5 quick-fire portfolio tips from design experts

Your design portfolio is one of your most useful tools. It can win you commissions, help you snag a new design job, attract collaborators, and get your work in front of new audiences. So it's worth putting some effort into getting your portfolio into the best shape. 

We asked design professionals to share their best advice for creating an awesome portfolio. Read on for their top tips, or get inspired by our roundup of some of the best design portfolios around right now.

01. Show the work you want to get

Sue Doeksen's portfolio

Sue Doeksen's portfolio clearly reflects her design personality

The longer you're in the design industry, the fuller your portfolio will become. Guide your career path by only showing the work you want more of. “With time your portfolio becomes more diverse,” explains illustrator Sue Doeksen. “A portfolio reflects who you are or how you work, so only show the types of projects you want to continue doing in the future.”

02. Focus on ideas

If you're pitching or interviewing for a job, don't be put off if what's in your portfolio doesn't match the type of work the studio does – it's the way you think and how you approach briefs that's often most important. 

“We like to think we don’t have a style,” Paul Felton, graphic designer at Common Curiosity, comments. “Our work isn’t driven by trends. We really like seeing great work for more unusual clients – a portfolio with some brilliant outcomes for less obvious institutions is always a good sign of a strong portfolio.” 

03. Make it memorable

Dog portrait by Jenny Theolin

Quirky projects – like Jenny Theolin's dog portraits – can help your portfolio stick in the memory 

Sweden-based designer Jenny Theolin says that when it comes to portfolios, making it memorable is key. Most hirers will be flicking through a lot of designers' books, so make sure yours doesn't get lost. “90 per cent of the portfolio sites I see are instantly forgettable," says Theolin. "I would much rather see your take on René Magritte’s flying penises, than another corporate client case study.”

04. Sweat the details

Art director Luke Tonge says it’s worth being meticulous. “Your portfolio should represent what you’re enthusiastic about, how you think and your best work,” he continues. “Focus on quality not quantity – sweat the details and always get it proof read.” 

05. Think about your aim

Luke Tonge's portfolio

Luke Tonge's specialised portfolio will appeal to potential collaborators

One size does not fit all: how you angle your portfolio will dictate who it appeals to. “Colourful, intriguing and dynamic work will grab and hold anyone’s attention; a versatile portfolio will make you more attractive to agencies; and a more specialised body of work should attract commissions and collaborators,” Tonge concludes. As you edit your portfolio, consider what you want to achieve with it at that point in your career. 

This article was originally published in Computer Arts, the world's best-selling design magazine. Buy issue 289 or subscribe.

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Founder & director of Inkygoodness, Lisa is a published writer and arts journalist, focusing on creative business, graphic art and illustration and design education. Her words have appeared in Computer Arts magazine, Creative Bloq, Digital Arts and IdN.