10 tips to improve your design portfolio

Does your design portfolio fully showcase your talents? Hopefully, you said yes. But if you’re not sure, the following tips can help your design portfolio stand out from the crowd. If you’re like many designers, you’ve had every intention of updating your design portfolio. But procrastinating here is a mistake; you never know what opportunities you could be missing out on because someone landed on your tired, old portfolio. So dust it off and giving your design portfolio a good spit-and-polish, both online and off.

1. All killer, no filler

Don’t grab everything you’ve ever created, snap a few photos and toss on a title. Set aside some time to go through all of your pieces. Exclude anything you’re not proud of or you don’t think is your best work. When it comes to your design portfolio, you should only include your strongest stuff; the pieces that have the best feedback and have had the best results. A good rule of thumb when it comes to the web is to present the whole piece first, followed by more detailed shots to show the precision of your craft.

2. Non-client work is acceptable

Your design portfolio doesn’t have to only include client work. Self-initiated projects are always acceptable for full-time applications and definitely recommended for freelance work—especially for illustrators.

3. Number of design portfolio pages

Remember to go for quality, not quantity. My suggestion is a minimum of 10 on the low end and no more than 20 (30 for online portfolios). Why? Because you don’t want to lose the attention span of the viewer, but still be able to show a healthy breadth of work. No matter how great your work is, the viewer will still only click through a few projects before moving one.

4. Remember what you’re applying for

Only include design portfolio examples that are appropriate to the role in which you’re applying. A Graphic Designer position, for instance, won’t entail storyboarding or copywriting samples. So don’t include them.

5. It’s all in the brief

It’s vital to provide brief information—briefly. Use annotations and notes to talk about your experience. Make it clear in a short summary what the brief asked for in each design portfolio example you include, as well as how you managed to accomplish it.

6. An all-encompassing design portfolio of experience

Does this project show your potential employer you can deliver award-winning designs? Is it all about your 3D rendering skills? Or does this project share a little about your design process? Employers don’t just want to know you’ve got a good eye for design (though that’s important). They also want someone who understands budget restrictions, branding and the importance of meeting deadlines.

7. Case studies

Don’t think of your portfolio as simply a collection of your art and design work. Recommendations and real-life case studies go a long way in showing how professionally capable you are. Ask a previous client or employer for a recommendation, and write up a short case study to accompany a project.

8. Navigating your work

Potential employers who are viewing your design portfolio — either in print or via the web — will be pushed for time and energy. You’ll need to make it easy for them to navigate by including page numbers and clear titles for each project example.

9. Your design portfolio speaks to who you are

Try to look at your design portfolio from the perspective of an outsider. Look closely, think carefully, and try to see what your work says about you and your process. Is it too serious, or not serious enough? Do your best to strike a balance that you believe shows off your qualities without seeming too stuck-up or looking like a clown.

10. Promote yourself

Finally, there’s no point in having a great design portfolio website if no one is visiting. Be active on FacebookTwitter and Google+. And don’t just limit your portfolio to your website; deploy some pieces on Behance, Flickr, Dribbble or deviantART. Film yourself working and put the video on YouTube (preferably with clothes on). The more places you share your content, the more you’ll drive people towards you and your portfolio website.

Also, Google loves a well-structured, regularly updated website that is stuffed with great content. And the easiest way to provide fresh content is to keep your blog updated. It may seem a pain to have to find something new to post every day, but a regularly updated blog keeps people coming back.


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