How to Make An Engineering Design Portfolio

A design portfolio is a visual summary of your projects and accomplishments. Students and rookie engineers should have an engineering design portfolio. It can be in the form of a blog, a website, videos, or a PowerPoint presentation.

 

The main benefit of a design portfolio is it shows your accomplishments. This will help you get internships and jobs. You can show interviewers what you’ve worked on, and showing is much more effective than telling. A portfolio also shows off documentation and presentation skills, which are very underrated skills for an engineer. Design engineering positions all but require a portfolio to apply to one.

 

My Design Portfolio

This image is a link to a PDF of my design portfolio:

 

 

This is a default portfolio with all of the projects I’ve been able to document included, as ordered chronologically. I remove certain projects and change the order around based on the position I’m applying for.

 

Include Any Project You’ve Worked On, Even If It Seems Dumb

Do you know how on a resume and during a job interview, you typically add a lot of embellishment and stretch the truth about your accomplishments? That same principle applies to making a design portfolio.

 

For instance, the first project on my portfolio:

 

It basically involved cutting out a circle and a square from a piece of wood I found lying around, drilling two holes for the stands, and cutting out two bars from aluminum bar stock. The light stand was a microphone stand.

 

But, my portfolio makes it seem a lot more legit than that. It’s a demonstration apparatus. Some technical requirements I can go over during an interview: it has precise rotational positioning, an adjustable light source, and these design features help demonstrate solar panel light tracking and rotational speed requirements. I can also go over the fabrication process, like how a CNC plasma cutter cut out the round and square parts. Lastly, I can go over material considerations: I used aluminum for the stands because it’s light and easily machinable. Wood is cheaper and lighter weight than metal.

 

Embellishment is the key word.

 

This should give you an idea of how to present seemingly mundane, simple, and downright boring projects to show your technical skills and engineering insight.

 

Include Job-Related Projects

This is similar to resumes: only include the projects that will help you get the job. For example, I’m applying for a mechanical design-related position. So then, I would get rid of the Wearable Bench Press Aid project, the 3D printing internship stuff, and the Segwey robot project since these projects are more mechatronics/controls/electrical related.

 

Also, I arrange the projects to have the most related and cool ones at the start. In my resume crafting blog post, I talk about how your resume should have the most important information at the very top. Same idea here. So if I’m applying for a 3D printing-related position, I’d move my 3D printing internship stuff to the start.

 

The “Modeling a Differential Mount” project was included because of a position I applied to that involved reverse engineering and mechanical design. The job required taking finished products and taking it apart to figure out how it works; it’s essentially the engineering design process in reverse. My project essentially relates to those two aspects of the job: I take a finished product, in this case a differential mount, and I go in reverse to create a CAD model of it, as opposed to creating a CAD model then making the actual diff mount.

 

Include Pictures, Sketches and Other Visuals

This goes into documentation and presentation skills. Showing is a million times better than telling. And it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

 

Don’t overthink this too much. Take pictures of the actual physical project from as different angles: front, left, right, back, top, bottom. You can use the camera on your phone like I did, and set the lighting up properly. If you have a HD digital camera, then go ahead and use it. But if you don’t, it’s not worth lightening your wallet just to document your projects a little better. And besides, the quality of the project itself and the other ways you present it are much more important. Also, newer smartphones generally seem to be able to take high resolution pictures. If this isn’t doable, a CAD model of the project is good enough.

 

Sketches should have dimensions. This is especially important for mechanical engineers seeking mechanical design positions and positions with CAD involved because putting in dimensions into a sketch is a key aspect of both job types.

 

Some quick tips for making a sketch:

  1. Have a top, front, and right view of the 3D model. Also include a trimetric view of the model in the upper right corner.
  2. Spread out dimensions throughout the 3 views.
  3. Have detail views for parts of the model that are relatively small. See Slides 3 and 7
  4. Have larger dimensions go out farther from the model, and smaller dimensions come in closer:

 

Bigger projects that involved multiple people can include a group picture around the finished project. This is useful because it implies that you’re social and good at working in teams.

 

A lot of the people you’ll be interacting with during the job hunt will be non-engineers, like HR people. Plenty of non-engineers still hold on to the classic stereotype of engineers being socially awkward weirdos, and dispelling this stereotype is one of the most important things you can do to help your chances of landing the job offer.

