6 Tips to Build a Creative Portfolio

6 Tips to Build a Creative Portfolio

Have you ever wondered just what to include in your portfolio to get you the job? Maybe you have so many samples, you don’t know what to do with them all. Or, maybe, you’re on the other side of the spectrum where you’re not sure if you really have enough. Should you include unpublished work?

It can be a tough task to showcase your work for a potential employer. A lot of the times it’s not only a question of if you’re technically skilled to do a job but also if your style is right for the company’s brand.

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As a designer, you can go in many directions. Maybe you want to create branding materials. On the other hand glossy magazine covers and spreads really appeal to you as well. But you’ve always been great at illustrating, so maybe you want to look into book publishing. You have a wide variety of directions your career can take you. Now if that only helped you develop your portfolio.

I write this post for the purpose of helping you create a physical, hard copy portfolio. I believe having a digital portfolio is important in today’s industry, however, a hard copy is a great tool to have when interviewing for your position.

***Each of these tips are circumstantial depending on your work samples. They are here to provide you with a guideline on how to assemble and what to include in your portfolio. If you are looking at more information to construct your portfolio, I suggest ordering Stand Out: Design a personal brand. Build a killer portfolio. Find a great design job. This book is fairly recent to the design market and has a lot of great insights into selecting your portfolio and building your personal brand.

Refer to Book Review: Stand Out for more portfolio ideas!

Here are a few things to keep in mind concerning your portfolio.

  1. Photo documentation

    Keeping record of your projects is vital for your development as a designer. But sometimes, when you’re showing your product, you don’t just want to show the Illustrator representation of that project.

    When I started out in the design field, I was involved in producing newspaper layouts. They aren’t always the most exciting and flexible design projects but that was the fun challenge of the job. I knew I had a good design when I couldn’t get it out of my head. One of my earliest designs is still included in my portfolio because it still gives me an impact when I see it.

    I still have many of the designs that I created for those newspapers. Being able to produce or photograph those physical pages allows my interviewers to see tangible evidence that my designs played in my community. The same goes for product and branding designs. If you were able to showcase a product design at a farmer’s market or produce a logo for a non-profit’s t-shirt, it shows the product in action as it were compared to only on a page.

  2. Keep your sample size small

    As I’ve said, I started my design work within the newspaper industry. So I have a lot of newspapers that I could showcase my skills. I could fill my portfolio with newspapers. But I suggest you don’t.

    If you have a particular field that you have emphasized in, it’s understood that you could showcase that field more prominently than the others. I have more newspaper and magazine designs than I do any other in my portfolio.

    However, it is great to keep your selections to a minimum within a career. I would maybe pick out 3-4 selections in each sector to make sure you showcase a variety of content throughout your portfolio.

    Note: Your overall portfolio should probably be no more than 15-20 selections. And that’s a very liberal number.

  3. Showcase your Strengths

    When I say this, I don’t just mean your strongest projects. I also want you to think about what types of projects got you excited. Which projects bring you a sense of pride? Which projects could you see yourself doing throughout your life?

    Everyone has a particular project or product that they enjoy working on. Showing these projects throughout your portfolio is a great way to draw attention to your talents, because not only are you showing off your talents, you’re also showing how excited and passionate you are about these projects you’ve created.

    Having a good variety of work is great, but you want to be able to have pride and a sense of accomplishment in your work. If you show a great piece but can’t get behind the process of working on the piece or a feeling of accomplishment because of it, you might be selling yourself short in your interview.

  4. How are you presenting your portfolio?

    Most people see their portfolio as a scrapbook. I see countless students pull their work together to put it in a sleeve.

    This is not your only option.

    With my background in journalism, I decided to make my own portfolio. Instead of putting my work in a clear sleeve that could be bulky and awkward for interviewers, I designed my portfolio into a magazine style. Each page is a folded 11x17 page that displays my work in a condensed book. Best part is, it can be printed numerous times and viewed by more than one person.

    Creating another version of your portfolio also gives you the chance to produce a leave-behind. Most designers don’t have a portfolio that is allows you to leave it behind after your interview. Having something to leave behind gives your employer something that reminds them of you and puts you more-so at the front of their mind.

  5. Keeping a consistent style

    If you’re anything like me, you might have bounced around in your design career. You have posters, brands, products and more that could be included into your portfolio. You know what excites you and what was created with the intent to grab someones attention.

    For a portfolio to be useful, try to remain consistent throughout your work. A portfolio should show how you have developed as a designer and why you will continue to do so at a company along with being knowledgeable about what designs they might need in the future.

    When I say consistent, I don’t mean products that you are showing. Show a variety of products that you have created, but have a plan in place to show your work as a story. You want to show how your style as a designer has grown throughout your time working or learning.

  6. Develop your story

    When you pick your selections, you should be developing a story. This story can go chronologically, thematically, categorically, etc.

    You don’t have to stick to one way to produce your portfolio either. Utilize none or all these story flow techniques to get the result you want. Whether you categorize your work by the employer, chronologically, or by which product your showcasing, just make sure you’re able to steadily build the pace of the story that you want to create for your interviewer.

    I do suggest starting and ending on an impactful note.

    Start your portfolio on a strong note with a fortified piece that can showcase many aspects of your design career. I don’t really care what this piece is, whether it’s involved in branding, a poster, an infographic, whatever. Just something that you are proud of and can show you in a flexible light. Think of it as a grabber or hook in a book. You want to grab them and keep them reading on the first page. You also need a climax project at the end, if you are keeping with the story analogy. You want to leave your interviewer with a high point to remember you.

    If you’re struggling with a resolution, consider inputting your resume or contact information. Inserting something that reminds the interviewer of you and your experience is great way to leave an interview.

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There’s a reason many professors wait until the end of the semester to have you turn in a resume and a portfolio. This is both due to creating content throughout a class that you can include in the portfolio, along with how time consuming and how much pressure there is to get your products presented in a way to make you the most hire-able.

Each designer brings a different skill set to the table when they enter the work force. Presenting a killer portfolio to your employer shows that you have both the skills and the ability to discern good designs from the bad.

Do you have your own tips on creating a portfolio? What about an example you’d like to have critiqued? Leave a link or a tip below to help others create their best portfolio.

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