5 quick and easy ways to fix your portfolio

Stunning Free files every week at istock.com

Giving your portfolio a quick once-over to freshen it up is always a great idea, and as we start a new year, what better time is there to get on with it? We've made it dead easy for you, by having a look at the portfolios of some heavyweight designers to see what they do particularly well. 

So here are five quick – genuinely quick – tips to smarten up the way you present your work to the world.

01. Cut, kill, destroy

Screenshot of Shelby Hipol's minimal portfolio site

Shelby Hipol's portfolio site only features his best work

This is one of the tougher tips to follow, but it's possibly the most rewarding. If you've got your portfolio looking pretty lean as it is, further cutting is going to be hard, hard graft. Do it anyway. 

Cut, kill and destroy 10 per cent of whatever you think of as being finished. Portfolio 20 pages long? Get it down to 18. Got 40 projects on your website? Make it 36. You have to exercise caution here, as you don't want your body of work to appear too light. But, generally speaking, give your portfolio one last brutal edit and it'll really sing.

Check out the portfolio site of Shelby Hipol, the NYC designer currently at McCann NY: there's no wasted word or image here. We're guessing Hipol could easily triple the content on his portfolio. But he mirrors its minimal design by only including his very best projects.

02. Tell a new story

Screenshot of Herbert Matter's portfolio site with black and white portrait of a man

Herbert Matter's portfolio site opens with a bold intro image

The simplest way to refresh your portfolio without adding any new work to it is this: rearrange what you've already got. Think of it like a film. Screenwriters talk about 'plot points' – the tent poles upon which they hang their story. You can tell a new story by simply moving around your plot points, which are your projects. 

This method works particularly well with physical portfolios, but the principles work just as well online. Should your career-defining work go first or last? Do you really want your favourite project lost in the middle? What's the very last thing you want the reader to see?

Check out the portfolio site for the late Herbert Matter. It starts with a big, bold intro page. You enter and then land on a video about his visual language. It's the story of his life and his work.

03. Be an agent provocateur

Portfolio site of George Lois with a man's portrait

George Lois' website features a prominent carousel of quotes endorsing him

It doesn't get much quicker than this: make a list of your most satisfied clients, your favourite commissions, the design teacher who gave you the best grades. Email them and ask for a recommendation, a quick quote explaining how creative you are, or how you brought the project in under budget, or how you never missed a lecture and smashed all of your exams.

Go steady with it. You definitely don't want to overdo this. But the odd recommendation can make a big difference to a potential client or possible employer.

Check out the portfolio site of the legendary designer George Lois: "the agent provocateur who triggered advertising's Creative Revolution," goes one quote on his front page. How could you resist looking through his stuff after reading that?

04. Make it easy to use

Minimalist portfolio site of Ryan Booth

Ryan Booth's site gives a concise rundown about him, key clients and awards on one page, with clear links to his key projects and contact details

You could have a lean, well-organised portfolio, complete with plenty of great recommendations from clients. But one really obvious thing could be letting you down: is you portfolio easy to navigate? 

If your portfolio is online, don't sacrifice usability for overly convoluted or gimmicky design. If you have a print portfolio, think about page numbers, chapter headings, colour co-ordination, maybe even a ribbon bookmark, anything that helps the reader out. Hopefully, whoever's reading it will be looking at your work more than once, flicking from this project to that one and back again. Do them a favour. Make it easy to read, chronologically or otherwise. 

Have a look how Ryan Booth does it: about, clients, recognition – all on the homepage. Done. Simple. Really easy. You know who he is and what he's done and you don't need to click into loads of different pages. 

05. Don't look like your dog just died

Ed Fella's portfolio site has a handwritten title and links

Ed Fella's handwritten-style portfolio site puts his photo centre stage

This one's open to debate. But, at time when more people are familiar with our Twitter name than they are with our face, a photo could make all the difference. A proper photo, that is. Not an illustration. Not a multilayered photo-manipulation thing. And definitely not some arty, clipped, black and white shot in which you look like your dog's just died. A portrait – head and shoulders. 

A photo can stop your portfolio looking cold and clinical, and help the reader get a feel for who you are. Sometimes it's nice to see the whites of a person's eyes. 

Look at the veteran designer Ed Fella. Click on his site and you get a real feeling for who he is and what he does. And his photo helps with that.

Liked this? Then read these: