Curate your Work: How to Build an Outstanding Graphic Design Portfolio

What is it that makes one portfolio stand out from the mountain of others in this highly competitive profession? The most talented graphic designers with the most innovative ideas, risk going unnoticed without a carefully curated portfolio. When preparing a portfolio, graphic designers need to begin as though approaching a new design project. The portfolio is not simply a repository of your work, it needs to tell a story, a story about the graphic designer as well as the work you are presenting.

Think about what makes your work unique and personal to you. Then look at the skills you are most proud of and the variety of work you have to offer. Using your unique creative vision, create a narrative that runs through the entire portfolio and showcases all of these attributes. It is a visual diary of your graphic design journey so far. This is your doorway to new opportunities and your calling card for prospective work. Show it the same love you have shown each individual piece you are placing inside it.

The Value of a Solid Graphic Design Portfolio

Because a portfolio is generally the only way a potential client can judge a designer's work, it needs to display a variety of skills and styles where possible. It’s impossible to know what a client is looking for, so a portfolio with a range of options will communicate to a potential client that this graphic designer is flexible in their creativity and can adapt to any brief. While it’s important to create a sense of cohesion in the flow of the chosen work, a designer must also demonstrate their technical skills, their creative approach and how they strategically manage design solutions. After all, graphic design is primarily a problem solving endeavour that entails great creative skills.

Think of your portfolio as a creative diary. It is your design identity and needs to showcase you as a person. Don’t be afraid to include something a little unorthodox or leftfield; if this is your artistic language, then use it. Artists express themselves through their creativity and creatives in general will have a philosophy or ethos by which they live. This is your opportunity to share your viewpoint and to express your unique perspective on the world. This could be the very thing to make you stand out from other designers.

While a portfolio is a carefully selected collection of creative work, it is also a tool to gain employment. Versatility is the golden egg of design and a strong portfolio will showcase this. It is evidence that you can manage a variety of design jobs, while also demonstrating your range of skills and abilities as a designer. Clients and companies need designers who can adapt and adjust and think on their feet. A willingness to try different things and to be open to novel approaches is a key asset in the professional world.

Pay close attention to detail as well as the overall appearance of your portfolio. It is not just the content that is judged by employers and clients, it is the whole portfolio and how you present it. A polished and professional portfolio communicates your dedication to excellence and shows professionalism and precision. Showing your ability to manage design projects effectively and with care will instil trust and confidence in potential clients and employers.

Identifying the Target Audience for Your Portfolio

A graphic designer may have more than one portfolio with different selections of work curated for different audiences. A well-targeted portfolio guarantees that your work is in line with your professional objectives and appeals to the clients or companies you want to attract.

Before you begin selecting your work and curating your portfolio, you must first establish your target audience. Research and investigate the firms or clientele that you want to attract and include projects that correspond to their industry, interests, or design aesthetics.

Are you targeting an audience specifically for branding, web design, graphics, packaging, or perhaps user interface (UI) design? Break it down and identify the best examples of your work to showcase your specific skills.

Tailor your portfolio to appeal to the people you want to reach but don’t be afraid to also include a little something different, just to let the viewer know that you can in fact turn your hand to other areas of design. 

Choosing Your Best Work

A good portfolio places an emphasis on quality above quantity. Select projects or pieces that demonstrate your skills, your imaginative approach and an aptitude to solve real-world design difficulties.

As previously covered, show your versatility as a designer by including a variety of mediums and genres. Branding, website designs, print, packaging, social media visuals, and any other relevant work should be highlighted. This also spills into your selection of triumphs. Create a case study for example. This is an opportunity to describe the difficulties you encountered, the design process you used, and how your solutions resulted in a happy client

A portfolio also requires constant maintenance. It needs to remain fresh and relevant which means updating it regularly and adding recent work.  Regardless of how you feel about an old project, it is important to be objective and remove projects that are no longer relevant to your current level of competence or design style.

Portfolio Presentation

Presenting the portfolio is as important as curating it so it's important to be mindful of the approach you plan to take. The portfolio should be visually appealing, professionally organised and you need to be well versed in the what, why and how of the contents. The client wants to feel your confidence when you explain the reasoning behind every design choice and why you chose the examples that are in the portfolio.

Introduce yourself and your work with some information on your design background and your design philosophy. Show your passion for the craft and express what it is that makes you different from your competitors.

When presenting your portfolio, you will bring the audience on a journey with you which is where the value of a carefully arranged narrative is vital. You want to engage your audience and lead them through your work.

You could group it by genre (e.g., branding, web design, illustration) or industry (e.g., healthcare, fashion, technology) or perhaps arrange it in a chronological order of your design path.

Make sure everything is clean, high- quality and perfectly aligned. Use high-resolution photos and consider using captions and explanations to provide context and insights into your creative process.

The Digital Portfolio

Digital portfolios are a very common means to present graphic design work and an online presence can give you that additional edge to get you noticed. When developing your digital portfolio, make sure to allow for responsive design so it is easily accessible on a variety of platforms including computers, phones and tablets. Viewers will expect consistency in the UX to keep them engaged and interested.

Also include an “About Me” page that provides visitors with information about your background, expertise, and design journey. Share your design philosophy, your accomplishments, and feel free to brag about any relevant awards or honours. Whether or not you place value on winning an award, the approval you have received from your peers can be impressive to a potential employer. And finally, it may seem obvious but, do not forget to include your contact information. And keep it simple. A simple method of contacting you can lead to potential design projects and collaborations.

Whether you're a seasoned professional and are updating your portfolio or you are a recent graduate striving to break into the business, our advice comes from the experts and will help you to develop a portfolio that stands out in the crowd.  As you journey through your path of graphic design discovery, we urge you to explore our expert-led graphic design courses which have been rigorously designed to sharpen your talents and expand your portfolio.

Designers will put their heart and soul into their portfolio so why not learn how to give it your best?

If you haven't already begun your graphic design adventure, now is the time to get started by enrolling in our graphic design courses! Allow us to guide you in developing your craft and creating your own unique graphic designs that will set you apart as a design professional.

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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