These days designers can easily share their work on the internet with just a few clicks.
But back before the internet, designers had to put together physical, printed portfolios and get an interview so someone would look at their work. Now, everyone connected to a device can see your work. So is just being out there enough? How do you get in front? What will make your work stand out from the crowd?
Creative director, writer, marketer, and professor of advertising at Boston University, Edward Boches’ advice is to come up with something unique. “The answer might still be idea-generation. The ability to come up with an original, relevant, useful, worthy idea — be it an ad, an app, an experience, a video or a digital platform—that solves a problem.”
Beyond bringing something new to the table, there are a few tips and tricks to ensure you're putting your best foot forward when you build your portfolio.
Here are a few key points to follow:
01. Be thoughtful about what you include
Don’t add everything you’ve ever created. Set aside time to go through all of your pieces, exclude anything you’re not proud of or don’t think is your best work. Think of your portfolio as your greatest hits – something that reflects not only the work you've done, but the stuff you'd like to do in the future.
Liz Grant’s portfolio is clean, simple and beautiful. Plus it's easy to navigate.
“I’ve found that what you put in your portfolio for people to view, you get in return. So if you don’t want a certain type of client, don’t show that type of work in your portfolio," she explains.
"Also, show the best of what you have, you don’t need to show it all. People have short attention spans, especially on the web, so show your best first – don’t make them dig through tons of projects to find it,” says Grant.
02. Select only your strongest pieces
These are the projects you know were successful, got rave reviews and had good results. The agency Nowhere Famous highlights their strongest and most beautiful works in an in-your-face kind of way. They’re all so dramatic that you just want to click on each one!
Stefan Lucut’s portfolio only shows a few pieces that are displayed like a small gallery, with lots of variety.
03. Showcase your most unique and creative work
These pieces are bucking the latest trends. They don't follow a WordPress theme, and they aren't what everyone else is doing. Follow their lead and make people think “Wow, now this is cool!”
This portfolio by Duoh! is unique and eye-catching.
Rain Creative Lab shows their work large and bold plus the viewer scrolls through their portfolio up and down and across.
04. Go for variety
Don’t include only one form of design such as website design or illustration. Though this doesn’t mean that everything shouldn’t work together. Make sure it all still looks like it’s one person’s work.
Art director and designer Corina Nika includes a great variety of projects in her portfolio and they all flow together nicely.
Studio Mast includes quite a variety but keeps everything tied together with consistent solids backgrounds.
05. Decide on how many pieces to include
The suggestions vary depending on who you ask. Go for quality not quantity. Ten to twenty examples should do it. You don’t want to lose the attention span of the viewer.
No matter how great your work is, the viewer will still only click through a few projects before moving on.
Designer Thuy Truc has a simple style that you can see the moment you click on his portfolio page. He’s selected a handful of successful projects that are inviting and eye-catching, not overwhelming.
Olly Sorsby’s portfolio features one project and then shows a handful of additional projects. Using this format draws the viewer’s attention directly to the project he wants them to see first.
06. Do you need a physical portfolio?
Most designers are using online portfolios these days. But for in-person interviews – especially if you’re a print designer – you should think about creating a physical one.
This one above designed by Abra Design, has a magazine quality about it that’s will always be timely.
Learn how to design a magazine from scratch with our how-to article.
Or you can get really creative like Alex Fowkes and create an elaborate piece that’s a work of art itself.
07. Go high-resolution
An image that looks good on your laptop screen may not look so sharp on a large computer monitor. So remember to stick to the highest quality images for your portfolio.
Plus, clear close-ups are perfect for sharing on social media, they create drama and give your portfolio a high-quality look.
“I basically rotate my favorites, and try to keep a good balance. Keep the format consistent in your portfolio, and if possible, incorporate great photography and photos of your work,” says designer Coco Tafoya of Miss Modern Design House. Her portfolio incorporates gorgeous photography.
Grab Canva's best tips for photography on our blog's dedicated photography section.
Nainoa Shizura’s work is featured as stunning, large, high-resolution pieces.
Coco Tafoya says you should think about the sharing potential of your portfolio images. “Make sure the layout works if someone wants to share your designs on social media – mainly Pinterest.”
08. Stay current
Trends, techniques and technology change quickly, so don't include anything that's more than three years old. You don’t want to look dated.
Designer Robert Gavick has created a one-page, very hip and trendy online portfolio.
John Jacob displays his pieces very non-traditionally and eye-catching instead of using flat photos or PDFs. These both show they’re up on the latest trends.
09. The chosen few
Once you have the final pieces selected, make sure they’re cohesive, that they form your “brand.” You don’t want your portfolio to look like it’s a group of many peoples’ work, or to include jarring examples..
