Eight Things to put in Your First Design Portfolio
Most people moving into design know they need a killer design portfolio to set them apart from their competition.
But when you’re first entering the industry, it can be a bit daunting to know where to start. We get a lot of young and new designers who hear the word portfolio and have no idea what’s expected to go in it. This blog is for them.
So we’ve put together this list of simple things that anyone can add to their portfolio to match up with the experts.
This article will focus mostly on design portfolios, but the principles remain the same for almost any kind of portfolio. These tips also apply more or less equally regardless of if you’re looking for freelance work, or a permanent position.
A logo and tagline
If you’re a designer, you’ve got a golden opportunity to put your skills front and centre. In the same way, you wouldn’t go to a restaurant if the staff wouldn’t eat there, most people wouldn’t hire a designer who can’t create a visually appealing site. One of the simplest ways to do this is with a really good logo, visible as soon as the page loads.
Note- even if your design skills aren’t based on creating artwork, you should probably still invest in one to grab attention. Similarly, for designers who can’t create a site from scratch, it’s fine to use a template or a platform (this whole site was created on Squarespace, for example!) as long as you’ve obviously put some consideration into how it looks and not just loosely cobbled random assets together.
With your logo in place, make sure to put a tagline directly underneath it. This should be something short and punchy, that conveys exactly what you do. If it can include searchable keywords to ramp up your SEO, even better.
‘Graphic Designer and Illustrator’
‘Expert in UX Design’
‘Passionate about software and games design’.
Social media integration
If you’re working on building your professional brand as a designer, you should have some form of social media presence. Our linked blog has tips for how to keep your social media in line with professional standards but here’s a simple version:
Avoid badmouthing your current boss/clients/workplace/coworkers
Don’t post things you wouldn’t want your boss to see
Be active and post relevant things to your career.
Don’t be inflammatory
With that done, choose which profiles you want to emphasise on your portfolio and provide links to them. Linkedin is usually a borderline necessity, but Twitter is also an option, as are more specialised platforms (like GitHub) where relevant.
Almost as valuable as the work you share is the opinions your clients and employers have of you. Consider a section of your portfolio devoted to positive reviews and testimonials from them.
When you’re just starting out, the odds are you won’t have that many testimonials. But you still have options! Even if you’ve just done work for friends and family pro bono, or a local business or charity without much reach, you can ask if they’d be willing to write a bit about you. Even a few lines about your work ethic can make your profile that little bit tighter.
As you develop and grab more clients and experience you can phase these testimonials out, to be replaced with more compelling ones, but they’re great for that initial boost.
Your tagline mentioned above will let potential employers and clients see what you can do at a glance. Your work samples should give a broader picture of your talents. But you should also provide some kind of concrete statement about what it is you do at present, and what your specialities are.
For example, a web designer might specialise in creating mobile sites that focus on accessibility. This designer probably won’t have an interest in, or the skills needed, to boost SEO on this site. Putting in these specialisations will allow clients to screen themselves out, saving both sides time.
This one may seem really obvious. But we’ve looked at many portfolios over the years, and you’d be surprised how many don’t have the designer’s contact information front and centre. Therefore, it bears repeating!
For people looking for full-time employment, this is less of a big deal, as it can reasonably be assumed that most people looking at your portfolio have your contact information elsewhere from your CV (although it will decrease the number of people reaching out to you independently, or your chances of being headhunted). But if you’re freelancing, it could be fatal. Don’t put additional obstacles between you and the jobs you want.
Your contact information, or a link to where it can be found, should be somewhere astoundingly obvious.
These days, it seems like everyone has a blog, but don’t be discouraged. They’re a great opportunity to really shine on a personal level if done well.
With a blog, you have two potential directions you can go:
A blog relevant to your industry, that will attract the clients you want.
A blog about your interests and passions.
If you’re hosting the blog directly on your portfolio, go with the first option. But ultimately, make sure you’re writing things you’d personally be interested in reading and you won’t go far wrong.
An alternative, if you’re not fond of writing, could be a video series (you could create tutorials, vlogs, or reactions to industry news) or a podcast. As long as the content is still either relevant to the kinds of work you want, or a means of demonstrating your personal passions, then it works.
A bio or about page
A portfolio is an opportunity to share your story with the world. A simple list of the work you’ve created is one thing, but it doesn’t really create a sense of who you are.
So don’t be afraid to create a section devoted to where you’ve been, and where you want to go in the future. Let your personality come through, without being too obnoxious and overly familiar.
For prompts, think about what you would like to share about your career journey so far. What inspires you, and motivates you to keep going?
A printable format
Most people like their portfolio to be online these days, and most clients and recruiters do too. It saves everyone time, paper and space.
However, there will always be some more traditional companies that would rather have physical copies. So, make this as easy as possible for them, provide a link to a downloadable PDF or other appropriate formats for your best work.
If you feel like this might be a waste of time, remember it’s usually a good idea to take a paper copy of your portfolio into interviews anyway, so you’re saving yourself a job down the line anyway.
The hardest part of any design portfolio is getting started. Once you have a framework in place, adding to it and updating it is simple.
Choose the work that you’re most proud of the work that lets you shine, presented in a compelling format, and you’ll see more clients, more inquiries, and more job offers.
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