Tips for a Compelling Industrial Design Portfolio

Alvaro Uribe
Products of Design
Published in
11 min readApr 1, 2023

When applying for industrial design positions of any kind, having a strong portfolio can make all the difference in securing the position. These a is some suggestions for all of those looking to apply to internships with their student work.

If you are seeking an internship, it might be worth reading my other article on “What to look for in an internship while still at school”

Chapter 1: Technical Considerations

Nowadays, it’s common for people to have websites; however, one drawback of a website is the potential for the viewer to lose the intended order of your work, which can negatively impact their overall impression.

I like to think of a portfolio as a short story that tells the reader about you and your approach to design. As with any story, there should be an introduction, a climax, and a conclusion. If the story is presented out of order, it can be difficult to follow and may not make sense. Similarly, a website can make it challenging to guide the viewer’s attention, and they might just look at the projects that less represent your abilities.

I recommend using a traditional PDF portfolio, as it offers the opportunity to present your work in a specific order. It also helps to limit the number of pages, ensuring that you showcase only the most meaningful parts of your work. This is not to say that you shouldn’t have a website — it can be a valuable complement to your portfolio, featuring additional projects and more in-depth materials not included in the PDF.

Page Size: Keep it simple by using traditional Letter or Tabloid size proportions in a horizontal orientation. Avoid getting overly creative with the proportions, as this is not the place to showcase your design skills.

Length: I recommend a minimum of 18 pages, with a sweet spot of 22 pages, and a maximum of 30 pages. It’s important to keep your audience in mind — most people reviewing your portfolio will be creatives with short attention spans. By page 12, reviewers may start thinking about other things like lunch, night plans, or work. Therefore, the longer your portfolio, the less engaged they may become.

When applying for internships or jobs, it’s important to remember that the person reviewing your application is a human being. They may have to review hundreds of other applications. To go through this many portfolios efficiently, they typically scan each page visually for about one second per page and then return to anything that stands out. While this is not always the case, I have personally used this method, and I have seen other recruiters do the same. This is why I recommend a visually rich portfolio with a strong layout and minimal text.

Chapter 2: Portfolio Layout

Cover(1 page): Have you ever heard the phrase “never judge a book by its cover”? Well, sadly, we all do. The cover of your portfolio sets the tone for who you are and what to expect. You can add an image of your most representative project, pick a close-up detail in one of your designs, or keep it clean and elegant and add a phrase about why you are passionate about being a designer. Since you will be limited in the pages you can use, some people use the cover as an index, and others as an intro to who they are. This is okay if done right.

Introduction (1 page): Some people don’t include an intro page, to what I say, are they hiring you or your work? Give them a sense of who you are, where you come from, why you do what you do, what you aim to achieve as a designer, and even what you hope to accomplish through the internship. Add a nice, semi-professional picture of yourself. Beyond being a designer, you should show how nice a person you are, and someone they can work with. A clear introduction sets the tone for your portfolio.

I have seen some people put their resumes in here, and it can be a good idea if maybe you are early in your career and you want to add more substance to your profile. If you have had a few internships or work experiences already, I would recommend doing your resume separately. Despite the modern world we live in, resumes remain pretty traditional.

Index (1 page): While not necessary, an index can help the viewer get a quick sense of what they are about to see. Let’s discuss how many projects to include. My recommendation is three. Two projects are too few, while more than three can be unnecessarily long unless they are incredibly different and showcase various parts of your process. This page can have a thumbnail of each project, but avoid making them abstract or unrecognizable as it defeats the purpose of the page.

Body (16–26 pages/3 projects): This is where you showcase your projects. Strive to maintain a consistent length for all of them, but be sure to place your best projects at the beginning and end. We will discuss the layout and content in the next sections.

Closing (1 page): This is your chance to summarize why you are a strong candidate. Craft an engaging “Goodbye” that is memorable and leaves a lasting impression on the reader. You could use a catchphrase or a brief message, followed by your contact information and a link to your resume and other work.

