How to narrow down your projects to curate a creative portfolio
Deciding on a set of projects for your creative portfolio can be overwhelming. With the integration of online portfolio’s, most people just determine an array of projects, some of which might have no relation to your professional goals, and call it a day.
Being selective and stingy about your projects can help you rather than hurt you in the interviewing process. An interviewer is more likely to be impressed by a fewer amount of projects that are done exceptionally well, compared to a hodge-podge of your best mediocre work.
Overall, I’d recommend sticking to about 15-20 projects that you can showcase your process, style, and execution.
With a vast amount of work and ranging across mediums and professions, I hope to ease your ability to choose the best pieces for your creative portfolio.
Find and gather all of your projects
It doesn’t matter if you’re pulling things that you don’t like, although it’s great that you are self aware of your work to know they aren’t your best.
It’s important to know what you have done, in order to weed the weakest creative pieces out of the stack.
Now having them all in the same stack might be a little too much. Here’s how you can sort and categorize your pile into manageable pieces:
Workplace or school projects
This is an easy one, especially if you are weeding through a thorough portfolio or you’ve done different work over the early stages of your career. If you’re just starting out or a recent college grad, don’t worry if a lot of your work was done for a class or even a side-project you did on your own. These projects can still be usable, they just need their own pile.
Design project type
What type of design were you working on for each individual project? Did you work on a non-profit’s branding and logo design? Maybe you worked on a newspaper and learned about layout and InDesign? Look at your creative projects and determine what type of designs you have to showcase.
Also, another easy one to help sort your creative projects. Keeping old designs from when you started out isn’t a bad thing either, just be knowledgeable about what you have learned since creating that project and how you instill those concepts in your work now.
As a designer, many projects don’t stop at one type. While you might say a certain creative project might have been about branding, you might also be called to do the photography, the flyers, and the social media campaign along with it. If you have a lot of projects where you had to wear multiple professional hats, you might consider categorizing your projects like this to keep them together.
This is a bit of a combination of a few of these. What I mean by function is what the product you created is used for. So if you worked for a marketing department you might have created a bunch of free give-away items, t-shirts, or business cards. Each of these items can be separated into individual groups. A word of warning: this category could get very specific and cause you to have numerous smaller piles to go through.
Touch each creative project
While you ultimately will put some of these projects to the side, never to be seen again, it’s important to sort through each and every creative project that you created.
Note: While you might not be able to physically touch each project, such as digital advertisements or social media graphics or photos, it’s important to still touch on them and understand how they helped your creation process.
Dividing these projects up into categories should help keep your projects organized and orderly until you’re able to actually start weeding through some of your projects.
You might be wondering why I don’t have you move any projects that you know won’t be in your final creative portfolio in this step or even in the previous step? These steps are not devised for you to start the selection process. You should be aware of what you have done so you can be aware of your strongest strengths.
Find creative projects that spark your passion
There should be a few projects that stand out to you. Whether you’re immensely proud about what you accomplished or you are overjoyed by the end result, it sparks a sense of passion in your heart when you bring it up.
When you think about the interview process, you should be able to connect to the pieces you are showcasing to your employer. If you aren’t connected or passionate about the project, it’ll be more difficult to relay the process and the results of the project.
That’s not to say you had to enjoy every aspect of the project. Say you worked with a group on a creative campaign to promote and build a business’s brand, you don’t have to enjoy making every aspect of the project but you do have to connect with it on some level that you participated in for it to be an effective piece in your creative portfolio.
Take out any minimal creative projects
This is the step that allows you to remove anything that you did not contribute a great impact on the final result.
Some of these might be helpful, such as if you designed a logo and it was then put on a product, such as a mug or stress balls, but essentially, you did very little design work on these projects. In the end you might use them to showcase a larger project you assisted with, but the individual item is not remarkable.
This is not subjected to items as well. If you didn’t contribute to a project, no matter the final result, it’ll be difficult to connect your experience with the overall project in the end. Look into projects that you played a direct role in influencing the final results to showcase your experience.
I would look through both your passionate creative projects and your general categories. This way you know the impactful aspects of your passionate projects rather than everything that you did with those projects. It’ll be easier to look through your projects without having every aspect connected to those groups.
