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Tips to Level Up Your Design Portfolio

Designers create many beautiful products throughout the course of their careers. When you invest your time and creativity into a project, it’s so tempting to automatically include it in your portfolio. You’re proud of the design, whether it’s elegant and intricate or bold and dramatic, and you want to share all of your best work.

However, just because you’ve created a beautiful design doesn’t mean that it automatically should be included in your portfolio. For a work to make the final cut and be included in your design portfolio, it needs to meet several key criteria. To find out whether a design is the right piece to be included in your portfolio, follow these steps.

  • Have an honest conversation with yourself
  • Ask for feedback both outside and inside our design circle
  • Set and follow high standards, and show your process

By keeping an open mind and following these steps, you’ll be able to improve your design portfolio.

Step 1: Have an Honest Conversation with Yourself

You need to ask yourself these questions: what do I want? What am I great at? What should I really show? What should I leave out?

These are simple-sounding questions, but take your time in answering them. Consider them from the short-term and the long-term perspective. What are your ultimate goals, and how will including this design help you reach them?

Sometimes, what we’re great at isn’t the same as what we want to do. If you’re focused on your short-term goals, ask yourself if there’s a certain type of work that you’re great at now and that you could do more of to establish your reputation as a designer.

Think about what you should really show. Maybe that super-niche project you created for a client turned out great, but will other potential clients be able to understand how your skills in that niche project translate to more typical projects? If it doesn’t really show what you need it to, the design should be left out of your portfolio.

Step 2: Ask Outside Your Design Circle

Although the design world is a tight-knit place, it’s not always the best place to ask for opinions on your portfolio. Go the extra mile and find someone who regularly recruits designers. Ask them to look at your portfolio and give their opinion.

It’s also a good idea to ask people outside of the design world for their opinion. Think about showing your portfolio to someone with a background in a completely different field. They might not know much about design, but they could have some insights to share about how your work flows together and what message they’re receiving when they look through your portfolio.

Finally, your portfolio should be cohesive enough that someone with little knowledge can see how it works together. If it’s scattered and the direction is vague, then your potential clients will be confused about your abilities and your work.

Step 3: Ask Inside Your Design Circle

While it’s a good idea to solicit outside opinions, it’s also a smart move to consult the experts. Find design experts who you trust and ask them to grade your projects on the basis of needing improvement, solid, and fantastic. Using a system like this will help make the conversation less awkward and reduce the expert’s fear of offending you. Once you have an idea of what someone with experience thinks, you can use that feedback to shape your portfolio.

Step 4: Set High Design Standards and Follow Them

You have high standards for yourself and you should have high standards for your portfolio, too. First, think about what those standards are – for your style, approach, signature, etc. Then look for the work where your style comes through the strongest or where your approach to the project is the best. Include those pieces in your portfolio.

Step 5: Choose Pieces for Your Future

One criterion that you should keep at the forefront of your mind when you’re cultivating your portfolio is this: what kind of work do you want more of? Take your time when answering this question, and again, think about it in terms of your short and long-term goals.

When you have your answer, make sure that your portfolio only, or most prominently, includes that type of work. This will help potential clients understand what you’re looking for and what you bring to the table.

Step 6: Reveal Your Process

Many drafts and sketches go into most design projects. Save those files! When it’s time to apply for a job or bid on a project that you love, you can include those images in your portfolio to show the client the “why” behind your “what.” That way, the viewer can understand your creative process more and determine what it might be like to work with you.

Cultivating the Ultimate Design Portfolio

By being honest with yourself, seeking different types of feedback, thinking about your future and sharing your process, you can cultivate a strong portfolio that’s representative of who you are and where you want to go. You create many gorgeous designs throughout your career, but only the very best and the most appropriate should make it through to your portfolio.


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