Chapter 3: Project Layout

Opening (1 page): Each project should have an opening that includes a title and a brief description of the product or the problem you were trying to solve. If you choose a creative or abstract name for your product, be sure to clarify it with a subtitle. For example, ELIXIR — Water Bottle for Mountain Hiking. Think of your introduction page as a highway banner that piques people’s interest in a product or service. This needs to be compelling and make viewers want to learn more!

Background (1 page): Problem, problem, problem! Begin by educating the viewer about the problem you are trying to solve. It doesn’t matter if the problem seems insignificant; it’s better than just doing a project for fun. Emphasize why this issue is important to users’ lives or for a community. This page should be informative and can showcase your market research, competitive research, and qualitative or quantitative data collected. Educate your viewer and demonstrate your expertise on this particular issue.

Development (3–5 Pages): Explain your problem-solving process, how you addressed the issue you identified, which tools you used, and why. Traditionally, the development section includes one page for ideation, one page for prototyping, and one page for user testing your prototype. This is the climax of your project Bruce Wayne’s transformation into Batman. Hollywood references work because you need to entertain your viewer, as such, your portfolio should be engaging and keep the viewer interested. If this metaphor doesn’t resonate with you, find one that does and consider how the plotline can apply to your work. Reflect on the breakthrough that led you to the innovative solution or the prototype that users loved. Now, each project will have a unique body layout, and it may be challenging to showcase all your skills and qualifications in a six-page project. Refer to the next section, “Content,” to better strategize what to include in each.

Conclusion(1 page) This is where you showcase your results. Demonstrate how your product solved the problem you aimed to tackle and how it will fit into the market and improve users’ lives. Following the Hollywood reference, this is akin to Bruce saving Gotham from the League of Shadows. Make it epic with beautiful renders of the product’s main details and features. Remember to include a human reference, such as a hand holding the product or a person using it in a relevant environment. No product exists in stop motion levitating on a black background. If you cannot show your product in use because you have a non-functional prototype or a render, it’s okay to illustrate its potential if it were to be real. Graphics and renderings can complement this. A reviewer will visualize its value.

Chapter 4: Content

I believe it can be broken down into four key groups: who you are as a designer, your skills, your thought process, and how you work. Industrial Designers juggle a lot of different competencies, and some are more important than others, but it can be difficult to showcase them all in a limited space. This leads me to my checklist strategy. Use the below list, or make your own, of all the different skills, abilities, and talents and make sure you include each visually or verbally at least once. The below includes some of the most important qualifications, but you may use this checklist to best strategize in your portfolio.

Who you are as a designer:

  • Why you design
  • How do you approach design
  • What excited you about design
  • What inspired you
  • What you hope to accomplish through design
  • Goals and ambitions
  • Experiences and background
  • What you hope to accomplish in the role


  • Market research: The ability to identify competitive products and opportunities in the market.
  • User research: Testing existing products, as well as testing rough ideas in low-fidelity prototypes.
  • Mood boards: The ability to find inspiration and inspire others through relevant content that is not directly related to the product you are designing.
  • Sketching: Ideation sketches, mid-fidelity sketches, and presentation sketches
  • Graphic design: Presentation layouts in InDesign, graphics in Illustrator, photo editing, and post-production in Photoshop.
  • Prototyping: Model making in wood, foam, cardboard, plastic, and various traditional model materials.
  • CAD: SolidWorks or Fusion 360, rendering in Keyshot. Other software may be a plus, but these are standard in the industry.
  • Other tools: Proficiency in various software and technologies is an essential component of modern-day design. Hence, proficiency in less conventional tools could be a plus point.
  • Production drafts: Communicating your design through 2D drawings that help manufacturers or fabricators build your design.
  • Manufacturing: Familiarity with different materials, how these materials are turned into products, and how they are assembled.
  • Basic engineering knowledge: I would say that nowadays, it is a must, but not everyone will expect it. Knowing how parts are molded, how they are assembled, how you create a structure to reduce material, and specific requirements based on the material and category you are working in are important.

