired to sketch. You’re being hired to think. When I structured my most recent portfolio I took some advice to “make every project display a different competency you have” so that means having maybe one really technical/engineery project. Contrast that with a lifestyle brand etc. If you can communicate your solutions well, the process should be inherently understood IMO.

I encounter one of these “reinvented” portfolios from time to time… If the work is good enough, a stack of printouts is fine. My advice: focus on the content and quality of the message not over designing the medium. Classic confusion, message vs medium.

i’d love to be able to show my process but i’m not allowed to show any work unless it can be found on the internet. How is a professional designer with 3 years experience show process when you can’t show any of the work?? Do i do a project on the side and show process that way? any suggestions would be helpful.

I pretty much agree with you here Dan. I think that it’s important for students to highlight their whole process in some of their portfolio examples, but I also think that once you start to gain real world experience and start to populate your portfolio with tangible successful projects much of that thought process becomes inherent in the final output and I don’t think you need to show every step (tool) they teach you in school in all of your professional work. I think a decent hiring manager is going to be able to read between the lines and that thought process can be sniffed out through an interview and via your references. I don’t show a lot of process or fundamental design methods in my portfolio, it is some concept work, but mostly final output. Clearly, behind that final output I use a range of design skills and thinking to achieve the results of that final input, but I prefer to leave that to a discussion in an interview.

This touches on something that bothers me that they don’t necessarily teach in school and it is that in the professional world the “design process” is much more fluid and incidentally does not always require a designer to go though every single step, in great detail, with the level of polish that is usually required with academic work. All of the steps and fundamental skills are important, but I have worked with experienced designers who still treat every single project in the working world as they would their senior thesis, including working through every step and then presenting all of the process and needlessly consuming valuable time on quick turn projects. Being thorough is great, but I think that in teaching design it is also important to teach where and when to use the skills and parts of the process the most effectively and efficiently.

Conversely, I had an interview several months back, discussed a lot of my work with their design team. A few of the older interviewers (with ID backgrounds) wanted to see more sketches, they practically grimaced when I told them that I sketch on a high level and that I don’t include them in my portfolio because I use sketching (and writing) to work through a design and not for presentation purposes. Admittedly, while I can sketch with a higher level of polish it isn’t necessary in my niche area of design because we communicate all of our work with 3D renderings, exactly the same with the company that I was interviewing with. I thought it kind of old-school to rule out a candidate with a wide range of design work, clearly with a process behind it, only because they didn’t have a ton of slick sketching in their portfolio, but I digress.

Greenman that’s definitely some good insight! I know as a student I have a pretty limited perspective on portfolios, and what people look for in them. I guess I was coming at it more from a student perspective, where you might not have anything in production, and the best way to prove you have skills is to show them. I’d think if you designed some kick-ass products, you’d have to have done your due diligence in the process, so what you’re saying makes total sense. I try to think about design school kind of like learning English in school, they teach you all the rules first, and make you follow them. Then you break them later when it’s appropriate. My process is definitely not a linear step by step kind of thing, and I’d almost have to question anyone who claimed to have a linear process, because it just never works out that way… at least in school. So where you’re coming from makes sense there too.

Right on, as a student, showing that you understand the parts of the process and can communicate in your portfolio how they led you to your final solution is important for employers to see that you think and understand the design process. As you get into the working world the game does change, you accomplish projects, maybe win awards, make contacts, and evolve as a designer, my point being is that as you progress in your career the evidence that you understand the design process becomes more inherent with each success.

I’ve divided my portfolio website between skills (mostly not full project work, but rather work I did on improving that specific skill as much as possible) and full projects. Interestingly enough, I was looking through the usage stats on it the other day, and the skills pages are visited much more than the project pages.
Admittedly, the skills links are on the left so you see them first, and its a design engineering portfolio so people may be looking for different things, but I thought it was important to note, given the emphasis that’s placed on process for student portfolios.