How to Create a Great Design Portfolio

March 2, 2022
Design

Your design portfolio can make or break your career as a creative professional. It is a summary of your skills and capabilities - and is the first thing people will refer to when they are looking to hire you. It should impress, perhaps surprise the viewer, and ultimately it should leave them in awe - wanting to see more. 

Every design portfolio should meet certain requirements - such as showcasing processes and explaining certain decisions. 

We’ve compiled a list of valuable tips to help you put together a great design portfolio. 

1. Have an online portfolio

Printed Portfolios are a thing of the past. We would suggest three options:

  • Curate your portfolio in a pdf
  • Host it on a design site like Dribble or Behance
  • Have a custom webpage (Don’t get caught in coding it from scratch. Rather focus on your skills and making it a good viewing experience. You would however get bonus points for using a low code platform like webflow rather than wix. Both are great platforms, but it will count in your favor to showcase a basic understanding of front-end developer work. Having coding knowledge is beneficial for any UX/UI designer as it is a big contributor to set your designs apart.). 

Mobile responsiveness for your portfolio is not necessary, but it can be beneficial in some cases. At Specno we view all candidates on 24” monitors - not our mobile phones.


2. Curate your portfolio carefully

If you’re not sure in which industry you want to work in, you might face the following question: Should your portfolio be customised for each application or should it be broad - showcasing a variety of your work? 

It comes down to the fact that you should only include relevant work. Knowing in which industry you want to work in will determine the type of work you showcase. 

If you are applying to be a UI designer, don’t showcase your painting or photography skills in the main portfolio. Having various skills is encouraged, but we suggest that you then put it under “other work” or “passions”. 

You should try to avoid customising your portfolio unless you specifically want to work at a company where they are looking for a specialist in a certain field (e.g e-com).

Portfolios take time to get right and changing it for each client is tiring. Your time is better spent working on one portfolio over time. 

3. Select three to five projects to present

Three to five projects is enough to demonstrate your skills, but only show your very best. People’s attention spans are short and a good first impression is crucial, so you should open with your best work, but if you have five projects and only three are good, rather showcase three. Quality over quantity.


4. Present your work through case studies

Emelyn Baker wrote in her portfolio blog post that she applied for various UX/UI jobs in college - but she had no luck landing a job. After asking a friend to send her portfolios of individuals who got hired at top-tier companies she realised that she filled her portfolio with big, beautiful visuals, but instead needed to present rich and wonderful case studies that showcase design processes, successes, and failures, as well as the ultimate solutions.

The takeaway: Big, beautiful images look great, but it does not show the hiring manager that you can solve problems. 

We suggest that you look at how other case studies are presented to find what works well for you.  

You should focus on the process of the project and not just finished work. Note that when one has to view your work with no context, it makes it hard to evaluate how you solved the problem, and the journey you took to get to the final design. Design is like problem-solving - explain your decisions.

With that being said, while it is good to show the whole process, ensure that it is presentable - a messy process does not give off the impression that you have your methods waxed to perfection.

5. Showcase your real-world work

Showcasing real-world work is advantageous as it shows the hiring manager that:

  • You have experience working on a project
  • You are able to work within a team (remember to specify what you did - what exactly was your contribution to what they’re seeing, and also credit what others did)
  • That you have a track record of working on successful projects

Just ensure that the work that you are showcasing is public knowledge and not still under NDA. 

You would ideally want to show off your project’s success. If you have any statistics relating to how well, for example, the application is doing, you should definitely include them. Sharing links to download the app is also a plus.

We do note that not everyone has real-world client work and that is understandable. As a graduate, you can show your personal projects. The important thing is not whether the work was a real client or not, but how you approach a problem. 

6. Showcase more recent work

As a junior or intermediate designer, your best work is likely more recent. It doesn’t mean it is the last two projects you worked on, as each project has different hurdles you need to navigate, but anything past 12 months should be considered outdated - unless it has massive success.

Senior designers can be more selective with what projects they show as they will have a large repertoire to choose from and likely have multiple successful projects.


7. Include a CV

Your CV and portfolio should go hand in hand. A CV allows the hiring manager to know what your experience level is and where you learnt your skills. At Specno it is vital in determining whether we interview someone.

Remember that the design of your portfolio is a work itself and that it also showcases your skillset. Allow your story to flow, but at the same time be intentional with your whitespace. Use mockups or stylished compositions to bring your designs to life.

Always ask for feedback from your peers, teachers, recruiters, etc.

We hope that you feel inspired and that you have great ideas on how your portfolio should look. 

Go land that job!

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