A typical design portfolio won't get you hired at an innovation consultancy. I know this firsthand – as Design Manager at innovation strategy and design firm Fahrenheit 212, I review a diverse set of portfolios on a daily basis. While design portfolios must demonstrate inspiration, meticulous craft, strategic intent, and tell an engaging story (why it looks the way it looks, the way it feels, and the way it’s experienced), design portfolios targeting innovation consultancies need to also exhibit a desire to make things better and make better things.
Keeping that in mind, here are my top tips to get your portfolio to stand out of the pack when applying to design roles at innovation-focused companies:
Do your homework to understand the role. Tactically position yourself by highlighting experiences, pedigree, capabilities, and process that meet (or exceed) job requirements. Above all, demonstrate an awareness and perspective on what is currently happening in the space of innovation and where you believe it’s going. Curious individuals with a forward-looking stance have the opportunity to inform the direction of an organization.
Quality over quantity.
Show the work you want to do — don't show material you're not interested in doing. Work in your portfolio should represent your best thinking and craft, not everything that you’ve ever created.
Your journey is as important as the outcome.
Just as innovation is achieved through a process, your design process should be demonstrated and clearly articulated. The easiest and most compelling method is case studies: Frame the challenge, outline the approach, define your role, describe the outcome, and capture project learnings. Your work should consider the business impact, address consumer need, and generate desire.
Your medium is the message.
How you present yourself is just as important as what you present. The "how" includes structure and appearance. Make it easily navigable but also express your taste. A common misconception for digital portfolios is to show off the latest UX/UI and digital trends. Consider telegraphic headlines to help users understand the project concept. The same principle applies to your resume. Your portfolio is your heart while your resume is your face. If you need a tried and true storytelling format, use the STAR structure.
Find a moment to inject personality.
Innovation consultancies are not only looking at skillset, but your cultural fit. Find appropriate moments in your email, CV, or portfolio to express your unique personality through humor, wit, and intellectual provocation. Designers will spend a lot of time collaborating with colleagues, learning from subject matter experts, and leading clients on a compelling journey from research through design strategy to final outcome — people want to spend time with someone who empathizes and brings a unique perspective. As the world of consulting can be demanding and fast-paced, having a bit of humor to keep stress-levels manageable and having a sense of curiosity keeps work interesting.
Prove that you have an appetite to make things real.
Beyond identifying unique but prevalent problems and designing solutions that solve them, demonstrating measurable impact alongside concrete results distinguishes an innovation portfolio from a design portfolio. The truth is… innovation isn’t easy. It is driven by people who are excited by the thrill of discovery and chance to impact the world. At the core of an innovator’s DNA is a simple desire to make things better and make better things.
Congratulations, you were invited to an interview and passed with flying colors but what kind of experience can you expect?
Curious personalities often succeed in innovation because no client challenges are ever the same. Solving them demands a high level of inquisitiveness and involvement to question current thinking, to invent new paradigms, and to continually prototype and test. Working in innovation presents opportunities to be relentlessly challenged in creative, intellectual, and professional ways.