Whether it's landing a client or looking for a job at a company, your portfolio is the first impression you will make to your potential client or employer. Here are a few tips from a designer who's been through the interview process, and on the other side of hiring designers for our team:
Focus, focus, focus
The key priority is to focus your portfolio on your strongest skill or the specific role you're targeting. If you're a UI/UX Designer seeking employment in the field, showcase your top-tier UI/UX projects, highlighting the underlying UX thought processes. Alternatively, if you're a Graphic Designer aiming to attract clients interested in branding projects, emphasize your finest branding work.
When we're hiring someone, the first thing we're looking for is their expertise. For example, if someone applies to be a UI/UX Designer, we expect to see projects that showcase a problem they're solving for and their solutions displayed through sketches and hi-fidelity mockups. And if someone applies to be a Graphic Designer, we look for branding projects that are visually exciting and accurately represents the business they're designing for.
What confuses us the most is seeing a multitude of categories from a designer such as UI/UX, illustration, branding, photography on their website. It begs the question - what is this person looking for? Sure, it shows the employer that you have a huge range of skills, but if the portfolio shows a few snippets of various fields, it loses focus and it makes us think twice about what your expertise really is.
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If you would like to showcase a range, consider combining multiple skills within your portfolio pieces.
Branding and packaging pieces can showcase your illustration skills if it's incorporated in the project. Your photography skills can be showcased in the way the project is shot. Any websites for the branding project (or even your portfolio website itself!) can showcase your UI/UX skills! Everything is intertwined and it doesn't have to be separated to show your various skills.
What if you don't have enough projects to showcase your skills?
Make it up! Create a fictitious brand and run far with it. Build a comprehensive project with a branding system, packaging design, website design and even social media templates. A brand doesn't always have to be real in order for you to showcase what you can do. We're often impressed by designers who take sample projects far because it makes us excited about what they'll do with a client project.
Quality Over Quantity
Along with focus, only show your best work. Never fall into the misconception that you need to show every single piece of work you've done in college and beyond. Put the work you're most proud of at the very top of your portfolio (as those get the most views), and choose other projects that you are confident about. Sometimes a weak project distracts the employer from your strongest work and makes us think twice about your skillset.
Show Your Process
Sketches, thought processes or any behind-the-scenes that show your process are great for employers and potential clients to understand how you work. These can be on your Instagram, your project page or a blog post. Start with the backstory of the project or problem you're solving, and tell us the story of how you got to the final solution of your innovative design.
T I P | If you are a UI/UX Designer, showing your process is very, very important. As UI/UX is customer focused, employers or clients would love to see how you think as you build out the product for a customer. Did you conduct competitive analysis? User Research? Usability Testing? What is the major problem and how did you solve it using UX methods? Showcase all of it.
Sharpen Your Writing
Like it or not, designers have to be great writers as well - whether it's presenting concepts to a client, drafting up project proposals or even writing an email. For our team, we pay attention to a candidate's design skills, and their communication skills in the way they write about their project on their website. Overall, designers need to know how to write clearly and effectively, so hone your skills as a writer as well! Sometimes your emails to your employers are a first impression that they pay attention to.
If you need a good resource, check out On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
T I P | You can certainly use ChatGPT, but definitely take the time to proofread what it wrote for you as it may not be fully relevant to who or what you're writing to! Consider who your audience is (employer or potential client), and write with that person in mind. Don't be shy to add your personality into how you write as it is all part of your brand voice and how you represent yourself.
Practice Your Script
If you have a job interview coming up, take a few days before your interview to go through your projects and practice how you will present them. Write out a script to organize your thoughts and practice it out loud (yup, there's nothing wrong with talking to yourself!). Refine your script and practice it until it feels natural and easy. It also helps to have visual aids to keep you on track of what key points you want to highlight. Even if it's for a client meeting, practicing a script would greatly benefit you. Rehearse how you want to present your design process so that your client leaves the call with a good impression of wanting to work with you. People can sense when you're not feeling confident, so rehearse what you want to say and especially how to present your prices to your client.
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Have a separate page on your website or presentation deck that shows your process as you're speaking about the project.
Trust me, doing this will ease your nerves and help you feel much more prepared for any questions that the employer or client will ask you.
Taking the time and effort to create a well-thought out portfolio is well worth it, and it'll help you come closer to your win of landing a job or client. Don't be shy and reach out to designers you look up to, or fellow designer friends to review your portfolio! Feedback is always welcomed when it comes to your portfolio as others can pin point areas you can finesse and grow in.
Do you still have questions about creating a portfolio? Wish someone can take a look at your portfolio and provide feedback? We got you! We provide 30 minute portfolio reviews because we know how hard it is to create a portfolio that is effective and memorable.
Email us at email@example.com with your name, portfolio/website and what job/client you're hoping to get. We'll reach out to you if we have time slots available!
Keep going, friends! You are doing great!