How to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out

Design is a fast growing industry with a vast array of opportunities, it’s an exciting time to build a dream career in the industry. With so many amazing design jobs out there, and so many well-qualified designers, how can you make your design portfolio stand out? 

1. Select your work carefully

Don’t just throw all of your work in to the portfolio. One piece of bad work can undermine an entire portfolio, demonstrating a lack of discretion towards best quality. So select pieces which best indicate your talent and energy. Industry people don’t expect to see every piece of your work you have ever designed, but they will want to see a variety of different pieces that reflect your talent, desire and application. Be aware of presenting a range of projects that reveal both your ability and your experience.

Award winning designer Ram Castillo discussed at a JMC Academy Design event how, “A portfolio is a refined and considered selection of your best work, customised to speak to the area of creativity you are applying for. It should showcase your proved abilities, examples of completed work and potential for growth.”

If you are pitching for a specific project, like you would tailor a CV for a role, make sure the work you are presenting demonstrates closely the skills you would need to show your relevance and ‘fit’ for the role. If you are applying to design for a company with very elegant and uncluttered branding, display your ability to work with, and interpret these clean designs, rather than including graffiti projects, for example in your portfolio. Your folio shoud be fit for purpose.

2. Choose your path

While you may have done some good work for previous clients, if it isn’t the type of work or style you would like to be doing in the future or suitable for the project in question, consider not including it, or placing more emphasis on the work you have done that leads more towards the direction you are pursuing. Although it is good to show diversity, you want to focus on appealing to the clients needs, plus the work you would be really excited about completing. You are also likely to be more passionate and confident about these projects, which would shine through in any face-to-face meetings. You want to show you can adapt to the work at hand, but also reveal your motivations and passions.

3. Make it personal

Not all of the pieces you show have to be commissioned work. Show your abilitiy to adapt through demonstrating what approach you would take for an existing product or brand. This shows that, not only are you passionate about your work, but also demonstrates your talent when you are free from the constraints of clients. We would advise however to stay away from well known branding. Try a local store or a company you feel does not currently have a strong brand or visual identity, and use your creativity to build an outstanding and original design.

This will then enable you to demonstrate not only your technical production skills, but also your ability to consider various aspects of both the marketing and branding of identity projects. This can be an important factor in hiring a designer, as their ability to interpret the brand and consider it’s audience and their aspirations can help create strong connections with clients.

4. Show the story

Each piece of work within your portfolio will have a story of how it came to be. Who commissioned it, what was their aim and how did you approach this? What changes did they ask for and how did you find the solutions to this? This way, the interviewer can get a real sense of how you would work through the process of discovery, rather than just an end result.

JMC Academy’s Head of Digital Design course Diana Ayoub argues that “the most important thing to show in a design portfolio is process. Displaying the process of a project shows you are capable of adapting your ideas and workflow.”

Don’t be afraid to show your working drawings along the way, as these can help explain your decisions (or a clients) for a certain look or feel. This also demonstrates your ability to deal with criticism. Pairing this with references from clients can be very important in telling the story of your relationship with the clients intention and purpose. This will confirm the strength of your business and communication skills, which are much needed skills for a successful career in design.

5. Context

Show at least one piece of work in the environment it was meant for. If you designed a mobile app, show an image of this app on a phone. If you are applying digitally, consider including a short video walking you through the design of the app visually. Show where your previous work has featured rather than just the design, pictures of brochures or of interactive spaces you have designed are recommended. Try to vary the platforms you display, to show how you can adapt and work on a variety of different types of projects and interfaces.

6. Introduce yourself.

Tell your story. Show your passion and give a summary of your professional background and experience. Outline your technical and creative skills and discuss how you gained these. Be careful not to make this too long as you want them to focus on your talent and work, not your pet cat. This is your opportunity however to talk about your interest in the specific project you are applying for, or at least that area of design.

When your strong portfolio catches the interest of an employer and you are asked for a meeting or interview, the most important thing to demonstrate is your passion and interest in the role or project.

By: Sam Urban


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