Crafting a Design Portfolio that gets you hired

If you want to get hired as a service designer, you need to be able to effectively communicate your skills and who you are as a designer.

I’ll explain what I look for in portfolios when hiring new staff at our studio, and what separates the people that do get hired from the ones that don’t.

In my work, I see a lot of resumes and design portfolios. These design portfolios are a way to show which skills you have as a designer and prove that you have those skills.

But, what I found is that most design portfolios are doing a disservice and don’t help people get the job they want.

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A big misconception regarding design portfolios is that you need to show off your practical skills.

For instance, you’re able to visualize concepts, do cardboard prototyping, or create customer journey maps. A lot of portfolios show that, but don’t show the proof that you actually can do it.

Besides, everybody can do that. That’s not what differentiates you.

Another big misconception in design portfolios is that they focus on deliverables—the tangible outcomes of your work—rather than the impact you’ve created. Nobody talks about the impact of a project in a design portfolio. And, often, there’s a big disconnect between your vision as a designer, what you want to bring to this world, and how that translates into practical applications.

The reason why these portfolios don’t help you get that service design job is because we’re not looking for replaceable cogs in a service design factory. I’m looking for people who bring personality and really specific skills to the table. These portfolios make it really hard to judge who you are and whether you’ll fit in our studio, culture, and team.

But, there are some who manage to present a design portfolio that does get them that job. This is what they do.

First of all, show me clearly how you approach a challenge.

Do a really good job making the process and your approach transparent for me.

If you did interviews, show me pictures of you talking to people in the street, living room, hospital, etc., actually doing the work.

Demonstrate that you worked three consecutive days with a team of five people to create that cardboard prototype for designing a new waiting room experience. Show me you’ve actually created dense sketches before coming up with the perfect workshop canvas.

Show you can learn quickly and adapt to new environments.

This is not just about learning new tools and methods.

Yes, that’s important—but not what it’s all about. For instance, show me that, while working on a new service concept for a garage, you were able to have valuable conversations with mechanics as well as shop managers.

That shows you could adapt and blend into that environment, be part of it, and learn what it takes to do that job really well.

Know what it means to balance the different interests of different stakeholders.

For instance, you’ll show me that you understand there’s a customer, a car mechanic, a store manager, etc., and that they all have different goals. Show, for instance, that you did a co-creation session with all of them, to create and align their shared vision.

If you design a service concept, you’ll explain to me how it helps achieve user goals and business goals. A good portfolio shows that you are not only thinking about the user or customer, but are also able to think about the things you have designed from multiple perspectives.

Demonstrate your ability for critical thinking and reflection.

What would you do otherwise the next time, if this project will start over again? What is your biggest insight about how you approached this challenge?

I want to see that you’re ambitious to learn as a designer and that you really want to grow and improve your practice. Most design portfolios just show the end result, or the successes.

Critical thinking is a key skill for any designer. Include your biggest lessons and what you would do differently the next time.

Make sure your portfolio shows how your personality has influenced the project.

If you have a vision—what you want to contribute to the world as a designer—make it clear how that vision influenced your project, approach, and the tools and methods you’ve used. The more specific you are here, the better. Really show me how your personality influences the design process.

Not everybody needs a design portfolio. But, if you have one, make sure it works to your advantage.

So, don’t just show me the practical skills you have. Don’t just show me the tangible deliverables you created. Show me your personality and how that influences your design process. Show me the impact you’ve created. Show me the photos of your road trip to China with all the victories and struggles, don’t just show me the pictures of the Great Wall of China. (If I want to see them. I’ll just Google it.)

What is your perspective on design portfolios? What do they need to contain to actually be effective? Leave a comment down below. It might be just the thing that helps someone land that next service design job!

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One Reply

  • Thank you for this video it was incredibly helpful for me! One more consideration is to include how you work with others, and what your contribution to different projects was.

    One thing I would still like to understand is the type of projects and scope of work you look for when assessing if a candidate can take on Service Design work.

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