Tips for Creating an Impressive Design Portfolio

September 21, 2012

1. Keep it visually interesting.
At first look, it takes us about forty seconds to glance through a portfolio. If interested, we will go back and spend more time looking through it. Not only is it advisable to have a consistent portfolio layout, the flow and organization of the content should be carefully designed. Text is important, but less is more – the visuals should really help tell the story. In any case, make it graphically appealing, but keep it simple. You don’t want your work overshadowed by a background that is too busy.

2. A portfolio is a story about you.
Your portfolio gives us a chance to get to know who you are, without you having to spell it out in a bio. It should show us, through your projects, what your baseline skill sets are, your passions, your thought process, and your strengths.

3. Show a progression through your work.
As designers, we are storytellers. So tell us your best story. In your portfolio, you need to show that you’re a great thinker and not just great at Photoshop or CAD. We want to know how your project evolved and how you got from point A to point B. Make us understand the context of the problem first and then show us how you solved it. Show your thoughts, even if the sketches are dirty, and then show how these sketches were narrowed, combined, and molded into one or more concepts. Create mock-ups of the concepts and show where the mock-ups failed or succeeded. Once a winner has emerged show the progression of how the final apperance of your design takes shape. Photorealistic renderings of your design should be shown in context and/or with people using the design. As designers, we want to be able to see how you envision the final design being used – rather than just placed on a white background. We want to make sure you considered users, your target market, incorporated brand considerations, etc.

4. Show diversity in your work.
We want to know your skill level and how you approach things. If one project focuses heavily on research, choose another that focuses more on sketching or CAD. Include a project that goes more in depth and shows you have great problem solving skills and you’re not just a good sketcher. You can mix this up and show another project that demonstrates your CAD or Photoshop ability in one or two pages. The key is to show us that you have experience with different project scopes.

5. Keep the number of projects in your portfolio between 3 and 5.
The key thing to remember here is to ONLY SHOW YOUR BEST WORK. We can’t stress this one enough. You are only as good as your worst project and we want to see what your design skills are today. As mentioned above, the majority, if not all, of your projects should show a progression on how you got to the final design. If you can tell a great story, 3-5 projects will create a good size portfolio and easily show what you are capable of.

6. Keep it current.
A portfolio is a living document that should stay up-to-date with your current skill level. Don’t show us work that you completed 5 years ago (unless it really defines who you are as a designer today). Don’t be afraid to revisit projects and re-sketch or re-render some of your past work to make it more current to your design skills today.

7. Digital or Print?
It’s always good to have both. At Beyond, we prefer to have a PDF of the best work in your portfolio. This gives us the chance to see what you think is your best work and what projects define you as a designer. Keep in mind how it will be seen on screen – the resolution, color, size, etc. We want to be able to access your portfolio easily and an electronic file never seems to get lost in the mix.

8. Create customized portfolios.
As you further your career in design, you will have a plethora of projects to choose from for your portfolio. This allows you the flexibility to customize it to the type of employer you will be showing your work to – whether it’s a design director, the head of marketing, or a UX designer. Having a variety of projects allows you to make it more relevant to that individual.

Below are a few projects taken from the portfolio of one of our designer’s as examples of some key points made above. Please do not copy, the content shown is only to be used as an example. If you’d like to see a closer view, click on the photo to enlarge.

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