Presenting Your Portfolio

You may have just graduated in design and be gearing up to present your book for the first time, or you may be an experienced creative searching for that elusive job. In both cases, the effective presentation of your portfolio is partway towards enticing a Creative Director to make you that all-important offer. It goes without saying that we are more likely to remember a beautiful image than we are the spoken word, so it’s crucial to carefully consider what goes into your portfolio.

In this day and age, the majority of creative decision makers will initially want to view your portfolio online or look at PDFs prior to meeting you, so it makes sense to put a good amount of effort into creating an innovative online portfolio or slideshow of your work.

We do not claim to be creative gurus, and have always admired anyone who can produce sublime design that is both thought-provoking and innovative. What we can offer you, however, is some inside information from our MD who has worked in an advertising agency, and the benefit of our collective years of reviewing portfolios and liaising with senior figures in the creative industry.

We must stress at this point that there is no simple formula to making a successful application for a creative role. However, by investing time and thought into how your portfolio looks, and combining this with a passionate and enthusiastic demeanour, you will hopefully enhance your chances of finding the right role. The ultimate aim of the portfolio is to demonstrate and showcase your skills, core strengths, creative flair, and ability to solve commercial problems.

Size and Style
We cannot stress enough how important it is to put some thought into how your work is presented. Remember that your portfolio (online or print) is an extension of you, and reflects how you think, how you work, and essentially your entire attitude towards design.

Additionally, times have changed significantly since we were established, and most creative briefs we receive require candidates to be au fait with the different forms of digital design, so it makes sense to put a lot of effort and time into your online work.

Consider different ways of presenting your work – it doesn’t always have to be an A3 or A4 sized black portfolio. We’ve seen work presented on a light box – unusual, but it didn’t take long for this person to be hired. We’ve seen pieces of work laminated and carried in all sorts of different devices, which can have a dramatic effect on capturing someone’s attention. It is also more common these days to see work presented on a laptop or iPad, which looks clean and sophisticated, particularly if displayed as a slideshow. Some creatives have now taken to producing their own website, which not only displays their work, but also gives an insight into their personality.

You don’t have to possess the most ground-breaking designs in the world, but if you can take a moment to think about how you present your work, it is the first step in the right direction. You’ve probably heard this countless times, but first impressions do count, and this is no different for your work.

Quality Vs. Quantity
Do not get caught in the trap of thinking that the more work you put in your portfolio the better it will look. Less is more – it’s worth remembering that your portfolio should maintain balance and consistency, and should contain something between 10 and 20 pieces of work. A clean and stylish PDF, with each page containing a different subject matter will demonstrate your versatility and ability to work on different briefs. It is best to include an interesting selection of work that clearly illustrates your creative talent and range.

If you are not happy with the work in your portfolio, redesign something of interest to you that best illustrates your skills and abilities. It can be as simple as changing the packaging of a high street product or the identity of a small business. Ensure that you are happy with the work included in your portfolio.

We have already mentioned the term “balance” – we think it is necessary to include a variety of work, such as websites, adverts, corporate identities, packaging, POS material, etc. Be mindful that employers are looking for creatives who can handle a range of work, rather than someone with a fixed aptitude for working on one element of the communications mix. It goes without saying that the ability to work on web-based projects has become almost a requirement.

The exception to the rule here is that you may sometimes have to tailor your book to the type of business you are visiting. For example, the Creative Director of a design consultancy is unlikely to want to see numerous examples of advertisements.

For creatives who are at the early stages of their career, it is best to show your more recent work first, as it demonstrates your progress and current abilities. For more senior creatives, it’s best not to include work that is over five years old, unless it’s won a bag load of awards. The work you display needs to be on trend and industry specific.

Talking Through Your Work
There is not much point in producing a fabulous piece of design if you lack the ability to talk through it clearly and concisely. It’s not a bad idea to rehearse talking through your work with a view to explaining the reasoning behind your concepts. It is genuinely worth bearing in mind that not everyone has the chance to work on amazing brands but a client or Creative Director will be interested in hearing how you have responded to a very difficult brief with limited resources. Making a dry subject matter look stylish and innovative will spark conversation and definitely leave a favourable impression – the vast majority of creatives will respect designers who can produce an imaginative piece of work from an uninspiring brief.