 

Video

Pictures are worth a thousand words. Then, video should be worth at least ten thousand. In hindsight, this is definitely something that I should have done for certain projects, like the “Miniature Segwey Robot” project.

 

Recording video works best for anything automated, like a robot arm, a balancing segwey robot, a quad-coptor, etc. There’s no explanation necessary: here’s a robot, and here it is doing something.

 

The best way to record video is to film it with your phone. Most newer smartphones seem capable of filming very high resolution videos. Next, create a YouTube account and post the video to it. Make this account devoted solely to having videos of your projects, and use it for nothing else.

 

You don’t want your employer to see all the vine videos you’ve liked and shared. It’s the same idea with sharing embarrassing Facebook photos with a job interviewer. You’ll be shooting yourself in the foot and making a bad impression.

 

Include a link to the YouTube video in your design portfolio. While you’re at it, include this link in your resume.

 

From my experience, embedding videos in a PowerPoint has a lot of issues. The resolution is terrible. It buffers constantly. There are issues if you and the other person you send the video to have different versions of PowerPoint. Other video platforms like Daily Motion are generally not as reliable or easy-to-use as YouTube. This ease-of-use and accessibility is very important so that your job interviewer can easily access the video. If it’s too much of a hassle, they’re unlikely to watch it.

 

Also, video also has a lot of novelty, and you’ll be setting yourself apart from the rest of the job candidates by having YouTube videos of your projects.

 

Design Portfolio Formats

I have my design portfolio in PowerPoint/PDF format. I submit my portfolio along with my resume in online job applications, and if possible, I email my portfolio the day before the interview to the interviewer.

 

If you have access to a tablet, here’s something you can do:

 

Upload your portfolio in PowerPoint/PDF format to Google Docs. On your tablet, log onto your Google Drive. You can do this on either an internet browser or the Google Drive app. Your portfolio will be in your drive. Open it up and download it.

 

If you have YouTube video links in your portfolio, you can click on it and play the video during the interview.

 

Now, none of this is possible without wi-fi. If you’re tablet is able to use cellular data, then wi-fi is not an issue for you. If it can’t, turn on the Personal Hotspot setting on your smartphone, connect the tablet wi-fi to your smartphone hotspot, and use the cellular data from your phone. Smartphones and tablets from different brands should still be able to connect like this. If not, let me know down in the Comments.

 

I mentioned in the intro that you could have your portfolio be a website or blog.

 

The biggest benefit with this option is the uniqueness and “wow” factor in having your own website. Having your own website in general is great (I speak from personal experience).

 

But, it’s generally not worth setting up a website/blog just to have a project portfolio. The reason is because to have a website up and running, you have to get web hosting. If the internet is a hotel, web hosting for a website is the equivalent of reserving a room. Web hosting costs anywhere from $3 to $8 a month. Since there’s pretty significant skin in the game, you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s really worth having an online design portfolio when uploading a PowerPoint/PDF to Google Drive and posting some videos on YouTube would essentially do the same thing.

 

If you’re a computer-related engineer, like computer engineer, computer scientist, or software developer, then a website is definitely something to consider. Computer-related professions like these generally hold a lot more weight and value to an online presence than other engineering professions. For you, a website can be a project/design portfolio, a professional way of maintaining online presence, and act as a way to show off web development and UX/UI (User Experience/User Interface) design skills.

 

It’s not really necessary, but it has a lot more value and use to you than to a non-computer-related engineer.

 

Final Words

All right, that’s the end. A design portfolio isn’t the ultimate trump card to getting a job, but it’s still generally worth having. The biggest benefit for me was that it helped me organize my past projects and remember everything I did better. This meant that I was able to speak more confidently and clearly about my project experience during job interviews, which undoubtedly helped me get my current job.

 

Some engineering/tech specializations like mechanical design or software development treat the portfolio as more important than a resume!

 

I hope this was helpful. You know the drill by now. Click that “Like” button, leave a Comment down below with your thoughts and questions, and if you haven’t already, subscribe to my free newsletter to stay up to date on the latest content.

 

All the best,

Brandon

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