16 Tips to Improve Your Design Portfolio & Get Hired


Self-promo work by Claudia Lara

To increase the chances of getting graphic design internships and jobs, we have to first know what potential employers are looking for. In order to help improve your design portfolio, I asked 16 designers who are well known in their field, the question “What makes a great design portfolio?


The response I received was great; each and every advice given was truly beneficial.



1. A great design portfolio is one that is curated to the specific needs of the designer and presented in a way that communicates the message you are trying to convey.


For example, if you are designer focused on branding and identity, you would show more of these pieces making them the focus of the portfolio, while also curating what actual pieces go into the portfolio, presenting only your best work.


– Jacob Cass, JustCreative.com


2. One that shares details of the design brief as opposed to showing a few images in isolation.


Generally web usability is important (navigation, legibility, etc.). Work that’s appropriate, distinctive, and emotive helps, too. Here’s an old post from my website that might help: http://www.davidairey.com/advice-for-online-graphic-design-portfolios. It’s from 2008, but much of the advice still holds up.


– David Airey, DavidAirey.com


3. Design portfolios usually display samples of work as an individual image, but to really showcase your skills and knowledge of design it’s wise to include at least one full case study.


Explaining the thought processes behind the project and describing why you’ve created the design in a certain way reinforces your work and proves it’s much more than just a pretty picture. This also gives potential client an insight into how projects will run and adds value to your work; They now realize why you’re charging £XXX and can see how much work is involved behind the scenes.


– Chris Spooner, SpoonGraphics.co.uk


4. Passion and ideas: without those any portfolio is empty, even if it’s full.


– Craig Ward, WordsArePictures.co.uk


5. A great design portfolio contains only your very best work. It’s better to have a small portfolio composed of a few of your cream-of-the-crop pieces rather than a big portfolio containing a lot of your mediocre work. 


In addition, choose pieces that can be good talking points during an interview. If you have an interesting project that you’ve worked on and that you’re proud of, include it in your portfolio and practice talking about it with a friend.


– Jacob Gube, SixRevisions.com


6. The most important aspect of a design portfolio when you’re starting out is to hone in on one particular specialty.


There is a tendency, which I was guilty of at first, to put everything you’ve ever done in there to try to persuade people you can turn your hand to anything in an attempt to get work. What you end up with is a splatter gun effect of contrasting styles that gives the viewer no idea of what you’re about.


– Rob Cubbon, RobCubbon.com


7. A common mistake that I see with design portfolios is that they’re not typically created with the audience in mind. 


I would create more than one portfolio; each targeted at a specific type of audience. Think about what each audience values the most and highlight those areas in your portfolio. Forget about showing range and flexibility (unless that’s what your audience specifically wants) and laser focus on the type of presentation that appeals to each group. Consider adding text explaining the project background or business results for a more business-oriented audience.


– Ruben Gamez, BidSketch.com


8. I think what makes a great design portfolio is originality (of ideas and execution), consistency and versatility.


I like to see work that is aware of current trends but not slavishly following them and I always like to be surprised.


– Rob Alderson, ItsNiceThat.com


9. One that makes you go WOW! COR! OOH! AAH! UMM? EEK!


Focus on the outcome – making people react – and the best will follow.


– Chris Arnold, CreativeOrchestra.com


10. For me, a great portfolio shows diversity!


In this day and age where clients come in all shapes and sizes and briefs are ever-changing, having a versatile toolset is a godsend and will give you a good position to cover all bases and make you look more attractive to employers (but I’m sure you’re all sexy enough, a varied portfolio will make you even more sexy).


Show your best work, but don’t worry about how it was created – it may have been a spur of the moment fling of design at 4am, but if it looks good, then include it, if it doesn’t look good, then don’t. You’re only as good as your last piece of work, so keep quality consistent and coherent in your portfolio! Above all though, work hard and be nice, those 2 things will do more for you than any design portfolio can ever do.


– Gavin Strange, Jam-Factory.com


11. A good portfolio is one that lets the work speak for itself. I’m a fan of ‘quality over quantity’ – the best projects should be shown to their full potential and if you’re not proud of a piece of work, it’s not worth putting it in.


If it is a piece of printed work, get it photographed and explain the context of the work – it’s worth the work looking the best it possibly can! Overall, it is professional, easy to navigate and read, confident and most of all represents you as a designer.


– Hannah Dollery, HannahDollery.com


12. There are different strategies around curation — occasionally someone can pull off an activity stream as a portfolio — but I prefer careful curation.


I suggest showing only the best and most relevant work (something which I need to continue working on). Sometimes we can become attached to a project for the wrong reasons and it can weaken the entire collection. Ask your friends to help keep you in check.

For students, it’s also great to try incorporating at least 1 or 2 real world projects — so it’s not all conceptual stuff and classroom mockups. See if you can do a real world project for someone in your network — even if it’s for a small business or a friend’s band. i really like to see how someone works with real world constraints.


Lastly, show or speak to your process. It’s great to have context on how the project came to life and understand the thinking that went into it (but, naturally, don’t write a novel for each project — a couple paragraphs will do). Sometimes the process is more compelling than the outcome.


– Ben Hulse, BenHulse.com


13. A design portfolio should not only elegantly display your work; it should also include your thinking behind said work. 


Being capable of explaining your reasoning behind design decisions is the best indicator of your skills and expertise.


– Tyler Galpin, Galp.in


13. The way I see it is that your work is a piece of art and your portfolio is the gallery so treat it that way. 


The four main areas I consider are format, order, pace, and layout. I always aim for 6-8 projects that vary in brief and outcome and it’s always nice to balance this with a self-initiated project.


When thinking about pace, try and start on a good project and finish on a great one. It’s always best to finish on a high.


With layout, use negative space like it’s your best friend. Look outside your artwork to see how it sits on the page and look at the spread as a whole.


Don’t be restrictive on your format too. I think many designers believe that you should house all your work in a black, leather-bound portfolio. This is not always the case. For example, you could design your own perfect-bound book, which you could leave with every agency you visit. Almost like a souvenir.


Above all else, spell check your work. It’s imperative that your grammar and punctuation is at a premium. If you don’t, it only highlights your lack of attention to detail and it will trip you up in interviews.


 – Christopher Jennings, Christopher-Jennings.co.uk


14. Something unique and maybe even entertaining that shows your personality always helps break up the monotony for people that have to look through piles of portfolios every day.


Just try not to cross the line into “gimmicky” territory.


The most important thing though is that you never settle for “good enough” on any project included in the portfolio, perfectionism always shows in the work and the work is the most important part of the portfolio.


– Richard E Roche, CastIronDesign.com


15. You must to be selective, show projects that are awesome instead of just OK.


Share the backstory and show the process, from the beginning. Keep your portfolio website as minimal as you can, let the work speak for itself.


– Charlx Alemany, VisualBoxSite.com


16. A great design portfolio, be it online or print, should be a showcase of only the best work; not half-finished work, not B-sides. 


It should contain the work you are most proud of. It is never completed, and will be updated as newer and better work comes along. For a student’s portfolio, it should have a variety of different (but best) works, as your first employer will be looking at your potential for growth.


Never fear that your best works are not quite up to standard. In my opinion, your attitude and eagerness to learn will be more important than the portfolio itself.


In short, a student’s portfolio should showcase what you can do, not just what you’ve done.


– Jun, buro.ufho.com

Will you use this advice to get your graphic design internships?

Hopefully these tips will be a stepping stone for getting your graphic design internships or job. Now the only thing left for you to do is take this advice onboard and work on your portfolio.

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