Your single most important asset in the field of design, before your LinkedIn, before your business card, even before your cool designer Instagram, is your portfolio. It is the one thing that someone looking to do business with you is going to consider before they even see your face. It is the vibe you put out into the universe and the showcase of your talents and thus it needs to be tailored to fit…well, you!
I realize that the portfolio for a primarily print designer is much different from a digital designer but both a physical portfolio and an online one is important and necessary in order to best reach all possible audiences.
If You’re Web-Based
For digital designers, it’s really a place for you to show what you can do with a blank webpage. Whether you code your own portfolio site or use a platform such as Behance or Dribble, you have control over what a potential client, collaborator or follower sees. Custom graphics and mock ups of how your email blasts, gifs, websites, whatevs is a great way to show how serious you are about your work and your brand. Posting the bare, final product and nothing more comes across as…a little lazy in all honesty. Take all the opportunities you can to show off! You’re worth it!
If You’re Print-Based
That show off persona better rub off on my fellow print designers too. There are so many printing options available to you and a lot within a huge breadth of financial options. Yes, I would love to have a hand-bound, hand-stitched portfolio book made to my specifications, quality printed on the finest of papers and embossed with my logo on its 100% leather cover. However, I logically know that would be a lot of money that I would really should use on necessities and bills, plus it doesn’t show much imagination on my part. As fancy and indulgent as that would be, there’s not much thought put into it aside my lust for extreme luxury. In reality, my print portfolio is a 20-page magazine that’s all about me! It has my portfolio, my contact info, a brief bio and a collection of my work, plus I get to leave it with my potential client instead of bringing it everywhere (I’ve printed out a bunch via Blurb!).
But let’s get down to brass tacks here; once you’ve got a neat idea for a portfolio presentation, what actually goes into it? Here’s how I broke down my work into what would be the best to showcase as my finest:
Show Your Niche
What are you best at? What do you specialize in or, if you’re starting out, what would you like to specialize in? These sorts of project should make up at least half of your portfolio. Since your portfolio is meant as a lure to attract potential clients, it should mainly showcase the work you’re passionate about and willing to do. If you know really love logos, most of the work you show should be about the logos you’ve created; it’s a no brainer!
Also, don’t be afraid to go into detail! Clients don’t always understand or appreciate the final product without context. As nice as your design may look in the end, your choices may be questioned if you don’t make the context known beforehand.
Do It Yourself
You may be just starting out or maybe are trying to get into a new field so odds are, you don’t actually have a lot of work to show. While you’re building up your portfolio with real world work, you can turn to personal projects to fill in the gaps. Personal projects in a portfolio should be limited to, let’s say, a quarter of your portfolio. Real work is usually preferred as it shows that you can work with clients and within other people’s restrictions and vision. However, personal projects can be an asset as it shows a potential employer what you can do without limitations.
Choose projects that will give you an opportunity to do something amazing; redesign the album cover of one of your favorite bands, create posters for a local event, or create a social media campaign for a cause you support! The sky is the limit at this point, and it can really be the place where you show off your skills and try new things. If you’re stuck on ideas, I suggest taking a look at Briefbox! They have tons of pre-made design briefs for you to work on and share.
As much as we’d all love to get paid well for every single job we do, sometimes that’s just not case (sometimes even without our knowledge!). However, even these small, pro bono gigs can surely help your portfolio! Don’t feel as though it’s not something you can include as real-world experience just because it was done for free.
Even work done in design school (or through practice) can be utilized here and used to indicate you’re not just your niche. I do offer photography services, mainly in connection to my design work but I chose to add the series as a way to show my photography skills in a more artistic context rather than functional. I realize this is not my niche, but I am open to more photographic experiences in the future!
Moving forward, your portfolio must be tailored to the type of people you want to work with and the type of projects you want to work on. Really promoting your strong suits is your best course of action, filling up the rest of your website or print portfolio with pro bono work, personal projects and even other projects that are unrelated to your niche but are a clear sign of your talent! So, go fill up those portfolios and really knock ‘em dead!