How to Create a Standout Design Portfolio

Putting together a design portfolio can be an overwhelming task, but perhaps it should be. The design industry is highly competitive and creating a successful portfolio that showcases your creative identity requires time, work, commitment, thought, research, and vulnerability.

Here are a few tips that have helped me create my own design portfolio:

Tip #1: Self-Assess and Play

Go to your favorite place or create a safe place in your room where you can just be you. Remove yourself from all distractions and let your mind wander. Feel and embrace the discomfort of silence. Once you’re relaxed, interview yourself by asking questions like:

  • What am I most afraid of?
  • Who am I?
  • What am I interested in and attracted to?
  • Who inspires me?
  • What work do I want to be doing?
  • Do I love what I do?
  • What work am I willing to do for a paycheck?
  • Am I being honest with myself?
  • What do I believe in?
  • Did I answer any of these questions out of fear?

If you answered a question with fear in mind (you will know), ask yourself again until you get an honest answer.

Tip #2: Concept

Gather together visual inspiration and examples of things that make you feel the way you want your portfolio to make others feel. Build a mood board by gathering inspirational photography, layout designs, and typography. This will help you establish and narrow down a portfolio design direction that feels like you.

Identify, integrate, and adapt trends and styles that align with your identity. For example, there are two current trends in that I plan on using for my portfolio in 2019: “Buxom” serifs and all things Art Deco. I will use them because I like them aesthetically, and they align with my interests and who I am as a creative.

Another 2019 trend is the use of liquefied metallic imagery and electric gradients. While I can appreciate this style, it just isn’t me, so I won’t be including it in my concept work and mood boards.

Tip #3: Curate Your Portfolio Work

Choose 3-5 pieces of work that you are most proud of and order them starting with your favorite project. Write some accompanying notes explaining the background to each piece of work: the who, what, why, how, and its impact.

Only include and show work that you believe in and can talk passionately about. Just because a piece of work wasn’t approved by your Creative Director, doesn’t mean you can’t use it in your portfolio. The reality is, nine times out of ten the best work never makes into the “real world.”

Make sure one of your pieces is a personal project. Showing a personal project gives the viewer insight into who you are as an artist and what you like to do in your free time. Passion goes a long way.

Also remember to give credit where credit is due—very few creative campaigns are the work of one person. If you worked alongside other designers or writers, make sure to credit them. It is the right thing to do.

Gif of black and white sketch

Tip #4: Give the Viewer Something to Remember

A viewer will spend approximately three seconds looking at your work in your portfolio before deciding whether they are interested. Use those three seconds wisely. Consider doing something unexpected with your portfolio that represents your style and approach to design. This could be in the form of imagery, animation, illustration, or an unusual UX.

Tip #5: Put it in Print

In today’s digital economy, presenting a print piece has become a way to stand out. While your prospective clients or managers are used to scrolling without end, print offers you a chance to curate something for them to hold—another opportunity to get and keep their attention. Consider creating a beautiful statement book to bring to interviews, or a magazine as a sample of your work to leave behind.

Ready to make your own professional portfolio? Start with one of our high-on-design templates or create your own custom layout. Get started today.


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