Portfolio advice

We are more likely to remember a beautiful image than a spoken word, so it’s crucial that you carefully consider what goes into your portfolio. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just graduated or are an experienced creative looking for the next step, taking the time to create a beautiful portfolio, will help rather than hinder.

The majority of decision-makers will initially want to view your portfolio prior to meeting you, so it makes sense to put a good amount of effort into creating a well balanced one.  The aim of a portfolio is to engage someone & make them sit up and take notice which can be a subtle tweak on a font or logo, or something more emotive such as full re-brand.  It needs to demonstrate and showcase your skills, strengths, creativity, and ability to solve commercial problems. We must stress that there is no simple formula for making a successful application for a creative role. However, by investing time and thought into how your portfolio looks, you will hopefully enhance your chances of finding the right role.

Size & Style – We cannot stress enough how important it is to put some thought into how your work is presented. Your portfolio is an extension of you. It reflects how you think, how you work, and your entire attitude towards design & creativity.

Consider different ways of presenting your work. Throughout the years we’ve seen portfolio’s presented in many ways, although it is more common these days to see examples presented on a laptop or iPad, so it makes sense to put effort into your online work. Some creatives have now taken to producing their own website, rather than having a hyperlink to a hosting platform.  This way looks clean and sophisticated and is a great way to display your work, not to mention, give an insight into your personality.

You don’t have to possess the most ground-breaking designs in the world, you just need to present it well & demonstrate that you’ve taken the time & effort to showcase your passion.  You’ve probably heard this countless times, but first impressions do count, and this is no different for your portfolio.

Quality not quantity – Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking the more work you put into your portfolio the better it will look. Sometimes, less is more. Your portfolio should contain between 10 and 20 pieces, and no more, and it’s best to include a selection which illustrates your talent and range. A clean and stylish PDF with each page containing a different subject matter will demonstrate your ability to work on different briefs.

Not happy with the work in your portfolio? In that case, re-design something of interest that showcases where your at now. It can be as simple as changing the packaging of a product, a tweak on a logo or identity of a small business.

Balance – It’s necessary to include a variety of online and print based work, such as websites, adverts, corporate identities or packaging etc. Employers are looking for creatives who handle a range of work. They don’t want to see someone with an aptitude of working on one element of the marketing mix. Of course, there are sometimes exceptions. You may sometimes have to tailor your portfolio for the role you’re interested in.

If you’re at the early stage of your career, it’s best to show your most recent work first that demonstrates your current abilities. For senior creatives, try not to include work over five years old unless it won bag loads of awards. The work you display needs to be on trend and industry-specific.

Talking through your passion – There’s not much point in showcasing fabulous pieces of design is you lack the ability to talk through it! Rehearse talking through your work, explaining the reason behind each concept. Not everyone has the chance to work on amazing brands, but a Creative Director will be interested in how you’ve responded to a brief. Making a dry subject matter look innovative and stylish will spark conversation and leave a favourable impression. The vast majority of creatives will respect a Designer who can produce an imaginative piece of work from an uninspiring brief.

A company will always be interested in someone who can produce designs that combines logic and creativity. It’s worth including sample briefs that explain your work as it may be examined in your absence and include some clearly marked concept sketches to show your thought process.

What goes first and last – Our advice is simple: start with something you’re proud of and has relevance to the type of business you’re visiting. In short, you should capture the imagination of the person looking at your portfolio, and add work that keeps the momentum going throughout the whole book. You could also aim to open with a piece which has added value to a business; we appreciate the difficulty in including a piece like this, but if you can, do!

Finish with a piece that leaves a lasting impression, resulting in a potential employer wanting to know more about your offering.

Feedback – We appreciate that negative feedback is a bitter pill to swallow, but you shouldn’t ignore it – particularly from Senior Creatives. Be prepared to accept some criticism and discuss alternative approaches. Remember that you are there to have your work critiqued, and a willingness to learn from constructive criticism will help you in your future search for a new role.

Generally speaking, design is extremely subjective and your portfolio will not win everybody’s hearts and minds. Any feedback, positive or negative, is useful in the long run. This is especially true for less experienced Designers who are moving up the career ladder or breaking into the industry. If you’ve been invited for a second interview, give it your best shot & aim to overcome any doubts that have been raised at the first.

Always listen – You can find more information on this subject under Interview Tips, but one thing that does need mentioning is to make sure that you listen – it’s amazing how many people don’t.  A Creative Director or Head of Design is likely to be very busy, with deadlines and commitments to adhere to. Ordinarily, their time is precious so always aim to get them on side by listening to any advice they provide and may be don’t be too familiar, and may be most of all, don’t interview the interviewer.

Comments from key industry figures

 Alan Delgado, Director at Key Parker – “Whenever I see portfolios, I’m looking to see a book that tells me something unique. One that is professionally presented, and talked through with clarity and enthusiasm. I’d recommend including about 10-15 pieces, in whatever medium that shows the work off to its best. If you feel passionate about a piece of work, no matter how old it is, put it in. It shows what gets you excited, even if it didn’t win a pitch. Start and finish your book with your strongest pieces, it’s likely what you’ll be remembered by. I’d also stress the importance of bringing some sketches of how you arrived at a final solution. Don’t just show the finished pieces. This will provide an insight into your process when tackling a brief. There’s nothing worse than being told ‘this is what the client went with’ and not seeing the alternative creative that you prefer!”

Damien Howell, Creative Director at Indigo River – “I think a great book is one that tells a story of where you started and where you are now. This way it shows progression. Show scope and depth of thinking; use your scamp books to show how your mind works and the top 5 of your very best pieces highly finished. Don’t try and show everything. Show what you’re proud of and what best sells what you can do. Be proud of your book. It’s important to look after it!”

AF Selection can, and is happy to, offer one-to-one portfolio sessions to help designers taking their next step up the career ladder. Contact us if it’s something you’d like help with.