How to Prepare a Well-Focused Graphic Design Portfolio

A graphic designer has to take care of its portfolio because it is the way in which he presents his abilities. The portfolio is a collected sample which showcases your creativity and ability and you need to submit it properly to your public. Potential employers or clients may read it and what they see can help them to decide whether they want to hire you. That’s why a good presentation has to be properly built up.

How to Prepare a Well-Focused Graphic Design Portfolio

Along this article we will analyze which samples are better and how to arrange them, we will see example of both online and printed portfolio and how to present them to potential customers/employers.

Main Scope of a Portfolio

It looks like an obvious thing to say but it needs to make things clear. The main scope of a portfolio is promoting your work.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Don’t mind if you are well trained designer or if you are coming out of the design school. If you want to be hired from a graphic agency or if you want to start up your freelance business you will need a portfolio as well as curriculum vitae. While CV shows your studies, skills and abilities from an abstract point of view, a portfolio instead shows what you are able to do REALLY.

The portfolio creation is part of constructing your brand image to market. How it looks like is very important because it talks about you.

A portfolio shows to your potential recruiter or customer what you have been able to do until know, by giving an outline of your abilities and helping them to construct an idea of you and how you can fulfill their projects’ need.

But which elements you have to collect for and which shape or media do you have to use in order to construct a successful portfolio? Here we will see some steps to follow to achieve the desired result.

Selecting Samples: Four Simple Advices

When you create your portfolio you have to resume and package you best pieces of experience you did.They show what you have done, your style, your accuracy and, the most important thing, what type of products you can go to create in your customer future.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

The very first point is selecting the samples to include in. The designs have to represent your current state of the art but, at the same time, showing that you have been on the market from long. This doesn’t mean that you have to show your 10 years old pieces as they are your best. They probably have been your best in that time but 10 years have gone so fast and you should have improved your skills, learned thousands of new techniques or, at least, have followed the more current design tendencies.

So the first advice is: choose actual samples as much as you can.

Think strategically when you choose your best pieces. Select from your works 12-16 samples which show your creativity, your skills and your ability in carry on both small focused or bigger and wide projects.

What you have to show off is your versatility, that you are able to manage projects which are different one from another. In brief the best thing to do is diversifying your samples selecting items that you built up for different media.Make screenshot from your digital products and photo from your billboards.

The second advice is: diversify the examples.

Showing real materials could be a winning idea. Whenever you complete a work ask for having some spare sample of the finished work. The shape, the materials the printer service which you have chosen tell a story: your efforts in doing your best. Real cases talk for you because when you choose for example the paper anything should be left to the accident. You are a professional designer and you should know that details make the difference.

The third advice is then: show your passion for every single project you run.

When you deliver digital products, as we said, you can make screenshot form them. Anyway they may suffer of low (web) resolution. A good trick could be showing them as part of a bigger image, a browser or even a laptop mock-up. In this way the image can be smaller and a little bit less detailed, you have the chance to insert the example, talking about the project and list the link to reach the real finished and on line work.

The fourth advice is: show them smarty.

We can now go ahead and see how to organize our selected pieces of art.

Ordering of Graphic Design Portfolio Contents

The Tale of Your Talent

Once selected the right samples then is time to organize them well. The method you choose also talk about you and your organizing capabilities. When you put one a sample before or after one another you are creating a story. The aim is making this story interesting for your potential employer or customer. You have positively strike him/her.

Put your best pieces at the beginning and at the ending of the portfolio. Why that? It is a trick that comes from the cognitive psychology, a typical serial position curve. When you compose any kind of list who read it starts his reading attentively. Going ahead he passes through the text and points again his attention around the end. Your portfolio is nothing different from a narrative text, even if it is composed by pictures. The narrative scheme is accomplished as in any other kind of tales: your old customers had some kind of problem that you have solved in a clever, creative, smart and brilliant way. The reader, possibly a new customer, recognizes in the old one the same or a similar problem and the evidences that you are the man for the job.

The Content of the Tale

Labeling each works with your client name and date of the project is really important. This shows real customers and, with time, place and real needs that you have brilliantly satisfied. Explain in a few lines what consist of this need and how you have been able to create in that occasion and which software you have you used to do the work.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Different Grouping Methods

What about organizing the items? There are at least six project organizing ways:

  1. Chronologically
  2. By Item
  3. By Client/Project
  4. By Skill
  5. Best First and Last
  6. By media

The decision is influenced by your aesthetic taste and is the mirror of you personality.

