As designers on the hunt for the next job opportunity the most dreaded question is “did you start your portfolio yet?”

Crafting a portfolio can be pretty exhausting! Choosing the right projects, writing case studies, investing time into perfecting it and making your skills and personality come across.

During Helsinki Design Week SDN Finland tackled some of these questions during the Portfolio Night event. The aim was to bring together practitioners in the design field and relevant stakeholders who would offer their time and expertise in reviewing the portfolios of the participants. We aimed at creating a common forum for participants to voice their questions and concerns about the hiring processes and the materials to be submitted, as well as receiving practical insights and recommendations about their portfolio.


The event unfolded into two sections. At first the reviewers discussed questions submitted by the participants at the time of the event sign up. This provided a general overview on common interest questions and kicked-off the discussion. Then, the participants were able to get closer advice from the reviewers, who went through the portfolios and gave practical advice.


In this blog post we collected some of the insights shared during the Portfolio Night event in the hope to share them further with the community and with whoever finds them interesting.


FORMAT

One of the most common questions was about the format of the portfolio. Should it be a website, a PDF, hosted on a specific platform? According to the reviewers, the format of the portfolio makes little to no difference. As long as the portfolio remains concise, clear and offers a good overview without being too long, then any platform would do the job. Pdf is often the easiest to browse, but also an online portfolio would be equally as good. In the online case, it’s important to pay attention to the ease of browsing and keeping different devices in mind to make the website fully responsive.


Reviewers also mentioned the perks of having a consistent structure within your portfolio. If the approach and anatomy of each project or case study is similar, then the person reviewing it will have an easier job in recognizing patterns and navigating through the information.


In short, when writing, keep in mind not to use a too small font, make good use of summaries and don’t use too much text all at once. Try and make your portfolio as accessible as possible.


CONTENT

Regarding the content of the portfolio, it’s important to choose the right projects to showcase your abilities and skills. Of course, the more senior the designer the more projects are expected in a portfolio, but for designers who are just starting out and looking for their first job then featuring 2 or 3 projects is enough. When picking projects to feature, choose diverse ones. In this way you will be able to showcase different aspects of your service design work, rather than focusing only on one angle. 


A practical example is not to showcase three different projects which only focus on journey mapping, but to include works with different perspectives on service design. Another tip from the reviewers was to, when possible, highlight projects that showed how you streamlined a process or saved time and resources as they might be particularly interesting in the current times.

After choosing which projects to write about, how to tackle the content for each page? Remember to write an introduction where you explain briefly the overview of the project. Just by reading this section, it must be clear what the project was about and what was done and achieved.


As for the project content, be sure to highlight the methods used explaining why they were appropriate for the project’s goal, articulate well presented key findings and don’t forget to mention other people involved and your role in the group. If you have gathered feedback during the project, it’s a good thing to showcase that as well. For example it could be feedback from a teacher, a client or anything that shows your project was particularly outstanding such as prizes and awards.


At first, it’s totally okay to showcase personal or university projects. Sometimes in these kinds of projects you don’t get to reach a practical conclusion, but the work stays at the concept level. If this is the case, try to still think about the future of the project: what are the next steps for the project? What could be certain topics to address further? What could potentially be the outcome of the project? In this way you would show the reviewers your approach in tackling an end-to-end design process, even if the group work stopped mid-way.


Another very common question was “what if visual design is not your strongest skill?” Well, that’s totally okay! Service design portfolios are less about the looks and more about being able to articulate your projects in a clear structure, with well formed motivations and showing the utilization of different methods and tools. So in general prioritize a clear explanation rather than fancy visuals. Nevertheless, keep in mind that sometimes visual explanations of processes are easier to digest and clearer to read. Just don’t put all your effort into making it beautiful, but in making it meaningful.


OVERALL APPLICATION

Although portfolios are important during the application process, there are other materials usually required such as CV and cover letter.

While writing a cover letter it’s important to highlight specific reference projects and clearly state the benefit you could bring to the company and role. 


Ask yourself: what makes you different from the other candidates?


When applying for a consultancy role, the reviewer might look for other consultancy experience as it is important to understand the different work dynamics of a consultancy environment as opposed to in-house work.

Ending on a positive note, all the reviewers agreed that motivation and attitude can sometimes be more important than experience. So don’t be afraid of applying for jobs you feel “underqualified” for. If your motivation is in the right place, you might be actually surprised!


We hope you found this article about good practices around portfolio making interesting. Would you like to participate in the next Portfolio Night event? Become a member of SDN Finland and be the first to know about all the upcoming events.

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