How you think:

  • Efficiency: Demonstrating how your solutions solve problems without creating additional ones.
  • User-Centered Design: The ability to address user needs thoughtfully and with empathy.
  • Organization: The ability to synthesize complex data into clear solutions.
  • Market Fit: Creating realistic ideas that can be implemented successfully in the market.
  • On-brand Design: The ability to identify a brand’s approach and visual elements and apply them in the design process.
  • Design for Manufacturing: The ability to create solutions that can be produced on a large scale at a reasonable cost and with minimal materials, molds, and additional components.

Work Character

  • Able to communicate about your work visually and verbally
  • Attention to details
  • Strong work ethic
  • Self-critical and self-motivated
  • Team player and able to collaborate with others
  • Sense of humor

Chapter 5: Designing Your Portfolio

Quality over Quantity

Adding too many images can make your portfolio look sloppy. Once a reviewer sees that you can sketch or create prototypes, there’s no need to continue showing pages and pages with similar samples.

As designers, we understand that every step of the process is valuable, but this is the summarized version, not the step-by-step guide. Consider a hierarchy of images that highlights the most important part of the process, a subdominant image that complements it, and a subordinate image that gives a fascinating little detail or close-up of the page.

What to write about

There will inevitably be some text in your projects, but use it to complement the images instead of describing them. Provide additional details about how you arrived at the result you are showcasing, the challenges you faced, and the breakthroughs you made. It’s okay to share your struggles but focus on how you overcame them. Keep all texts per page to a maximum of four sentences. Balance each page by having less or no text in some areas.

The reality is that people are reading less and less (you might prove me wrong if you got this far). Given the amount of work, a reviewer needs to cover, having too much text on a page can discourage them from engaging with it. So keep it short and sweet, and use elevator pitches where necessary.

File Size

One more reason to keep your portfolio concise, ideally under 30 pages, is the file size. Companies typically have a limit of 5mb to 10mb, and if the file is heavier, most email providers will turn it into a download link, which can be inconvenient. I have received portfolios that weigh 50–100mb, and as it downloads, I start questioning the designer’s ability. My suggestion is to use InDesign, as it compresses your work well to the required size.


Sending your portfolio four months before the season you’re applying for demonstrates diligence and preparation and puts you ahead of the line. Waiting until one or two months before sending your work out can result in too many candidates, making it harder for the reviewer to focus on your work. Start working on your portfolio the season before you apply; for summer, start in the fall; for fall, start in the spring; and for spring, start in the summer.

Final Editing

  • Make sure you run spell check and have someone read it before sending it out.
  • Ask someone to review your portfolio in one minute and ask them what were your main projects about.
  • Read your portfolio backward, this will force you to not read the text you have been repeating in your head, over and over.
  • Test with your family, and non-designer and ask them if they can understand why each project was meaningful.
  • Apply to different places even if you don’t want to work there, it will give you an opportunity to get critiques and do practice interviews.
  • Ship! This means it will never be perfect, give yourself a deadline and send whatever you have by then, you will be working on your portfolio for the next ten years. You can come back to it.

Chapter 6: Conclusion

Every portfolio is unique, and the projects and materials you have available may require some adjustments to the recommendations above. Nevertheless, these suggestions should provide a solid foundation to start with. While we could discuss what constitutes a strong sketch page, rendering, or prototype, this can vary depending on the project and individual skill level.

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Use my checklist and make sure your portfolio reflects as many of the qualities in some way or another.

If you need help with your portfolio or want me to review it and give you feedback you can schedule a consultation with me.

Feel free to drop a message on LinkedIn or by Email for any questions, feedback, and suggestions. This will help me improve and also inspire me to create more.