Chronologically

This is the most used among the different types of narration. The timeline starts with the most recent works and ends with the oldest. Organizing the works chronologically emphasize the creative development of the artist and shows his studying and growth path.

By Items

You are ordering your works by items when you group all stationery projects together, then logos, then all the brochures, and so on and so far.

By Client/Project

For who are your main clients, where you probably have more spent your abilities and efforts, producing a wide range of different creative projects, you may want to reserve a larger space. Otherwise one page for each client with single project can be enough. Do not forget mentioning the tools which you have used to accomplish the work! This could be useful to employer or new customer to take note of your skills.

By Skill

Another way could be showing items on your skill basis. Collect for example, illustration works together by separating them for photo projects, grouping items depending on the required skills needed to complete the work.

Best First and Last

The best first/last method comes from the Persuasion Psychology. It consists in presenting the best works first and last, the others between. This ordering method is based on the typical reading flow: it starts attentive; the attention goes down while the reader looks through the text, then there is a new peak around the end. This ensures to put the best works in the best position to be noticed in the best light.

By Media

This grouping method is based on the media which is going to be used to show/produce the creative items. We can distinguish here between, i.e. from web and print, multimedia or photos or other media.

One or All of Them

Take your best artworks and try grouping it in different ways as described to find which method best suits your needs. Consider to having more than one arrangement because the aim you have may create a need for different contents in order to focus the interview or proposal you are preparing for.

Portfolio Formats

Web or Printed

Differences in organizing the elements come also from the final use for your portfolio. Are you designing in for print or web distribution? This is why I suggest having more than one version of your portfolio.

Web Versions

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Nowadays, thanks to the tablet devices introduction, having an online portfolio is becoming essential while the printed version is every day less usual.

Also among web portfolios there are different format: PDF, advanced PDF, digital magazine, short movies, flipping services like Issuu, advanced presentations like Prezi service, Behance profile, have been added to the more traditional portfolio section in the personal website of the artist.

Those services allow you to spread your portfolio, making it searchable on Internet and easy to update. Bear in mind to update them regularly and take trace of each site you submit or upload your portfolio as well as your CV. Nothing is worse than an old identity on the Web.

Printed Version

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Also having a hard copy of your portfolio could be useful and you have not thought at it as old-fashion.

Just think how many times you were sure that the Internet connection was available but it isn’t, or how many times something went wrong with the hosting service. A hard copy is like a life vest.

A printed version, combined with real sample of some works can contribute to catch your interviewer or client attention. Let them touch and feel the product. Even better if you are addressing samples to a customer that is in the same industry as another one for which you have already completed a work. You will be able to show him better how you have brilliantly satisfied the communication requests of a possible competitor.

It goes without say that you have to show your printed portfolio at its best.

Make your collection beautiful and pleasant to flip and of great impact display. Take a tour on a shop of best stationery and find a beautiful folder to collect the items. Be sure that the pages are clean and well presented.

Find a format which allows you to easily add or remove elements. Regularly update your file whereas you have published it. Nothing is worse than having an image of your works which doesn’t is more than up-to-date.

Real World Examples to Look Up to

Let’s examine some real cases of portfolio designers. I’ve taken these portfolios from Issuu. I’ll show you how they work and how I’ve constructed mine.

The first example is the portfolio online of Gabriel Contassot.

I like his portfolio, the cover is clear but colorful and I like how he has succeeded in organize his samples.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

The method he followed is a mix between grouping samples by media and by items. For each group he also selected some artworks so he has created another sub-group ordered by client and date.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

As you can see below for a same client, under the same category “print”, i.e. we can found similar projects.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

By the way, even if he found a brilliant way to organize his artwork he also has exceeded in the page number (35 pages of portfolio).

Another example of exaggerate number of sample included in the portfolio is that of Jburto.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Jburto has organized his portfolio grouping his works by item. I think that the items way of organizing, all alone, can create confusion. This is particularly true in those cases in which the creative has run more than one project for the same client.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Jburto, as in the case of Gabriel Contassot, has filled in the portfolio with more example than needed. Creating a portfolio of 65 pages means that our reader is going to go through it rapidly, missing some important points of our work.

Much better reduce the number of page because, has we have seen previously, the reader has the time to read deeply our project and appreciate better the details.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

And now this is how I’ve re-arranged my portfolio in order to meet the explained requirements.

