Considering all the trends, tips, and tricks, here’s a comprehensive look at the best ways to optimize your digital design portfolio.
As a creative, it’s important to find ways to present your work in a manner that’s easily accessible. No matter if you’re looking for a contract gig or full-time work, you’ll be expected to show your accomplishments and skills.
But, how do you ensure that your portfolio stands out from the dozens of other applicants? And what are some things you should avoid doing, altogether?
Here are some best practices for organizing your creative portfolio.
Research Creatives You Admire for Inspiration
The first stage of creating your portfolio is to think about what exactly you want to accomplish with it. Through researching how successful creatives have organized and presented their work, you can gain a better sense of how you’d like your portfolio to look.
Kelly Malka, a freelance Illustrator and Graphic Designer, says when she was creating her portfolio, she looked at her “favorite artist’s websites to see how they displayed their work and to take notes on best practices.” Though, you should still approach your portfolio with originality, having some templates to reference could make the process more seamless.
When sifting through others’ portfolios, ponder these questions:
- How is the artist presenting their work?
- What are the descriptions of the work like?
- What templates do they use?
Curate Your Best Work
Though you should have a website where people can find your work, you may be creating distinct portfolios for specific job opportunities. Jules Espero, a Digital Designer, suggests approaching this task with a sense of curation.
“Include samples of your best work in your portfolio,” she says. “Showcase a variety of projects, but focus on the ones that are most relevant to the job you’re applying for.”
Malka says that she wishes she had learned the value of editing a portfolio earlier on in her career. “You don’t need to have every single thing you ever made in your portfolio,” she stresses. “Only display the pieces you’re most proud of and best represent your work today.”
Especially if you worked with a wide-range of clients and have been making art professionally for multiple years, you may feel the need to present as much work as possible. But, you should view your portfolio as a chance to reflect on which accomplishments align with the opportunity you’re seeking.
For instance, if you’re applying for a graphic design position that’s specifically geared towards producing logos, you’ll want to present that work.
Express a Variety of Design Skills
When it comes to either a portfolio or website customized for a job opportunity, you’ll want to showcase your range of talents. You’ll also need to narrow in on what the prospective company is looking for. Along with optimizing your web pages, there are some tricks you can do to tailor content around a client’s interests.
Ben Austin, the Founder and CEO of the digital marketing agency Absolute Media, says when assessing a potential new hire’s portfolio, he checks for whether or not the work differs across the various clients they’ve worked with. He looks to see if there’s a sense of “individual style.”
He says, “I look closely at how much their design differs between brands. Is it clear as to which brand it belongs to? Does one brand’s design differ significantly from the next, or does this person utilize the same style throughout all their projects?”
Hence, focus on the projects in which you expressed your distinct style.
Of course, as you sift through your past projects to compile them in a portfolio, consider whether or not the materials are proprietary or confidential.
Provide Necessary Details for Different Projects
A portfolio or a website is a chance for you to provide some context about your past work. You likely worked with a team of creatives on some projects. Though you may have played a key role, you should be specific about what exactly you did and whom you worked with. Demonstrate how your creative skills are useful in a group setting.
Austin suggests asking yourself, “At what stage did you get involved? What recommendations did you make that were included in the final design?” With these details, you can provide a clearer narrative for your prospective company.
For instance, you can note that you stepped into a leadership role on a project and were part of ideation and brainstorming. On the other hand, you can flex your ability to work constructively with others by noting that you were part of the editing/feedback/workshopping process.
“It’s always helpful to read more about a person’s involvement, so you can see exactly how much value they provided when it came down to producing something that is not only aesthetically pleasing (from a design perspective) but practical in terms of UX,” Austin says.
Showcase Your Personality
Espeso suggests allowing your personality to come through. Even if there are things that you may not view as work-related, discussing them in your portfolio may make your site more memorable. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top or super quirky.
In your bio, include a couple of your interests. These could also function as conversation starters for an interview.
Here are some ideas:
- Larger Creative Projects: You can mention that you’re also working on a bigger project such as a collection of paintings, novel, or short film.
- Pets: You can briefly mention your beloved pet. This could be done by peppering your portfolio with cute photos or describing yourself as an “animal lover.”
- Obscure Interests: You can share some details of a hobby that may be unrelated to your craft altogether (cooking, hiking, etc.).
Minimalism Helps People Focus on the Work
There’s a risk with creative portfolios of having too many ideas, features, and details. You may think that you’re showcasing your wide range of experience, but this could be overwhelming the viewer. Too much content ultimately distracts from your intentions of allowing prospective employers to get a better sense of your creativity. As with your art, it’s best to give yourself a set of rules for your project, that you have to abide by.
Ramzi Mansour, a black and white photographer, says she chose a paired down approach to let her work speak for itself.
“My website follows a clean, minimalist theme, so people can focus on the photos,” she explains. “Nothing too fancy or flashy. Less is more. The highlight should always be your work. You want people to look at your art.”
Templates Can Be the Foundation to Showcase Creativity
You may not be totally fluent in the design processes of various softwares. With website and portfolio templates, you can build off a foundation.
“A lot of people think that you need to be a PhotoShop wiz. While that helps, presentation is the most important,” Espero says. “It also depends on what kind of role you want to get, but there are many creatives out there—florists, illustrators—who don’t touch digital software in their work on a day to day basis.”
Shutterstock’s Creative Flow can make the design process much more seamless by allowing you to experiment with various colors and templates. It gives you access to a database of photos, videos, and music. If you’re dealing with a lot of assets that you’re swapping in and out of distinct portfolios (for specific applications), you can also use Creative Flow’s Catalog feature.
Building your portfolio is a chance to reflect on your past and manifest the future you want. Instead of getting intimidated, revel in this opportunity and tackle it head-on.
License this cover image mockup via GoodStudio and Brovko Serhii.