Creating a Strong Portfolio


Your Portfolio Matters

Finding a job in a creative field can be tough. In design, copywriting, developing and really any creative field, college experience alone doesn’t cut it. Employers want to see your personality, your work and what you’re capable of – all of which can’t be summarized in a resume.

When I was graduating from college, I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer, but I had studied Landscape Architecture in school. Since my resume didn’t allude to much graphic design experience, I knew that if I got a job in design, it would have to come from a strong portfolio. Very long story short, I worked my tail off to make a strong portfolio of projects, and now I’m happy to say that I have a graphic design job I love.

So in other words, your portfolio matters a lot.

Here, I’ll do my best to summarize some of the things that make a strong portfolio. I won’t necessarily be talking about how to make strong work, but rather, how to present your work in a strong way. These 5 tips are based on personal observation and discussions with peers over the years. That being said, experience doesn’t make me an expert. But I’ll keep talking anyways. Here we go.

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A strong portfolio puts work first. Your work is what people are looking for when they go to your portfolio, and ultimately, it’s what will decide if you get the job or not. That being said, it’s important to put your work up front and center. Nothing should distract from or take priority over the projects that you have to show. A simple site with strong work is much more effective than an all-out, crazy site with weak work.

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Along similar lines, it’s important to really think about the projects that you want to show. This is a place where quality greatly outweighs quantity. If you aren’t proud of a project, leave it out. If you can’t talk at length about a project, leave it off. Additionally, only include projects that reflect your personality or the type of work you’d like to do in the future. Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. If you want to be a graphic designer, don’t include your past landscape architecture projects in your portfolio. It distracts from your purpose.

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In almost every single interview I’ve been in (and there have been quite a few), the interviewer has put my portfolio up on a screen and asked me to walk them through projects. As I mentioned earlier, you should be able to talk for a long time about any piece of work that you include in your portfolio. With this in mind, the projects that you include in your portfolio should have depth. Presenting each stage of your project as well as the challenges you faced along the way demonstrates to employers adaptability in your work. It’s also important to display a thorough understanding of the brand(s) that you’re working with – your work will always have guides and constraints that you’ll have to work within. Proving to employers that you understood the problem is essential in showing them that you found the right solution.

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While this is helpful in creating a good portfolio, it’s also just a good life skill. Projects are rarely solo – bringing people in to help almost always creates a stronger piece of work. More often than not, there’s somebody to mention in your portfolio as project contributors – whether they helped you edit your work, provided photography, printed your work, or whatever – just give them a quick shout-out.

For example, In this post, Colin Mumbach, Alyssa Scavetta and Matthew Rotter contributed with thoughts and tips. Alyssa and Colin helped out with editing. See? Easy peasy.

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These days, if you’re applying for a creative job, having an online portfolio is expected. There are so many easy-to-use website builders out there that there’s really no excuse for not having a digital body of work these days. That’s not to say that it’s not still a good habit to have a physical portfolio that you bring to interviews with you! To get an interview in the first place, though, you’ll definitely need an online portfolio.

Here are some quick and easy site-building options –

  • Squarespace
  • Wordpress
  • Semplice
  • Wix
  • Dunked
  • Cargo Collective
  • Dribbble
  • Behance
  • Carbonmade
  • Medium
  • Github

That’s all I’ve got! I hope it was helpful to all you billions of readers! Good luck!

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