Six Tips for Compiling a Portfolio

I’ve been working on getting my portfolio added to this blog for a week or so now (almost done – for now) and its been quite the task. Mainly because I haven’t compiled an actual, physical portfolio since I was graduating from college and looking for that first job 4 years ago. Four years of work is a lot to go through and try to select my favorites or my best work (both at the same time if I’m lucky).

So while I’ve been compiling my online portfolio, its been a good opportunity to pull together my physical one too. Its something I’ve been meaning to tackle for a long time. Good to keep it updated, just in case you need it.

When I was in college, I always looked forward to participating in Meet the Pros. It is an event put on each year by the American Advertising Federation where college students can bring their portfolios to be reviewed by professional designers, and hopefully learn some inside info or tricks and tips to help them stand out and get hired. Since college, I’ve been one of the professionals reviewing those portfolios every year, so as I’m putting together my own portfolio, I’ve been trying to remember both the information I got from the pros as a student designer, and the information I’ve been handing out as a pro.

I thought I’d go ahead and share it here too, so here you go. Some basic guidelines for putting together a portfolio:

1. Always put your best piece last. Leave the interview with your best work fresh in the memory of the interviewer.

2. Always put your second best piece first. First impressions count. A lot. If you don’t believe that then why are you a designer?

3. Try not to have too many of the same kind of work – spread it out a little. For example, I like to avoid having two websites right in a row. Unless of course you are strictly a web designer and then by all means, strut your stuff.

4. Show your work in its real world application. This is more for students, since most school projects aren’t actually used in tactical application, but it can apply to pros too. For example, if you design a book cover, I always recommend putting your print out on an actual book and photographing it for your portfolio. Personally, I like to show my websites as a (digitally enhanced) photograph of a computer screen. It just lends more credibility when the reviewer doesn’t have to imagine how your work might be used.

5. One piece per spread (not page!). It sounds simple but I’ve seen a lot of portfolios jammed with so many pieces that there are two completely unrelated projects in the same spread. It’s distracting and hard to talk through. Just don’t do it. And that brings me to my last tip.

6. 10-12 projects tops. I like to stay around 10. It’s quality over quantity here people. You don’t have to walk someone through your entire career. Just the highlights. Anyone gets bored after enough page flips and the last thing you want is a bored or distracted interviewer.

So there you have it. My 6 top tips for compiling a design portfolio. Anyone have any I might have missed? Also I’m still looking for a better image gallery plugin for my portfolio page so if you know of a good one pass it on!

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