How to craft the perfect portfolio

10. Explain your role honestly

Most effective graphic design, online or motion graphics projects require more than one set of hands. If you're including big pieces of work in your portfolio that had many contributors, be sure to explain not just the project but what your role was. If you're vague about this, or try to claim more kudos than you deserve, it might trip you up in the end.

"If you're a digital creative I'd expect a web-based format like Behance or Squarespace, or your own design and development work. If not, a really well considered PDF at email-able size – under 5MB," says Mr B & Friends' Steve Richardson.

"Receiving a link in an introductory email works, then if we're interested we'll call people in to chat to them," agrees Jem Robinson, creative director at AllofUs, a major digital agency in London specialising in interaction and user experience design. At this stage we tend to just chat, but bringing additional works on an iPad or laptop is useful thing to do here."

12. Include at lease five pieces of work

How many pieces of work should you include in your portfolio? Well, for Jem Robinson at least five projects of a decent size is ideal, and for each one she'd like to see images of different aspects of the job. For Kjetil Wold, five is again the magic number, but he emphasises that each piece needs to be killer. If you're not sure in your heart that something is good, then you should leave it out.

13. Explain experimental projects

"One watch-out is to not put anything in your portfolio that you don't feel really good about – it can end up tainting the book and will be hard to talk about enthusiastically," says Karen Jane at W+K. "But don't confuse this with something that was experimental that didn't work out. We talk a lot at Wieden about embracing failure through taking creative risks – those kind of projects can be great conversation pieces."

14. Show your thinking

If you're including several images for each portfolio piece, remember that they don't all need to show aspects of the final output. Some of your sketches, concepts, written thoughts or work-in-progress projects might help you tell the story behind the piece better, particularly if you get to interview stage. It may help you explain how you solved a design problem, which is interview gold dust.

15. Evolve your folio with your career

As your career moves forward, your portfolio needs to evolve. It's not just a case of adding new things to it, or heightening the visual quality of the work. The selection of items will also need to demonstrate that you are growing as a professional.

16. Think strategically

"I think the more senior you are as a designer the more you can curate your work selection, because you'll have more to choose from at that stage in your career," says W+K's Karen Jane.

"Being a good judge of work also becomes more important. As a key part of the creative team here at Wieden+Kennedy a senior designer would need to lead the direction of the work, so judgement is key. You may show fewer projects, but they will show the breadth of your capabilities – that you can tackle a variety of design problems including larger more complex pieces – and these will all be stellar projects.

She continues: "I think when you are more junior you are more likely to show a few more, smaller projects and have lots of ideas, energy and experimentation. At that level it's about trying things out, seeing what sticks, moving things forwards. And it's more about seeing the raw ingredients: interesting thinking, craft skills and a wide interest in design."

17. Junior? Prove you learn fast

Do creative directors want to see self-initiated projects? If you're going for a junior role, definitely. Many of them enjoy seeing what the new blood in the industry are up to.

"In a junior designer's portfolio I want evidence of them being hungry, referring to self-initiated projects and giving us a view into something new. You should show you want to learn, that you're fast, and that you understand concepts," says Kjetil Wold at Anti.

18. Middle-weight? Solid design skills

When you move on to applying for middleweight positions, client work must come to the fore – show you can work from a brief and come up with solutions, or execute other people's ideas. "It needs to show consistent, solid design skills on larger scale projects as part of a more senior team," says Jem Robinson at AllofUs.

"You might not necessarily be the one originating the design, but with a bit of good art direction you can show you were able to pick up a project and run with it, create assets and demonstrate some flair and design abilities."

19. Senior? Leadership is important

For senior design roles, the creative director is looking for leadership and good judgment as much as great design skills. "A senior design position is tricky, we find it means different things in different agencies," says Rob Brearley at Golden.

"I think a senior designer should have credible experience across key areas of the role: ideation, art direction, leadership, responsibility and design competence. We would expect a senior to adapt to various briefs. We look for a breadth of diverse work, showing evidence of leadership and client interaction."

Brearley adds: "At this level they should be proficient in most design software, feel comfortable art-directing photoshoots and capable of bringing their ideas through to finished artwork."

Words: Garrick Webster
Illustration: Mister Phil

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