Why do you need a portfolio?

In simple terms, a portfolio is the mirror of your work. Even though you can't alter the reality portrayed by this mirror, you can use good angles to your advantage.

The design industry doesn't necessarily give weight to education and experience as keys to success in your career, so your CV is sometimes less convincing and relevant than your portfolio.

There may be many designers with CVs similar to yours, so you'll need to differentiate yourself. The cleverest way to do that is by building an impressive, eye-catching portfolio. Think of it as your business card. It is a sneak-peak into your design abilities, marketing processes, business identity, and talents that you offer to a prospective client or partner before they can meet you.

Making your voice heard and letting your personality shine is more difficult to do only through a CV. Usually, CVs have predefined, rigid formats that follow the same rules. On the other hand, a portfolio represents your artistic, creative part, while a CV only means to show your degree of education and work experience. For instance, you might not have a full degree to add to your CV and prove one of your most valuable design competencies, but you can have a portfolio showcasing those high skills.

Tips to building a top-tier portfolio

Up next is a list of ideas that should guide you when you decide to build your portfolio. We also put together a list of pitfalls to avoid that we think are most frequent among designers. Keep in mind that every designer has a different personality or a unique business identity, so you need to make yours stand out. Use these ideas as reference and inspiration sources, but don't hesitate to add a first-hand touch of originality to your portfolio. Define who you are while keeping an eye on the advice of professionals!

Create a story

First thing’s first, avoid transforming your portfolio into a dull PowerPoint presentation. Don't just let images of your projects float around without any purpose.

Your portfolio isn’t just meant to showcase your skills, it also sets out your story. People love stories, so adding striking, attention-grabbing narratives to your portfolio will help your potential clients connect with your work.

Moreover, design is about addressing the specific needs of the client. Let your portfolio show the great job that you do by firstly telling the story of your projects: what your clients wanted, what new takes you brought to the table, how you managed the process, and what were the outcomes.

Only show projects that you like

It is crucial to only show projects that you like and include work that makes you proud.

Adding projects that didn't have the desired outcome and mentioning flaws in the process will only make you look unprofessional. Keep in mind that people tend to pick up on and remember your weak points rather than your notable, superior attributes. So, telling possible clients about the flaws of your displayed project might shake their trust in your expertise and capacities.

Also, showcasing projects that you don't particularly like won't show your real identity and won't gain the trust of your clients. Discover what you enjoy and let it reveal your design personality!

Let's say, for example, that you love to work on web design, UX, and marketing strategies for your niche but you also worked on projects for different audiences that didn't really match your interests and personality. Regardless, you always delivered high-quality projects at the end of the day. Using the latter projects in your portfolio will only attract more projects out of your sphere of interest.

It is vital to work on projects that you like and find enjoyable. A pleasant work environment matters the most when it comes to productivity, efficiency, and professionalism. Find your design niche, thrive, and grow constantly!

Design your portfolio

The presentation of your design portfolio is crucial. A designer wanting to showcase their talent will start by proving their skills when representing their skillset and accomplishments.

Imagine that you talk about your seasoned skills in creating smooth and effective designs, but the look of your portfolio lacks basic design considerations. If you guarantee cutting-edge UX design, what's the best way to show it than through the design of your own portfolio?

Would you ever trust the promises of a fitness trainer that isn't fit? The same thought goes through the minds of your potential clients. Why should they trust your promises when your portfolio doesn't meet any of your claimed skill levels?

Another aspect to consider is how you manage to spark the interest of your clients. Building an interactive portfolio is a great option. You will engage interested parties in navigating your portfolio: the more time they spend on it, the more likely it is you'll get hired.

Explain your process

Just like telling your story, explaining some of the processes behind your strategies helps your potential clients form an idea about your work ethic.

Explaining how you achieve results is one of the main interests of someone looking to hire you. Remember that you also need to present challenges that you managed to overcome and solutions that you found to different problems. A person interested in your work wants to be sure that you can find a fix for any stumbling block and meet all expectations.

Mind the text

Another decisive aspect that differentiates a jaw-dropping portfolio from a generic one is the quality of the text.

