Whether you just started your journey toward a graphic design degree or you’re already approaching the finish line, it’s never too early to start thinking about your graphic design portfolio.
Graphic design is a visual industry, and your portfolio speaks volumes about your skills.
With such high emphasis placed on your portfolio, it’s definitely worth investing extra time into making it unforgettable. After all, a great portfolio can translate into an invitation for an interview.
We gathered some advice from design hiring managers to help answer five common questions regarding graphic design portfolios.
Question 1: What types of work should I include in my portfolio?
Quick Answer: Include a variety of work that is relevant to the position.
When deciding which pieces to include in your portfolio, all of the hiring managers we spoke to agreed that you should include a variety of work to highlight your adaptability.
All it takes is one piece to catch a manager’s eye and result in an interview, says Deedee Mueller, creative director for the online printing company Next Day Flyers.
It’s also important to be familiar with the specifications of the job you’re seeking, according to Shani Sandy, creative director at S&P Capital IQ in New York City.
She explains that if she’s seeking an interactive designer and the portfolio includes only printed pieces, she immediately eliminates the candidate for wasting her time.
Question 2: How many portfolio pieces should I include?
Quick Answer: Focus on quality, not quantity.
After you’ve chosen which pieces to include in your portfolio, you’ve got to narrow it down to the best of the best. It’s a matter of choosing quality over quantity when it comes to your graphic design portfolio, Sandy says.
She explains that it’s better to highlight five well-designed, targeted pieces than 15 unrelated ones. You should also be prepared to speak eloquently about your work and why you made the decisions you did.
“Too many ‘designers’ are not designers at all, but rather what I call ‘digital technicians,’” says Bruce Mishkin of Pinpoint Mobile. He describes these as people who know their way around graphic design software but possess little design sense.
So be sure you are confident in sharing your thoughts—both abstract and technical—about your work in order to highlight your understanding of design principles.
Question 3: What if I don’t have many samples yet?
Quick Answer: It’s OK! Use real-world examples and explain your creative process.
First and foremost, Chanelle Henry urges recent grads to avoid including school projects in their portfolios. She says that in her experience, many hiring managers will give little credit to a piece of work that wasn’t executed in a “real-world setting.”
This is one of the main reasons it’s important for students to gain hands-on experience, whether it’s through internships or volunteer work.
As a graphic design student or recent grad, you may worry that you haven’t yet acquired enough examples to bulk up your portfolio. But rest assured, this doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t qualified for a position, according to Deedee Mueller.
In Mueller’s opinion, a recent graduate can compensate for a limited amount of content by adding a description of the thought process they used, including successful strategies and obstacles they overcame. She also recommends including some sketches or notes that helped you come to your finished product.
“A great portfolio is ideal,” says Mueller. “But sometimes one excellent case study is enough to land an interview.”
Question 4: What format should I use for my portfolio?
Quick Answer: Create a digital version, but be prepared to show physical examples.
Many designers struggle with whether to use digital or print format in their portfolio. According to the experts, the answer isn’t black and white.
In fact, the professionals with whom we spoke made it clear that the content of your portfolio carries more weight than the format in which it’s displayed.
“If you are a great designer, it will translate in any medium or format,” says Sandy.
When pressed, our experts agreed that format is dependent on the position itself. They said that while a digital portfolio is indispensable, there are instances in which providing printed collateral makes all the difference.
For example, if you’re applying for a position to design brochures or business cards, you’d better be prepared to show some physical examples of your work, says Tyler Byrd, president of the digital media marketing firm Red Rokk Interactive.
He adds that it’s important to prove you understand how a design translates into a finished product. This shows him that you know how to get from Point A to Point B.
Question 5: What are the final steps to finishing my portfolio?
Quick Answer: Get a second pair of eyes on your work.
Just because you’ve assembled your portfolio, it doesn’t mean your work is complete. One of the most common mistakes Sandy encounters in a graphic design portfolio is a lack of editing.
Not only should you be editing for grammar and quality of work, but you should also be sure your portfolio is presented in a logical order. Hiring managers are busy and need to be able to move through your work quickly, so organization is key, Sandy says.
No matter how great you think your portfolio is, a second pair of eyes is priceless, according to Mueller. Honest feedback—whether it comes from a professor or peer—is invaluable before presenting your portfolio to a potential employer.
A Final Word
Hopefully this advice from design hiring managers has provided you with a better understanding of how to maximize the impact of your graphic design portfolio.
After you’ve chosen the right format and selected the best examples of your work, feel free to add some imagination and originality to your portfolio. Browsing the graphic design portfolios of other professionals can give you some great ideas and inspiration.
Do you have any other questions regarding your graphic design portfolio? Send us your questions in the comment box below!