Computer ArtsFeature

31 tips for a better portfolio

It's the world's introduction to your work; the first base in scoring any job. We ask designers both established and breaking through for their advice on how to build and present the perfect portfolio.

Whether you're new to the design industry or a seasoned digital creative, your design portfolio is your key to regular and enjoyable work. We spoke to a host of creatives about what they think makes a great portfolio - be it physical or online - and, as you'll see, their opinions are sometimes complementary, sometimes conflicting. This is, of course, the way it should be: portfolios should be as diverse as the designers whose work they contain. Read on for 31 suggestions on how to ensure your folio turns the right heads!

01: Consider your brand
Des Traynor
User experience lead, Contrast
www.contrast.ie
The main thing is the ability to differentiate. You're trying to establish your brand. And if you have a weird and out-there portfolio you will get talked about a lot more than someone else who just has a series of screenshots. You could argue that this doesn't lead to beacons of usability, but it's what is interesting and engaging that gets you a lot of attention. People will hear your name, and that's all you're really hoping for with your portfolio.

02: Star tip Express yourself
Domenic Lippa
Partner, Pentagram
www.pentagram.com
A portfolio serves as an extension of your personality; it is the tool that allows you to represent yourself, so you have to decide what work is important to you, what you are proud of and, most importantly, what you can talk about with enthusiasm.

03: Be easy to read
Marc Anton Dahmen
Architect and CG artist
www.marcdahmen.de
I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get the information I wanted to show without having to deal with menus. Basically, the best thing is to show all the information at the same time. If someone gets on your site and only has five seconds, they should be able to come away with a good idea of what you do. They shouldn't have to search for it.

04:Spread the word
Deanne Cheuk
Illustrator and art director
www.deannecheuk.com
Once your work is online, get the word out on blogs and send postcards, letters or emails to companies that you are interested in to direct them to your site. I really believe that a website is the best way to get your work around and to get noticed.

05: Do your homework
David Bowden
Creative director, Zip Design
www.zipdesign.co.uk
Make sure you know who you are talking to at any company you contact, by doing a quick check on the website. For instance, Zip has clear instructions for graduates and students on who to contact but we still get calls from people who know nothing about the company or the process. We have three contact details on the site: one for new work, one for working designers and one for students/graduates.

06: Have a strong start
Jon Saunders
Motionographer
www.jonsaunders.tv
From my experience, people read your site like they would read a book: top left to bottom right. Also, the work that you put towards the bottom of your site will get barely as many hits as the work on the top left. The obvious thing to do is put you favourite or most current work on the top, but also trim down your portfolio to as concise a showcasing as possible.

07: Build relationships
Brett Phillips
Principal, 3 Deep Design
www.3deep.com.au
Firstly, folios don't get you employed - relationships and talent do! From our experience, students and recent graduates often make the fatal mistake of thinking that their folio is the only aspect of their professional interface that needs consideration; and, furthermore, the only tool that professionals will use to critique them. Sure, the folio is one of the tools that a young designer needs in order to communicate what it is they do, but some of the most important aspects of a designer's approach can't be found in a folio or a specific piece of work, particularly when the folio is separated from them personally, which is now often the case.

08: Star tip Don't try to fit in
Tomi and Cherry
www.tomiandcherry.com
Presumably, your portfolio should fit within the standards of the field in which you want to develop? Well, we think that's wrong! Do what you want to do and what makes you happy - it will turn out so much better than if you try to make it fit inside some[one else's] standards.

09: Other designers are NOT your audience
Justin Thomas Kay
Freelance art director
www.justinthomaskay.com
If other graphic designers look at my folio that's fine, but they are not my target audience. I want [to attract] people who need help with their ideas. When I was starting out, everything I did held up this mirror to the world of graphic design, but I've realised that I don't really care what other designers think of my work. In the end, I want to be solving problems for people in the same way a plumber does.

10: Interview portfolio protocol
Neil Bowen
Art director, Zip Design
www.zipdesign.co.uk
When you're being interviewed, be positive about the work you are showing. If you're not excited by your own work, why should others be? That said, let the person viewing your work look at their own pace. Ask if they would like you to talk them through any of the projects. The amount of time someone has to view your work will vary depending on how busy that studio is on the day.

11: Don't hide your influences
David Y Chun
Freelance graphic designer/illustrator
www.davidychun.com
Your portfolio isn't just about the work you've done, it's also about who you are as a person. Show off the things that influence you as a designer - you may share the same interests with other designers and creatives. I've never been a very good blogger but I've always felt that it's a great way to share part of one's creative process. I love seeing where projects come from and how they became their end product.

12: Bring that creative spark
Des Traynor
User experience lead, Contrast
www.contrast.ie
As a potential employer, you are looking for someone who's interesting. You're not just after someone who can use the Photoshop Fill tool and kick back; you want someone who's going to bring that creative spark, an alternative view; someone a bit unconventional. You have to bring that to the table, especially at a small firm. [As small firms] we also feel the pain, so we have to try to stand out.

13: Reach out
Gavin Potenza
Freelance graphic designer
www.gavinpotenza.com
In the online world there are so many distractions that it's not really an intimate experience, so you want to get your work into the hands of potential clients and employers too. It's great to send them something that they're not expecting, something aside from your printed portfolio and more of a gift, like a zine or a poster. This will give them greater insight into who you are as a person and a designer.

14: Challenge yourself
Jennifer Sims
Hugo & Marie
www.hugoandmarie.com
Take on intimidating projects - fall into holes and you'll learn more when you're forced to claw your way out! By the same token, practise and experiment. Then, even when styles die, you'll always have craft.

