So, You Need a Portfolio…
You’re talented, capable and reliable and your clients get a stellar service every time they hire you. So, what’s next? The short answer is this: unless you intend to tread water in your design career, you need to show the world what you can do.
Enter the portfolio. A kickass graphic design portfolio promotes your skill set, helping you reach new customers. There are various ways to create a portfolio—some designers create minimalist portfolio websites, whereas others tack their portfolios onto existing professional sites. Still others send out printed project collections on spec. The following best practices can help you generate a really exciting portfolio that your prospective clients will love.
Gather Your Best Projects
Take a look at your existing body of work and try to eliminate projects that fall short. Resist the temptation to include everything you’ve ever created: instead, try to imagine where you want your artistic career to go and pick out the projects you think really show off your talents. Some creatives choose to include just a few works in their portfolios, while others create a pretty comprehensive lineup. The number of projects in your portfolio will probably fall somewhere between those two extremes.
You’re one of many creative professionals out there. If you have a large number of potential projects lined up in front of you, pare out run-of-the-mill and go with unique instead. If you intend to compete against the best in the business, you need to bring original thought to the table along with skill. So, no modified WordPress themes, cookie-cutter poster designs or template-centric web pages. Remember to include any award-winning projects, too.
Some designers have one particular specialty: illustration or website design, for example. That’s okay—if you feel comfortable in your niche, stick to it. Most designers venture out of their enclaves at least a little bit, however, and if that describes you, don’t be afraid to include a variety of different creative projects in your portfolio. Many clients like to hire creatives with broad skillsets, so feel free to craft a cohesive collection of great pieces in various digital disciplines.
If you’re a print designer, this is a perfect opportunity to show off what you can do. As well as an online portfolio, put together a printed brochure you can give to potential clients at initial meetings. Heavyweight paper and cardstock with a satin sheen look great and give prospective customers a tangible impression of your design skills. Some designers go even further, creative full-scale portfolio magazines or unique works of art based on previous projects.
Always Choose High Resolution
Never create your portfolio in anything less than high resolution. Sure, it’ll take up a bit more space on your server and full-scale images will load more slowly, but there are creative ways to conquer both of those challenges. High resolution images showcase your work in a way that standard resolution images simply can’t. They also allow possible clients to download and print proofs, so that they can gauge what you’re capable of.
Keep Your Portfolio Current
Those projects you were so proud of five years ago? Maybe you’re not that proud of them anymore. Perhaps they’re a bit dated, or maybe your skill set has expanded since then. Either way, it’s vital to keep your portfolio up to date. With that in mind, cut out anything three years old or older (unless it’s absolutely mind-blowing). Adding dates to projects ensures that prospects know you’re still working as a graphic designer and that other people hire you regularly. That makes you desirable—and you certainly want to be desirable.
Flow is Everything
Once you’ve figure out your final lineup, try to imagine how they’ll look on your website and what order you’ll place them in. Like other graphics projects, portfolios are all about flow, and one piece needs to segue nicely into the next. Look at color and design style as you decide upon arrangement and don’t be afraid to put logos next to print designs. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
Take Photos of Physical Objects
If you regularly create physical objects for clients—printed brochures, jewelry items, tote bags and so forth—include a photograph of the item along with its design document. Doing this shows potential clients your understanding of the creative process, from concept through prototype. You can use your pro-quality camera, hire a professional photographer or snap a picture with your iPhone: it’s up to you, and may depend upon your budget.
Include Your Own Projects
Self-start projects (and advanced doodles) pack as much clout in your portfolio as paid client projects. If you regularly conjure your own ideas, include some of your best concepts to add variety to your lineup. That awesome font you came up with? Put it in. That poster you made on a whim? Include it. Most clients appreciate designers who think outside the box, so this is an ideal opportunity to show them how interesting you are.
Last but certainly not least, a note about notes. Some projects explain themselves, but most benefit from at least a little commentary. In your note, mention the client, list the skills you used to create the design and tell the reader how the client ended up using your project. If other people were involved, don’t forget to give them credit. Written client testimonials make a great final touch.
No two portfolios are the same, and you may need to tweak some of the tips above to make your body of work stand out. That’s okay. Don’t be afraid to carve a little time out of each workday to turn your best projects into a collection you can feel genuinely proud of. When complete, your kickass graphic design portfolio becomes a tool you can use to expand your client base and further your artistic career.