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Create the Portfolio for the Job You Want


Too many design portfolios settle for a slideshow of old projects. Create a portfolio that expresses who you really are and gets you hired

When looking for a job, we sometimes find ourselves getting caught up with job boards, stressing about interviews, and asking ourselves big life questions – nine to five or freelance? Small studio or corporate? And in some cases – am I even any good? With so many things on our plate, we sometimes forget that design is all about the presentation. The way we present ourselves – not just our individual projects, but who we are as job candidates and designers – makes a difference, and it’s up to us to shape the story that we choose to tell. A key element in this process is, naturally, building your design portfolio. Creating a strong portfolio is an important task that, when approached correctly, can present you and your skills at their very best. Here’s what you need to consider in order to convey a cohesive message with your design portfolio – and nail that job you really wanted.

Be your own client

Before getting into any of the actual designing, take the time to think about what it is that you want to get out of your portfolio. Since you’re both the designer and the client in this project, start by doing what clients do best: write down your own brief, to ensure that you get started on the right path.

Answer these two questions in your portfolio brief:

– What job are you aiming for?

Once you know what your dream job is, you can create your portfolio accordingly. This will make you stand out as not only a skilled designer but also as a professional with specialties and personal passions.

– What story do you wish to tell?

Research A good portfolio needs to have all of the elements that you’d keep in mind for any other design project. That includes hierarchy, cohesiveness and navigation, yes, but also – good storytelling. Decide on a voice that is your own, and your design decisions will follow.

Let’s see how these two questions can apply to the actual design by examining two very different art direction portfolio websites, one by Peter Tarka and the other by Michael Burk. While both are art directors’ websites, notice how they each present a wildly different design approach. Peter showcases beautiful 3D art, while Michael focuses largely on photography and collage work. The moment you enter each of their portfolios, you immediately get a feel for their character, their specialties and what it is that they do. This is achieved by a unified and coherent presentation.

Art director and illustrator Peter Tarka's portfolio

As for the story that unfolds in each of their portfolios – the differences are even vaster. While Peter’s voice is sleek, refined, fun and bold, Michael’s tone is nothing like it. It’s mischievously dynamic, shameless, and wonderfully edgy. Looking at these two portfolios, it’s easy to see how pinning down a unique tone of voice can help you form a portfolio that’s to the point and is a better reflection of your style and personality as a designer.

Art director and designer Michael Burk's portfolio

2. Be your own curator

After having decided on the kind of portfolio that you want for yourself, picking out the projects to include in your portfolio should become a much easier task – especially if you know the nature of the positions you’re applying for. There’s no point showcasing only amazing print work if you’re applying for a job in UX. Alternatively, a very artsy piece wouldn’t add to the story that a commercial-oriented portfolio is trying to tell.

Look back at your different creations, and try to be as objective as you can in determining what combination of works would be the most accurate response to your brief. Don’t pick too many, or too little – a good amount would be six to ten projects. Once you’ve made your pick, look at them all together and see if they align well with the story that you’re aiming to tell.

3. Be your own editor

Once you’ve selected the sharpest projects of yours, it’s important to remember that you’re not confined to your own work, but are free to play around with it. In fact, making each project more tailored to your portfolio will only make your work shine. Dig back into old folders saved on your hard drive, shake the dust off of ancient files and make adjustments in any way you like. Create stylish photoshoots and striking mockups that show your work at its very best. Extract the right elements out of each project and mix and match in a way that contributes to your storytelling.

To test this, let’s experiment with a template. Originally, the template showcases a fictional sea salt company’s identity branding. So let’s say this was one of your past projects, which you did a great job with and want to highlight in your portfolio. But what if you’re not applying to a branding position, but a web design or art direction job? We believe it’s all in the way you present your project:

– Branding:

If it is a branding position that you’re going for – great! Highlight the visual language you crafted for this project, the typographical system, brand colors and beautiful logo, in a brand-book inspired layout.

Business card and branding design

– Web design:

For a web design position, stick to the same visual language but use it to tell a different story altogether. In this case, put your emphasis on the web design aspect of your branding. While you’re still using the same logo, typefaces and colors, draw viewers’ attention to the UX/UI of your webpage and to the way this (fictional) brand can take pride in a solid online presence. You might want to show your website on different devices, break the design down to its wireframes, or even highlight a specific button design.

– Art direction:

In case you’re looking to become an art director, it could be a good idea to take your branded packaging out for a photoshoot. You have the goods – now put them in context and create a set that gets us in the right mood. Your packaging could star in a relaxing wellness spa day, or look glamorous in a fashion shoot. Telling a convincing story, after all, is all about the presentation.

Product photography and branding

4. Be your own designer

And now for the fun part! Bring it all together with a beautiful website design, that maintains the same tone of voice and narrative that you refined earlier on. Keep an eye out for good web design inspiration, think about UX and UI, add design features, and above all, make it your own.

Ready to craft the portfolio of your dreams? Tell the world who you really are with a fresh new portfolio website.



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