10. Make sure the pieces flow nicely from one to the next
That doesn’t mean you have to group all web design together and all logos together. Look at how the colors, lines and angles work together.
Down With Design and Tractor Beam’s portfolio are great examples as how to make your portfolio flow: keep images consistent until they’re rolled over. This has a nice feel to it without making the viewers eye jump around.
11. Snap a pic
If you only have print piece of a project and want to use it online, take a few photos of it. If you don’t have a great camera, don’t use your iphone. Hire a photographer for a quick photo shoot or even work out a barter – photographs in exchange for a new logo, perhaps.
12. Make it interesting
If you only have a PDF of a magazine or poster you designed, search online for mockup resources such as Graphicburger. They have free downloads of layered PDF files to drop your artwork into so they look like you hired a photographer. These are perfect for websites and apps. Taking a photo of a website on your monitor is not acceptable.
Designer Kendra Schaefer uses mockups throughout her portfolio.
The agency Everything.is uses mockups for their entire portfolio.
13. Non-client work is OK
Just because it wasn't a paid client project, doesn't mean you can't put it in your portfolio. If you love to self-start your own projects, go ahead and include them. This can be especially helpful if you're trying to expand into a new kind of work.
Illustrator and letterer Jessica Hische includes the self-started projects that keep her creative.
Brand and package designer Paul Currah includes a few of his non-client work in his portfolio as well.
Want to learn more about packaging design? Check out these 50 inspiring examples.
14. Get some street cred
Many projects are probably self-explanatory but others aren’t. Notes about the project, who the client was, what skills were used, and how the project was marketed can help explain why it was a success.
Emma Dime’s portfolio includes projects notes and how she solved the client's problem. She also includes a quote from the client.
Smart! Studio Faculty goes beyond crediting the design team — they also give credit to the paper and fonts.
If you designed a marketing campaign, it’s great to include who else worked on the project, how they measured results and how successful it was.
Joy Cho’s project notes also include how the results will be measured.
The agency Supremo actually showcases the results of the project in call-outs.
16. Get a close-up
Viewing a piece in person is different from seeing them online. You can touch them to see what kind of paper they were printed on and you can see little details of color. Try to capture this online by including an overall image of the project. Then zoom in to some of the most interesting details of each piece to showcase those, too.
This wedding project highlights the many different materials used.
And the sleekness of Steven Bonner’s vodka label shines through his portfolio.
17. Showcase the design process
Maybe your client didn’t select the logo you really loved. So can you include it in your portfolio? Sure! The best way to do this is to show your top five picks and the creative development that took place.
Showcase your creativity and diversity. Creative directors will appreciate the glimpse into your creative process.
Here you can see Kelsey Cronkhite’s thought and design process throughout the entire project. Her site includes even more behind the scenes looks. The Hanger agency also includes sketches that show the beginning of the design process.
18. Don’t use flash or animation in your online portfolio
Parallax or other scrolling features are acceptable and are very trendy – but anything more complicated should be avoided. Keep it clean, simple and non-distracting. Let the viewer click through at their pace.
Philip Andrews uses different forms of scrolling that moves the viewer along nicely.
Arun’s portfolio has simple pop up windows for each piece that aren’t distracting.
19. Get a second opinion
You’ve looked at these pieces three dozen times. They’re becoming a blur to you. Before you finalize your portfolio, get another set of eyes on it. Get someone else’s reaction and opinion.
Does it flow, look professional, is easy to click through and correct?
“Nothing kills your credibility faster than a portfolio full of grammatical errors and misspellings. Not proofing your content is a glaring indication that your work habits are sloppy as well,” adds designer Eric Noguchi.
20. Review, add, delete, repeat
Think you’re done once you’ve hit “publish” on your portfolio page? If so, go back to #8. You want to stay current, so set a schedule to review your portfolio every six months.
Add any new projects and delete anything that’s looking dated or tired.
Ta-da! Your portfolio is ready to shine. Now what?
You’ve looked through your pieces, chosen them with care, shown lots of variety and creativity and are ready to launch it out to the internet world. What now?
- If you already have a website, then adding a Portfolio section is an obvious choice. Many Squarespace and WordPress themes are made purposely for portfolios. You can title it Portfolio or some people go with Work.
- Instagram is also a useful platform to share your work. Start a second account so your selfies don’t show up in between ad campaigns. Take a look a these Instagram tips for more inspiration.
“A portfolio is the backbone of a creative as it shows what you’re capable of,” says graphic and interactive designer Jacob Cass of Just Creative. It’s a showcase of your blood, sweat, talents and triumphs. It’s your brand, be proud of it. Now go show it off!