A company will always be interested in someone who can produce sound design that combines logic and creativity. It is worth considering including sample briefs to explain your work, as your book may be examined in your absence. If necessary, include some clearly marked concept sketches or preliminary roughs to show your thought process.

We totally appreciate that it is very easy for us to say “don’t be nervous,” but try to remember that the person interviewing you has more than likely been through the same process as you, and as long as you show willingness and enthusiasm, it is unlikely that you will be given a rough time.

What Goes First and Last?
This is open to debate and we’re sure that you have been offered lots of advice on this subject. Our advice is simple: start with something you are proud of and, if possible, that has strong relevance to the type of business you are visiting.

In our opinion, you should be trying to capture the imagination of the person looking at your book from the very first piece, and attempting to keep the momentum going throughout the whole of your book. Finish with a piece that will hopefully leave a lasting impression and entice them to invite you back for a second interview. You could also aim for opening with a piece of work which has added value to a business or pleased your client no end – we appreciate the difficulty in including a piece like this, but if you can you are likely to fly over hurdle number one!

Not easy to take if it is negative, and we appreciate that to have something very personal to you criticised is a bitter pill to swallow. However, don’t ignore feedback, particularly from senior creative personnel – be prepared to accept some criticism and discuss alternative approaches to the solutions you have presented. Do remember that you are there to have your work critiqued, and a willingness to learn from positive and constructive criticism will help you in your future search for a new role.

Try to remember that design is an extremely subjective business and your book will not win everybody’s favour, hearts, and/or minds. Any feedback, positive or negative, is useful, particularly for less experienced designers who are trying to break into the industry. There is also a very strong chance the person interviewing you understands the pressures of presenting a portfolio, and will try to offer constructive advice. If you are invited back for a second interview, aim to overcome any objections or doubts that have been raised at the first interview.

Interview Etiquette
You can find more information on this subject under Interview Tips and Advice, but the one thing that does need mentioning is make sure that you listen – it is amazing how many people do not. A Creative Director is a very busy person who will have client deadlines and commitments to adhere to, and their time is precious. Do not interrupt the interviewer, be too familiar, be arrogant or defensive, and don’t interview the interviewer!



Some comments from key industry creative figures on what they expect in a portfolio:

Alan Delgado
Director, Key Parker

 “Whenever I see graduates’/designers’ portfolios, I am looking to see a book that tells me something unique about the individual, one that is sensibly and professionally presented, and one that is talked through with clarity and enthusiasm.

I would recommend including about 10-15 pieces, and certainly no more than 20, in whatever medium that shows the work off to its best, whether it be on a laptop, as a physical hard copy, or on a light box (but take one with you if this is the case so you’re not caught short!). If you feel passionate about a piece of work, no matter how old it is, then put it in – it shows what gets you excited, even if ultimately it didn’t win a pitch or become live, or is a self-initiated piece that you did off your own back. Don’t include pieces because you feel you should – only present work you’re really proud of.

I would recommend that you start and finish your book with your strongest pieces, as this is most likely what you’ll be remembered by – it’s important to always make a good first and last impression. If possible, have some sort of leave-behind to act as a reminder of you and your work. I would also really stress the importance of bringing some sketches/workings of how you arrived at a couple of the final solutions, not just the finished pieces, as this will provide an insight into your thinking process when tackling a brief. There’s nothing worse than being told ‘unfortunately this is what the client went with’ and not seeing the alternative creative that you prefer!”



Damien Howell
Creative Director/Owner, 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.

No black portfolio cases! Show me an original way to present your work!

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 – if it’s in the house when it’s on fire it’s the only thing you should go back in for! It’s important 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. Sessions include advice on portfolio content, style and presentation of work, what to leave in or out, and what clients are looking for.