15: Be contactable
Tim George
Graphic design graduate
www.timgeorgedesign.co.uk
We were looking through design studios to see who to invite to our graduate shows. It was really interesting to see how quickly you could get to the contact details on each of the sites. That was an eye opener for me because [on my portfolio site] I just had a contact button which you had to click into. It was really annoying looking for an email address or phone number. Little details like that make all the difference.

16: Be sociable
Andy Chung
Freelance graphic designer
http://andychung.ca
Don't be afraid of embracing social networking sites as an additional means of increasing your web presence. Sites such as Twitter may seem silly at first but they can be an effective way of encouraging people to start conversations about your work.

17: Don't short-change yourself
Des Traynor
User experience lead, Contrast
www.contrast.ie
If someone hires you because you have an interesting folio, then you know they're hiring you for the right reasons - to do that kind of work. If you have a mundane portfolio then you're being picked because you're the cheapest.

18: Know your limits
Marc Anton Dahmen
Architect and CG artist
www.marcdahmen.de
It seems obvious, but it's important that you understand the technology you use. You don't try to drive a super-fast car as soon as you've passed your test, and it's similarly important that if you make a Flash folio you know how to use Flash. You have to train up to it. I still think it's possible to do a nice folio in HTML, and you should be able to do it yourself. I don't think it's good if someone else does it for you. For me, [the portfolio's creation] is part of the portfolio. It shows the intention of the designer.

19: Make it a brief encounter
David Bowden
Creative director, Zip Design
www.zipdesign.co.uk
On first contacting a company, I would recommend a very brief email - one paragraph introducing yourself, your work and what you want from the company, along with a PDF of you best work. It's really that simple. It's not about personality at this stage - save that for the interview.

20: Star tip Bespoke is best
Brett Phillips
Principal, 3 Deep Design
www.3deep.com.au
If I were to offer any advice about the folio itself, it would be to make sure you consider the studios that you are presenting to, understand what to present to them and why. You need to craft your folio around what is going to be relevant to the studio you would love to work with.

Students and recent graduates need to understand that it takes commitment, visibility and passion to be considered or noticed. The days of attaching a PDF to a generic, impersonal email are long gone.

21: Go back to the basics
Nick Bowen
Art director, Zip Design
www.zipdesign.co.uk
Check and double-check spelling on any items that you may have put captions for - you don't want someone to point out mistakes while looking at your work. Make sure all the work in your folio has the correct orientation for the viewer, so each piece flows onto the next with out you having spin items around 180 degrees.

22: Keep it clean
Deanne Cheuk
Illustrator and art director
www.deannecheuk.com
Once you're in the door, as long as your work is cleanly presented in a book, I don't think it matters much what size or how much money you spent on your actual portfolio. I print my work on my own colour laser printer and use an off-the-shelf portfolio with plastic sleeves to present my work.

23: Play to your strengths
Justin Thomas Kay
Freelance art director
www.justinthomaskay.com
I think in print and editorial it's beyond cut-throat ... What I realised very quickly was that the only way you can separate yourself out is to take some time to figure out what you can offer specifically. Rather than say, 'I can do it all,' what I try to do is to play up those very basic strengths. I try to show work that I not only feel strongly about but which could leave [potential clients] with a clear idea of how I could work for them.

24: Think ahead
Jon Saunders
Motionographer
www.jonsaunders.tv
Always show the work that you are passionate about. You will quickly be identified as the artist or designer who does a particular style so make sure it is something that you want to do, because you will be asked to do it again!

25: Show some respect
David Y Chun
Freelance graphic designer/illustrator
www.davidychun.com
Treat everyone with respect. You never know, the intern who was getting you coffee and scanning your images might one day be your creative director down the line. Most designers are pretty fortunate to work in friendly environments although, every now and then, you'll encounter someone who's difficult to work with. Don't be that guy.

26: Instigate the next step
Gavin Potenza
Freelance graphic designer
www.gavinpotenza.com
Once you get their attention, ask [potential clients/employers] if they want to grab a coffee sometime - a casual meeting where you'll bring your laptop or portfolio book and just talk about some of your projects. Don't expect anything besides some good feedback. Let them know that you're available for freelance and that you really admire the work that they do; chances are that, if they like you, they'll either offer you a position or offer you freelance and see how you do, with the possibility of hiring you.

27: Star tip Be yourself
Jennifer Sims
Hugo & Marie
www.hugoandmarie.com
Try to take a deep breath and be yourself when you go to meet people. It puts them at ease as much as it does you. It's nice to meet with people, especially people just out of school, who are comfortable and confident.

28: Let you work speak for itself
James Brown and Dom Roberts
Mash Design
www.mashdesign.com.au
Don't talk too much about your work; just give a brief explanation of the project and any important points that the images can't convey. The person looking over your portfolio will probably be making judgments regardless of what you say. Keep it short and simple, and ask them what they think or if they have any questions.

29: Enjoy yourself
Tomi and Cherry
www.tomiandcherry.com
The first thing to have in mind when creating your portfolio is to really believe that what you are going to put in it is what represents you. Most probably, if you enjoy doing it and play with it, it'll turn into something interesting and enjoyable for others, too.

30: Consider your structure
Jesper Johansen
Creative director, Designunit
www.designunit.dk
A portfolio is a showpiece; when you are creating a portfolio, select only your best work, the work you are proud of. A well-structured portfolio has a beginning, a middle and an end. Start and finish strong, and don't forget that the final image leaves a more lasting impression than the first.

31: Keep to your grid
Aline Caron
www.enila.fr
If your portfolio is a labyrinth, you'll lose people. Whether designing a portfolio or any other website, I work with a grid as a base. If one single pixel exceeds that, it can disrupt an entire page.

Log in to Creative Bloq with your preferred social network to comment

OR

Log in with your Creative Bloq account

site stat collection