You can find it at the following address: Ester Liquori Portfolio.

Firstly a clear cover with a recall to my logo and colors.

Secondly my website, blog and e-mail address for each page, on the cover and on the back.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

I’ve choose to organize my works grouping them by client. For each I’ve shown some examples and explained some outlines about the project.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

Close to the end I’ve introduced a kind of “Bonus” pages, a couple of example of my photo retouching work. Everything in just 16 pages, cover and back included.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

On the back, instead of the logo, I put a QRCode linked to my website.

instantShift - Prepare a Design Portfolio

To Sum Up

Here below you can find a short list which sums up what you have to do to create your winning portfolio:

  • Include from 12 to 16 samples
  • Include your very best pieces ONLY
  • Diversify the contents
  • Make your designs looking at their best
  • Place the best of your pieces at the beginning and at the end of the portfolio
  • If you are showing to finalized projects show them in real use application by using mock-ups
  • Make it easy to update
  • Make it available for online viewing or handling harder copy, use different media to show it around
  • ALWAYS have a copy to show during an interview.

Remember that you are like a product to buy and the portfolio is your fancy, creative but well-filled packaging.

Now It’s All to YOU

Which organizing method do you prefer? Which one you think is the most effective? Do you have only an online portfolio or a printed one too?

Let’s discuss about this topic of great importance for any designer!

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20 Comments

  1. Thanks for your tips! It’s been a while since I updated my webdesign portfolio.

  2. Great tips, will take note!

  3. Delightful and helpful tips. Great job! Thank you Ester

  4. Found some good tips here, thanks for sharing. It is obvious this was translated though. The English composition is very weak and sometimes hard to follow but all in all good job…;)

  5. Hi guys and thank you for your appreciation.
    I’d love to know more about your experiences and difficulties in selecting the right pieces for your very unique portfolio. Don’t be shy! ^__^

    @Kevin Thank you for your feedback. It suggests me that I have to increase my efforts to improve my English. I’ll try to do better. Thank you!

  6. Great Article & Thanks for the post.

  7. Every one knows that portfolio is used to create for promotions. and i am fully agree with you that making things clear is the best way to create portfolio. your tips are very useful for new portfolio creators

  8. Thanks..it was very useful :)

  9. When creating a portfolio it is important to demonstrate your creative design skills and abilities, however you must remember to keep it simple and clear to understand and not to overload them with vast amounts of your designs, a good way to show any of your additional work is to have a references or links to your website where you can show a larger amount of your work. I like the idea of putting a QRCode linked to your website. This shows creative thinking and offers the opportunity to show additional pieces of your design work and abilities.

  10. Ester,

    I appreciate your thoughts about graphic design portfolio. I indeed learn from this post. I fascinate about your work specifically of 2 design which are mentioned on 14,15 page at issuu.com/esterl/docs/ester-liquori-portfolio.

  11. helpful tips, thanks i learnt of it.. and i will do so…

  12. Its a awesome writeup.Learnt something new from it.Thanks for sharing:)

  13. @ Daniel Nolan, QR codes recently have greatly increased their use. I’ll look deep inside this useful tool in one of my coming soon articles.

    @ Cactus Studio, the image at page 14 is a photo that I took a couple of month ago here in Turin, where I live. I’ve retouched the original shot and created a wallpaper calendar which has been also featured on Smashig Magazine http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/05/31/desktop-wallpaper-calendar-june-2011/
    The image at page 15 is again a photo from Turin which I’ve polished and transformed in vector. You can follow the walkthrough tutorial on PsdFan http://psd.fanextra.com/tutorials/drawing/vectorize-a-landscape-photo-into-a-watercolor-painting/
    I hope they could be helpful link for you :-)

    @ all others :-) Thank you!

  14. hi, i m really inspired from your work.

    i am a footwear designer and need to develop a portfolio
    for the same, but i m nt sure about what kind of graphics to use
    i mean, should i make it more formal or playfull
    any suggestions

    ps – i m nt that good in colour selections and graphics

  15. Graphic design is an artistic and professional skill which involves designing graphics for visual communication.

  16. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this tutorial,cleared up lots of things for me!

  17. wow nice article…i’m relaxed and more focused now on creating contents for my portfolio. Thanks for the tips Ms. Ester Liquori. :)

  18. This article was of such great help, i was so confused and tensed at first about creating my portfolio, these awesome tips cleared my mind. mille grazie Ms. Ester Lquori

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