Double-check for grammar mistakes and punctuation. No matter how remarkable and impressive your achievements seem, spelling "porject" instead of "project" is definitely going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Not everyone is an experienced writer with an affinity for artistic composition. What can you do if this is the case for you? Draft your texts and ask a more skilled friend to review and improve them. Another option is to reach out to a copywriter to refine your words and make sure that your lines strike and sway clients' interests.

Showcase your talents

A portfolio's whole purpose is to highlight your skills and talents through examples of your work and strategies. When presenting a portfolio piece, make sure you mention the skills that helped you achieve the best results.

Some skills can be examples of software programs that you expertly use. It is an opportunity to showcase diverse talents, varying from soft to hard skills. You can portray your communication competencies and patience, your time-management strategies, as well as your outstanding skills in UX and graphic design.

Common portfolio mistakes

Moving ahead, even if your portfolio checks all of the above, there are still some things that can have a negative impact on a client's impression.

You can improve your portfolio or avoid common mistakes by putting more thought into the process. Portray your work in an authentic manner and attract clients that will be the right match for you. Don't set your standards too low, be confident to show what you have, and be yourself. Most importantly, remember that your portfolio must be in a perfect connection to your personality, not to pre-imposed market standards!

With this said, keep reading to learn about some common mistakes that people tend to overlook when building their portfolios. We like to offer our best guidance to support other fellow designers in their evolution and we consider that sharing real-life experiences is one of the best ways of learning and improving your business strategies.

Including every project

"Why wouldn't I showcase all my work," you may wonder.

Building an endless portfolio that looks more like a slideshow of projects without any context will make the reader get the odd sensation of walking around in a museum without any labels or captions to the exhibits. Wouldn't that be upsetting?

As such, crafting a portfolio and including just a few projects relevant to your skills and appealing to a larger audience might benefit you more than just collaging everything with monotonous copy.

If you don't have any projects to match a required niche, use any project that you are proud of or received good feedback on. Don't add everything you ever worked on and deliver a portfolio that will end up being longer than the seven Harry Potter volumes.

A good idea to showcase all your projects is to build a blog-like portfolio on your website where interested people can scroll through everything if they want to. But when you are sending your portfolio to a potential client, you should only include suitable and significant projects.

Using only similar projects

Another common mistake is using only similar projects. People don't want to read about things outside their field of interest, but they also don't want to read about the same project many times over.

Don't claim any skills that you don't exemplify. Every piece of information needs to be backed up by evidence: a story, a project, an image, a testimonial, etc.

Even if your potential client is looking for a logo, make sure that you add diversity to your portfolio. If you never worked on a project for a business in a specific niche, you could add examples of projects that are close enough to stand as proof of your skills. You can invite potential clients to check out your blog and use the diversity of your projects as an advantage.

Revealing too much personal information

It might seem obvious, but your portfolio is not a place where you want to share your life’s story. You only want to share project-related stories.

Anything more than the location of your business and any noteworthy degrees has to go into your CV. Avoid stating your age, sexual orientation, religion, or any personal data. The scope of your portfolio is to display your work and skills, not to offer insights into your life.

For example, saying "I am a twenty-year-old resourceful designer" equals "I am a beginner and have no real experience".

Statements about personal life are frequently open to interpretation, and you don't want to leave room for that in your portfolio.

Using the same portfolio every time

Many designers choose to put together a portfolio and send it to every potential client. As mentioned earlier, every interested party has different expectations. Not adapting the content of your portfolio to match their specific interests can affect how they appreciate your skills.

A proper way to do this is to draft portfolio content for every project that you think you may ever need to include, and then select and add the ones you need when you find it appropriate.

Final thoughts

All in all, your portfolio is an image of your talent and design personality. It should portray your identity in the most authentic way possible and encourage interested parties to trust your efforts and competencies. An impressive portfolio is original, not necessarily broad. Of course, to increase your chances, you need to showcase your projects and efforts in a way that shows professionalism and qualified expertise. Your portfolio needs to reflect what you're really able to do.

We advise you to be honest with yourself and your potential partners. Stealing someone else's work is not legal and ethical under any circumstances. Own your talent and be confident with your accomplishments!