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How to make your web design portfolio stand out, according to top creative directors

Tips you can use right now to make your digital design portfolio stand out, according to art directors at three top agencies.

Illustration by Anita Goldstein.

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3 min read

If you’re looking for a new digital design gig right now—whether that’s a new role, career advancement, or to test your skills in a new city—first off, yes, it's a headache. But it’s also a great time to be doing so. It’s a job seeker’s world, and we’re just living in it.

So how exactly do you make your portfolio stand out among other talented designers going for their dream gig? We decided to get advice from the source, and went straight to the decision makers on the other side of the table.

“The reality is portfolios are judged quickly,” says Joe Stewart, a co-founder and design partner at Work & Co. That means designers in hiring positions need to be able to assess your talent fast. Stewart, along with Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv partner Sagi Haviv, which most recently rebranded Warner Bros. Discovery, and Sunday Afternoon partner Rich Tu, tell us how.

Images 1-3: Portfolios from the Wix Playground 2022 cohort.

1. Just show the work

We don't want flashy gimmicks. Show a few key screens of the work in a straightforward and digestible way. If you can show prototypes of your work, that’s even better. Live links? - that's the ideal. — Joe Stewart, co-founder and a design partner at Work & Co

2. Only show your best work

You don't need 20 projects. Put your best 5-6 pieces in your portfolio. If you have 2 great pieces, show 2. Less great pieces are better than more so-so. — JS

3. Cut the copy

Designers don't like to read design portfolios. We look at the work, see what you did, and then look at the next piece—no need to write your whole life story. There’s this trend of creating these long pages with tons of text and photos of post-it notes, but in reality, nobody will read it, and usually, people do this to obfuscate low-quality work by trying to make up for it with "process." — JS

Images 1-3: Portfolios from the Wix Playground 2022 cohort.

4. Show the type of work you want to do

People will hire you to do more of the work in your portfolio. Are you trying to do more product design? Show product. Are you trying to do more marketing? Show marketing. Your portfolio will influence your career, so consider what you show carefully. — JS

5. Be honest

Don't exaggerate your work, role, skills, or anything else. We're trying to get a sense of who you are and your skills. Make it clear what your contribution to the project was, even if it's small - that's ok. — JS

6. Start with functionality, then push boundaries

In web design, like in every design discipline, the ones that will stand out are those that push the boundaries. Functionality is the bar to clear, and there are many web designers who can execute a functional, adequate website. But the best web design engages us beyond the utilitarian—based in an overarching idea, it innovates our user experience and delights our eyes. — Sagi Haviv, partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv

"The best web design engages us beyond the utilitarian— it innovates our user experience and delights our eyes." — Sagi Haviv, partner at CGH

7. Show less devices, and lean into aspect ratios

If you want a sure-way to look like a Web2 boomer, then place your content in flat device frames and inevitably have to change it the next time Apple decides to include a brand new notch. Placing your content in aspect ratios to imply product (9x16, 4x6, 1x1) gives your work longer legs. — Rich Tu, group creative director at Jones Knowles Ritchie

Images 1-3: Portfolios from the Wix Playground 2022 cohort.

8. Don’t include buzzy language just to include it

Metaverse, NFTs, and Web3 are buzzy words in 2022 and their actual real-world implications will evolve. For those of us who monitor the space, including these terms in a shallow way are tell-tale signs of disingenuous-ness. Don’t feel the need to embellish if there’s more smoke than fire (or maybe don’t include the project). — RT

9. Show how content can thrive in the environment you’re creating

Digital products and experiences are at their best when you’re actually in them, and experiencing them first-hand. If the product you’re showing was campaign-based or ephemeral, use visuals that simulate the energy of the experience and not just static landing pages. Data rich environments make good eye candy, and lean into that. — RT

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