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Tips for a More Perfect Design Portfolio

Trying to put your best foot forward in your portfolio is a task all designers strive to improve at. Here’s a guide to get your started.

Select the best of the best

The number of pieces in your portfolio will vary from person to person. However many pieces you decide to include, make sure they are all great work. The order counts too, make the first and last pieces the best ones to start and end on a good note. The first and last impressions are the ones they’ll remember most.

Don’t put in work just because its among your personal favorites. If they are not appropriate for the reviewer to see, they should be removed. In the end, you will be better off having seven impressive and appropriate designs rather than twelve pieces at different quality levels.

Look at the work of other designers

Don’t live in a vacuum.¬†We all want to be original, but you need to know the trends of the day. You need to know what’s going on in the world. Be both critical and encouraging about what other designers are doing and reflect on that when you put together your portfolio. Imagine that these are the designers applying for the same gig as you and how you would tell an interviewer that your approach is the best.

Consider something unexpected

For some clients, I’ve included paintings in my portfolio to emphasize that the computer is just a tool and that I have some insights about composition and scale that other designers might not have. Consider showing a skill you have and be prepared to explain why you feel it’s appropriate to your portfolio and to the position you are applying for. You might have sketches that provide insight to your process. Maybe a very professional photograph that you took.

You might also show a piece with such a great concept that you can show off and show that you are just that creative. Remember the earlier tip that anything in your portfolio is to be as perfect as possible. If it’s sketch it should be a great sketch that you’d be proud to show and be as good as your competition.

Let the work speak for itself

Creativity is good, but don’t let the portfolio itself overshadow the works within it. You want your portfolio to be clean and present the pieces you have to display. Whoever looks at it should feel the clear focus on the individual pieces and not how they are presented. However you choose to display portfolio, make sure you choose something that you can easily edit. You’ll want to add new pieces and take out a few too depending on who will view it and what tasks and skills you are emphasizing.

Everything is more than the sum of it’s parts: each work displayed should show a greater understanding. A piece might show your understanding of a particular business, depth of research and other skills that aren’t directly related to design. If you are showing your portfolio to a medical related magazine that you want to work for, that freelance dentist project might be the one that clinches it.

The perfect portfolio is impossible. Your portfolio is an ongoing and evolving collection of works. Accept that it won’t be perfect, but continue to make it the best that you can.

You might want to check out Building a Strong Design Portfolio, a question and answer session with Nomi Altabef, Associate Education Director at DesignMentor Training.

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Brian E. Young

I'm a graphic designer (portfolio), classical pianist and artist in Baltimore, MD. I host the Uncanny Creativity Podcast helping to demystify the creative process and creator of Funlooksfun.com, an online shop for apparel and games. Twitter: @sketchee

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