7 steps for building an amazing portfolio

Having a killer portfolio is the key to landing design jobs.

7 steps for building an amazing portfolio

Having a killer portfolio is the key to landing design jobs. It doesn’t matter if you want to freelance, or land a full time position, your suitability is largely determined by your portfolio. These 7 steps will ensure you have the best chances of impressing the right people and getting work.

1. Determine a purpose

Don’t underestimate this step. Not knowing your goals will significantly reduce the effectiveness of your portfolio. You need to specifically know your purpose in order to plan appropriately.

Things to consider:

  • Are you looking to become a freelancer or get a full time position?
  • If you are looking at agency work, what type of agency (large/boutique)?
  • What type of work do you want to do (lettering, web, UI etc)?

Go into as much detail as you can handle. Having clear objectives only makes things easier.

2. Find your target audience

Knowing the type of people that will be viewing your portfolio, and ultimately hiring you will allow you to tailor your portfolio to a specific goal. Finding your target audience will influence the type of work you show and the best ways to present it.

Determine whether your audience will be small business owners, HR managers, agency owners or something else.

3. Select your portfolio content

Make sure you show your best work as you are going to be judged by the type of content you display. Don’t pad your portfolio, only show the items you are proud of.

What happens if you’ve never done client work, or just don’t have enough work to fill a portfolio?

The ideal option is to get a client, however, failing that you need to be your own client. Find the gaps in your body of work, create a fictitious company, create a brief and get designing. If your work is well thought out and you have great presentation, it won’t matter that your clients are imaginary.

4. Get feedback on your work

A fresh set of eyes can uncover ways work can be improved. Receiving quality feedback and incorporating it into your work is a solid method for improvement.

Don’t be afraid of negative feedback

An important part of being a designer is understanding not everyone is going to like your work, and being ok with that. There is no need to take criticism personally! Someone’s thoughts on your design are not a reflection on you, it usually means they see areas where it can be improved or it doesn’t suit their particular taste.

How do I get constructive criticism?

This can be tricky at times but generally other designers will be able to help. If someone has trouble articulating why they don’t like your work, try to frame their thought process by saying “Tell me how this design isn’t working for you”.

Shake them haters off

Most of the time the design community is supportive, but occasionally you might run into someone that is being unnecessarily negative. They are probably trying to get a reaction and it’s not worth your time and effort to give it to them. If someone is criticising without providing an explanation or a solution, they are just complaining.

5. Present your work

This might sound obvious but you need to show work for the type of industry/niche you are targeting. You’ve already determined your target market now you need to put that information to work.

Things to consider if you want to work in an agency:

Try to show a wide range of designs. Demonstrating the process and justification for your design choices will indicate that you can communicate a design and present to a client if needed.

Things to consider if you want a corporate design job:

Corporate design jobs generally have strict brand guidelines. Make sure you have projects that show a range of applications but retain a clear level of brand consistency. Show that you can be creative while retaining a consistent visual aesthetic.

Things to consider if you want freelance jobs:

A lot of freelance jobs will require working with business owners. They want to know how your work will help grow their business. Show a range of logo applications outside of just stationery (vans, shop fronts, billboard campaigns, uniforms). If you are a UI or web designer, landing and sales page designs will help demonstrate you are focused on increasing their business.

Go beyond plain logos and screen shots

Make your work as appealing as possible by showing it in context. Make use of prebuilt mockups to display responsive sites, logos and print material.

6. Create your portfolio

The big decision here is whether to host it yourself or use hosted service. Self hosted can work out cheaper in the long run but will require significantly more time to set up. A hosted service might be more expensive but it will save you a lot of time.

Self hosted website

The more complex option but necessary if you want full control over the look and feel of your portfolio. You’ll have more freedom with design choices and more options if you want to extend the functionality of your site. It can be daunting if you don’t have any web design experience, however, if you are willing to learn you are adding a new skillset.

Requirements to host a site yourself:

  • Web host (we suggest Dreamhost)
  • A method of displaying your content (Content Management System or static site)

There are plenty of Content Management System (CMS) choices out there, WordPress will have the most support and theme options by far. Static html is a good option if you want a super fast site but want to keep your functionality fairly basic. However, you will need to know html and css to make edits to your pages.

Hosted service

There will be less to set up but your design options are determined by your service provider. If you aren’t comfortable with setting up your own site or you just can’t be bothered, this is the option to go with. Just like CMSs there are a lot of services to choose from, here are a few worth mentioning:

Behance (Free)

Not really a portfolio hosted service but still worth considering due to its popularity. Behance is a site where you create a profile and upload your work. Easier for people to find and browse your work but there are restrictions with look and feel and you can’t have your own domain.

Adobe Portfolio (Free with Adobe CC otherwise $9.99 – $49/month)

You get this free if you have a CC subscription and it can copy across content from your Behance portfolio. Allows you to have a custom domain.

Squarespace ($16 – $52/month)

Hosted website builder. Not specifically for portfolio sites which means it’s easy enough to add store functionality and non-portfolio related content if needed.

Fabrik.io (£6.25 – £15.00/month)

Dedicated site builder for portfolios. Relatively cheap plans with good looking themes and a clean UI.

7. Keep things fresh

A portfolio should not be set and forget. If you truly want to create business opportunities it needs to be an ongoing project. Consistently adding work and making updates keeps it fresh and gives people a reason to come view your work again.