on building your portfolio based on your value as a designer.
As a young designer starting out, whether you’re a student or a recent graduate, your portfolio and CV are your lead tools for getting your first clients, a valuable internship, a scholarship, getting into a specific postgraduate program, or for networking. A good portfolio should reflect what you do, how you do it, and why you do it. There’s no value in things made without a clear purpose. It should also provide a glimpse of your thought process and the way you add value to your projects as a designer. Communicate how you think as well as what you can produce.
The structure and platform of your portfolio will always vary depending on your work. You can choose between having it as an interactive PDF, a digital showcase in websites such as Behance or Dribble, making a print version of it, or building your own website. The choices are endless, but the content should keep consistent and carefully adapted to whatever platform you choose.
I have been a practicing graphic designer since 2012. I started to build up my portfolio with some of the work I considered my best from assignments I received at my Typography, Packaging, and Editorial Design courses at university. I always tried to keep my portfolio really honest to the work I was hoping to get hired for. This proved really important because it attracted the type of clients I considered ideal, and filtered the ones that weren’t really into my style. My work has never been comercial or mainstream, it has actually always stood out for being really out of the box and leaning more towards editorial rather than commercial. Nonetheless, when I found myself wanting to be hired for a job and started sending out my portfolio to basically anyone who was hiring a graphic designer, I had a 90% positive response from the design agencies I contacted. I was offered jobs at BBDO, TBWA, The National Autonomous University of Honduras, Oneblis, 4AM Saatchi and Saatchi, Laureate Education, and multiple international freelance projects all within the span of 6 months. I always got complimented on the uniqueness of my portfolio and the attention to detail it had. I was applying to advertising agencies with no advertising jobs at all in my portfolio, and still getting offered the job.
I now want to share my knowledge based on these experiences to anyone out there who has no idea on how to start their portfolio or is not exactly sure on how to best showcase your potential and skills as a designer or creative person. The following are some tips I consider extremely helpful for letting recruiters and the world know what you’re made of.
Decide what you want to be hired for. What is the thing you’re best skilled at? And by whom do you want to be hired?
This will immensely help you to structure your portfolio, choose the projects you want to showcase, and decide the platform in which you will create it. If you want to be hired as a visual identity designer, then showcase projects related to that. If you don’t have any projects, then make up your own. If you don’t want to work in an advertising agency, don’t show advertising projects even if you have 10 of them. Get to know your skills, the things you’re really good at, and showcase more of this. Your portfolio itself can be a representation of your skills. If you’re an editorial designer, for example, design your portfolio in a way you expose your typography and composition skills. Just try to add value in whatever you do. You should also keep different versions of your portfolio depending on where and what you are applying to.
Choose 3-4 projects, the best ones you’ve got, and explain the creative process behind them. Share only the best of the best.
Take the time to build and write case studies of your projects. The creative process is not arbitrary, therefore you should add details on your research, the discovery process with the client, the strategy behind it, desired business goals and outcomes, your thoughts on the execution. Did it all work smoothly? Probably not. Don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper into this. Reveal what went wrong and what you learn from it. You might be feeling the impulse to include 20 different works to showcase how flexible a designer you can be, but don’t. Choose only the best and expand upon it.
Share who you are and what you think. Share your inspirations and your goals. Also your aspirations. Reveal the process.
Who are you and who do you want to become? What motivates you and inspires you to become better? What are your interests outside of your work and how do you pursue them? Personal projects are just as important or even more relevant than projects you have been paid for. These are the ones that show your real passion for you’re willing to create them from scratch and sometimes without being remunerated for it. Emphasize the thought process behind it, how it came together, and where you want to go with it.
Embrace your time as a student. Don’t try to look as anyone else, this is the time to be yourself, to push it as far as you can go. Experiment, be free.
As a designer you have the ability to be a decision maker, not just an order taker. You have all the knowledge and skills to defend and sell the design you came out with after a creative process. Being a designer is not only about making, but also about knowing how to sell what you make.If you find yourself in a market you’re not appealing to, take some time to figure out your audience, and then direct your selling efforts towards them. Being a student is a great time to explore what you like to do, who you work with best, and to understand to whom your work appeals most to.
If you worked in a collaborative project, be specific, give the rightful credits. Being a hard teamworker is one of the most relevant skills of our time.
Soft skills are crucial to getting hired. These are skills such as ability to clearly communicate your ideas to others, teamwork, reliability, persuation, amongst others. We sometimes spend so much time trying to learn different softwares or perfecting different skills, but all of this is irrelevant if you can’t sell your work to others. It is extremely important to learn how to speak, how to write, and how to give and take criticism.
I really hope you find these tips useful and as an end note I just want to remind you to keep it simple, relevant, and keep it honest. And as I mentioned before, to communicate how you think as well as what can you produce. No matter what you’re doing, pay attention to detail! Learn how to network and be reliable. These will really set you apart and take you from being just a good designer to being great one.
And for anyone out there reading this who needs further help with building your portfolio or CV, even if your work is not within the creative field, you can book a call with me for $30. We’ll talk about your strengths and weaknesses and I’ll give you insights on how to showcase your work to ensure you get hired. Just write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 5517326121.
Until next time!