6 Tips for Creating Your Design Portfolio
One of the most important things you’ll ever create as a designer is your own portfolio. It is the thing that will help to convince clients and/or employers that they should hire you and that’s a lot of responsibility. Your portfolio carries the fate of your career in the palm of it’s hands. If that’s not a lot of pressure then I’m not sure what is. Creating the perfect portfolio with that weight hanging over it has the potential to be a stressful ordeal, but it doesn’t have to be. There are a few things that will help guide you when making those crucial decisions about what to include and how to put it all together.
In my recent quest to ruthlessly purge my belongings of all unnecessary items, I came across my first ever professional design portfolio. It had been tucked away among all of my other old work and I had completely forgotten about it. Within the worn pages were photographs and various other images of work that I had done over three years ago for several businesses, bands, artists, churches and for myself. It was nostalgic to go through the work I had once been proud enough to display in a bid to get myself hired, but it also reminded me of how far both my work and portfolio have come, and the things I have learnt along the way to achieve that.
The first and best thing to do with your portfolio is to just start somewhere. By seeing my old one, I realised that sure, it wasn’t the best, and there were a heck of a lot of things that I could’ve done better (and have since then), but I also realised that at least I started with something. If I hadn’t created that first ever portfolio, I might never have learnt the lessons that I did from that one, and improved since then, or I might have had to wait years to realise those things. So step one is to just start. If you do that, you’re already one step ahead of those who don’t have a portfolio, so way to go you! It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, you’ll figure that out later. Just set up your document, or Behance, or website or whatever it might be, and go from there.
Now comes the fun part, deciding what to actually include in your portfolio. In my first portfolio, I included mostly branding and promotional work, because that’s what I wanted to get hired for, and that’s the aim! Since then, I’ve included various pieces of work depending on the type of job I was looking for and currently I’m working on making my portfolio more typographic/lettering based so that I will attract that type of work. This is what you want to think about when setting up your portfolio. What type of work do you want to be doing? If you want to be doing web design, put web design work in there; if you want to be doing animation, your portfolio should have animation in it! You can drop a couple of outliers in there if it’s vaguely relevant, but it should appear focused, so that when a potential employer or client views your work, they can see that you’re the right person for them!
Within these pieces of work, it’s good to vary the work between university projects, paid work, volunteer pieces and some that you’ve initiated yourself. If your portfolio is full of projects that you did at university or college, it can appear like you’re only doing the work because you have to. Also, your local studios have probably seen those projects done by other designers before, so you don’t want to bore them with the same thing over and over again. Adding some volunteer or self-initiated work will show that you’re passionate enough to be doing design in your spare time and that you really care about what you’re doing.
A good guideline to follow when selecting the work to put in your portfolio, is to think about quality over quantity. It’s much better to have a small selection of amazing, polished work, than it is to have a huge selection of average work, so be particular about what you include. Someone (I unfortunately can’t remember who) once said that you’re only as good as the worst piece of work in your portfolio, so you want to make sure the quality is as high as possible. Select a few projects that really show off your skills in a great light and you’ll do great.
In terms of physically what to include in your portfolio, it really depends on the type of work. The way you present your work should reflect the project in the best way possible. For example, for animation work, where possible, you should include moving images or videos of your animations, because a still image won’t show how great your animation skills are! For web design, you might choose to include a live demo or show the real website alongside some mockups of the design on a computer screen so the viewer can experience the real thing, or at least see it in context. One of the most popular ways to show your work, is through photography, especially for print projects. There are lots of different ways to photograph your work depending on what it is, and you can watch my video on photographing your design work for some tips. Whichever method you choose to use, make sure it’s the best option for presenting your work.
Lastly, I recommend including a short paragraph or so alongside your work to explain what it’s all about. You can add a title, date and a quick bit of information about how you made it, some of the decisions you made, what the aim was, who you were targeting and/or what the outcome or impact of the work has been. The idea of this is that if you’re not there to explain your work yourself, the client or employer can see and understand what it’s about and how great of a job you did!
Creating your portfolio is a really fun, challenging exercise that involves a little bit of problem solving, marketing, branding, design, photography and other skills along the way. It’s a design project in itself and having a good portfolio that you’re proud of can do wonders for you and your career.
For more info, you can watch my video talking about these tips, and reacting to my first portfolio below!
Comment below with any questions about portfolios or any other topics you’d like me to discuss!