The power of the portfolio

18 August 2008

A portfolio is the ultimate tool for presenting your professional achievements. Josh Mings reveals why designers and engineers need to throw out their CVs and create a 3D representation of their work

A portfolio. It displays the projects you have worked on. It reveals the designs you have created. It lands the job you have dreamt of. A portfolio does all these things, but many people do not have one.

It’s sad, but a professional engineer with a portfolio is not very common. Artists are the people typically associated with the eloquent examples of style and culture that reside in what we visualise as a portfolio. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the art form of Industrial Design (ID) gave artists and engineers involved in the industrialised aesthetics of consumer products the opportunity to blend their disciplines.

Artists have portfolios for their art. Industrial Designers have a portfolio to display their talent for creative design. So, where does that leave the engineer or designer who does not have a portfolio?

Today, with an array of 3D programs remodelling the landscape of product design, shameful 2D attempts at design have all but dwindled. More and more engineers are using 3D CAD to create stunning, visually interactive digital prototypes.

The only possible excuses for not having a portfolio are not knowing why one is needed and not knowing how to make it. 3D enhances the user’s ability to accurately render ideas and iterate collaborative arrangements of thought and material. In the end, it is both an outlet for creativity and an opportunity to stand out from the poor saps without a portfolio.

Why have a portfolio?

A portfolio not only displays what is learned, it shows how the owner has thought past a need to determine a solution. Engineers and designers do that every day, but for many, all the pride and accomplishment of years gone by lie within the margins of a single sheet of paper – their CV.

A CV is a just one portrayal of what has been drawn, modelled and written about, and it does a dismal job of showing the endless hours spent on each. The life of a CV begins in the inbox of an employer and ends abruptly when they research the applicant on the Internet. Online information often reveals more about a person’s character and abilities than a CV. Leaving that issue aside, it’s better that a CV complements personal attributes within the context of an eye-pleasing and simple portfolio.

A CV is required for most applications, but there are many companies that will also expect a portfolio or, at the very least, that a candidate has a technical understanding of modelling programs and manufacturing process. A portfolio helps employers understand someone’s capabilities, whether that person is interviewing for a job or being reviewed on their performance over the past year. A good portfolio can mean that a job is not lost or that a new one is won.

A portfolio brings the characteristics of the creator to light more clearly than text could ever do

A person’s innate ability means a great deal. ‘Skill and talent’ describes a million and one artisans in the design world. Within engineering, it’s rare to hear somebody being described as creative or even as a great engineer. But designers and engineers both have skills. They have expertise in an area of solving problems for a design. More often than not, a person in either of these disciplines has knowledge in multiple fields that combine to make their work as distinctive as they are. A portfolio brings the characteristics of the creator to light more clearly than text could ever do.

Creating a portfolio

For an artist or Industrial Designer, creating a portfolio is second nature, having been the main focus of years of attending this or that school of design. For an engineer, the focus is systemically turned away from the creative elements to concentrate on all that maths junk. Sure, the area under a curve can be extrapolated, but the CV is rubbish simply because there is nothing to show for the countless hours spent crunching numbers for a design. It’s a sad predicament. But making a portfolio is actually very easy and with all the tools now in place to create one, this is the time.

The 3D CAD tools available today give any designer, engineer or technical person the absolute, unhindered ability to create images that represent their studies or years spent in a career. Most 3D programs will allow you to add elements of colour, light and perspective to quickly create rendered images. After this, it can be as simple as printing out views on cardstock and sticking them in a stylish binder. But there is a solution that is even more relevant in today’s job market: the online portfolio.

With a portfolio that resides online, a person has the ability to quickly send detailed imagery of projects to anyone for viewing – no printing is required and updates can be made at any time. There are various online portfolios available, but the most feature-rich and easiest to use is http://www.coroflot.com. Within a few minutes a profile can be created, images uploaded and descriptions added to provide a location where anybody can see and admire the endless detail put into a engineering design.

The best types of online portfolios will include information about a person’s speciality, renderings of the overall concepts of design and detailed images of solutions to the problems the design addresses. 3D is an exceptional tool for creating exploded views, cutaways and section snapshots. This shows an individual’s aptitude for understanding how the product is assembled and then manufactured, while visually explaining key features of the engineering.

Conclusion

Web technology and advancement in 3D tools have made it extremely easy for a designer or engineer to exact vengeance upon the mundanity of the cubicle crazed world with the simplicity of an online portfolio. 3D is enabling both fields to bring their ideas into the vast reality of a world that is ready to devour the best product ever devised by a single human being that, oddly enough, started with a portfolio.
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