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How to Make Your Portfolio the Best It Can Be

03 May 2017
Freelance Survival

How to Make Your Portfolio the Best It Can Be

There are probably few things more important to freelance designers than their portfolio. Without a portfolio, potential clients have no way of knowing whether they like your work or not and are therefore likely to go for someone else. However, simply throwing all your projects together won’t do you much good either. It’s easy to think that your work will speak for you but a portfolio needs to be carefully cultivated and maintained if it’s to reach its full potential. If this is all starting to sound a little daunting, don’t worry. We’ve spoken to our graphic designers and gathered some great tips on making an impressive portfolio.

1. Think about your audience.


Just like you would with a CV, you should tailor your portfolio to the job. If you’re not applying for a specific job, think about what kind of employers or clients you’d like to attract. Once you’ve figured that out, you can start to choose which pieces to include. Ask yourself questions like, what skills would they like to see? What type of projects might they ask you for? Have you worked for people like them before? Then take a look at what examples you have and be brutally selective about which pieces are needed and which are not. Route 1 Print Graphic Designer, James, says. “It can be tempting to put in everything you’ve ever done but I think it’s better to show that you’re excellent in the area you’re applying for rather than looking like a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’”.

2. If you have a skill gap, fill it.


Not everything within your portfolio needs to be for an employer. It’s okay to include projects that you’ve done for yourself as well. This way, you don’t have to wait for a client to come along in order to fill the skill gaps within your portfolio, you can get on with filling them yourself. If you feel that you have a relevant skill but don’t have any work to prove it, there’s nothing to stop you starting your own project to show off that skill.

3. Create a flow within your portfolio


When selecting which work to include, as well as thinking about what your future employers might be looking for, you should also try to bear in mind how the final pieces work together. Think about how you would present this portfolio to a client and how you’d move on from one project to the next. “Start off with your favourite piece.” Suggests Route 1 Print Graphic Designer, Jennie, “Showing off something you’re really proud of will boost your confidence and get you in the mood for talking about it. Then show a strong, technically sound piece at the end to leave a lasting impression.” Finally, on an aesthetic level, are the colours and shapes you used cohesive? It’s not just your clients who need to think about creating a brand image.

4. Show your decision making.


You’re not always going to be in the room when a potential client is looking through your portfolio, especially if it’s an online portfolio. For that reason, it can be really useful to include some context behind your various projects and explain how you came to the final design. Employers want to see that you can work to a brief, so telling them the story behind your artwork allows them to appreciate how successful a piece is. What’s more, if a client didn’t pick your favourite design in the end, showing all the options you provided to them still allows you to include your favourite in your portfolio.

5. Make your platform part of your portfolio.


Route 1 Print Graphic Designer, Jennie, reminds you that “Potential employers are looking at everything, from the way you display your work, to the quality of the paper.” So make sure that every aspect of your presentation is something you’d be proud of. If you have an online portfolio, use it as an opportunity to show off your web design skills. If you have a physical portfolio, use it to show off your print design skills. Think about how you photograph your artwork as well. Presenting your work within the context it would be used in adds life and makes it easier for employers to imagine how they’d use it themselves. If photography isn’t your forte, why not try and barter with a professional photographer and get yourself some more work while you’re at it?

6. Keep things user-friendly.

As much as you want to make your portfolio different and exciting, don’t overcomplicate it to the point that it becomes difficult to navigate. This is particularly important for online portfolios but there are things you can do to make your physical portfolio user-friendly too. Ensure that each page is numbered and provide a contents page so that employers can quickly refer back to a piece they found interesting. Crucially though, for both online and physical portfolios, you must make sure that your contact details can be easily found. What good is an amazing portfolio if employers can’t get in touch to hire you? Plus, you’re proving to them that you can design with customers in mind which is exactly what they need.

7. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself.


Selling yourself can be one of the hardest things to do. Nobody wants to sound cocky but if you want to get noticed, you need to learn how to show that you’re proud of your own work. One thing you can do that still allows you to be relatively modest is including some testimonials and a list of any awards you’ve been presented with. You can also share your online portfolio on social media platforms. Not all of your promotion has to be directly related to you portfolio either. You could post images or films of work in progress on Instagram and YouTube. Or, you could set up a blog and talk about what’s new in the design industry alongside your thoughts on it all.


When was the last time you revised your design portfolio? Hopefully these tips will make the task of updating your portfolio a little less overwhelming. If you still need some help with that last point though, you can always read our 10 Self-Promotion Tips for Freelance Designers.


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