By this point you should have three piles. One for your passionate creative projects, your general category, and your minimal projects.
Rank your passionate creative projects
I don’t want you to think about how passionate you are about these projects when you start the ranking process.
Think about the skill you employed when creating this project. Remember how many rounds of edits you had to put into this project to make it work. Try to find tangible results from this project’s impact on the community.
These should be great creative projects for a reason. If you are only excited about a project because it was fun to work on but didn’t work for the customer it was intended for, you’re project did not produce results.
I’m not saying everything needs to have an award or be the most viewed graphic on your social media feed, but having a positive impact on your audience is helpful to keep in mind when ranking your most passionate pieces.
Rank your general creative projects
This task could feel a bit daunting. I’d start this process by dividing your creative projects into a low, medium, and high ranking system. That way you have smaller piles to work from and you can further divide it by their ranking within each group.
The reason I suggest ranking this group as well as your passionate projects is due to the great work you can have, but still not be passionate about it.
I’m not saying passion is the only pile where you’re going to find your best creative projects. Far from it. There are many projects, that while we are not passionate about them, they showcase a lot of skill and expertise in our potential careers. They might just bring forth memories we would rather not trudge up.
When you are ranking these creative projects, however, also keep in mind if you are wanting or might instill it into your future career. If you will never create a typeface, despite the amount of work, skill, and creativity you put into the project, it might not be the best to include in your portfolio.
Think about the direction you want to pursue in your future endeavors as well as the technical abilities that might help you procure employment from your work.
Combine and re-rank your top general and passionate projects
Your passionate projects do not always do you justice compared to some of your top general projects.
Make sure you look at your projects from multiple angles at this point. You should be looking at the style development, process, objective, results, and more.
You should also keep in mind that your selections are fewer. You’ll want to be very selective about your ranking system at this point. I’d make sure you were ranking projects from 1-20 if possible. Don’t despair if it’s higher, but make sure you have numerous thorough reasons behind each project. If you can’t think of at least five reasons, I’d reconsider if it should be in the top selection.
Be conscious of what types of projects you are ranking at this point. If you see that you are ranking a lot of flyers or product design projects, consider combining projects where you can or select the top three and see if it’s worth keeping the other examples. It might depend on what position you are applying for but keeping a general portfolio to showcase a variety of creative projects would be helpful for a more generalized position.
Establish your flow
By this point you should have less than 20 creative projects. If you don’t, I’d consider narrowing it down to about 15 projects but you can give or take a few from that number.
It’s not enough to just have great work, but you also have to show your work in a great way.
I’m a big proponent of creating a physical portfolio as well as a digital creative portfolio. While this isn’t always possible on a digital platform, creating a sense of flow is essential for a physical portfolio.
While it’s not as easy to do with a digital portfolio, it’s still possible and recommended to be aware of how and in what order you present your creative pieces.
The best analogy for this part of the project is determining how you want your story plot-line to entice the reader.
Most want a grabber in the beginning to lure their audience in, so start with an eye-catching piece first but maybe not your best. Make the experience worth their while.
Then you might put in some exposition, leading up to the climax or finale. For this section, insert some of your staple work that can help you build their confidence in you. Determine what you want to do in your job experience with your interviewer and insert some core pieces that builds their trust in your abilities. You still want to wow them at this stage, but think about building a foundation with these pieces and where you can go given the experience that this employer could provide.
Next, think about the tempo and pace you want your story to build. You might want to surprise them or gradually increase the suspense of your work. This is where your personality and style come into play the most. You can create a unique creative portfolio by introducing your own pace into your flow of the pieces.
Finally, you have a climax point. This should be one, if not a two or three, of your best pieces of work. Leave them with a high note to remember you by and resonate after you leave.
Having a type of resolution is important too. For me, I find it best to incorporate your resume at the end of your portfolio. In itself, your resume should reflect your work, as well as be a creative piece itself.
There are many ways to create and narrow down your creative pieces, but it’s also important to establish where you have been in your design process as well as where you are going.
If you have any other ways you curate or select your creative projects, leave a comment below about your process to help others!