12 Steps to a Super Graphic Design Portfolio

Articles June 30, 2008

Your graphic design portfolio is a representation of yourself and of your skills as a graphic designer and it will become an essential part of landing your graphic design dream job! This guide will help you fine tune your portfolio to make sure its in top shape for your upcoming interviews!


Discover How to Improve Your Graphic Design Portfolio

1. Choosing a Portfolio Case

Choosing a case for your work should be the first step of creating your graphic design portfolio. The style of the case and the size of the case will play a role in what will be inside. You don’t need to have the most expensive portfolio in the world, but it should be nice, new and look professional. Don’t show up with your parents beat up portfolio case that’s been sitting in the attic for 10 years!

Be sure to also take into account the size of the pages to see if it will be a good size to display the work you have. For example, if you do a lot of poster designs you may want a larger case so you can print your designs at a larger size.

2. Your Portfolio’s Background Paper

The background paper in your case should be a neutral color, most likely a white or light grey and should be used throughout your entire portfolio. Try to avoid switching background colors because it can be shocking to the view and throw of the flow of your portfolio.

3. Consistency

Like your paper usage, the work and placement of your work should be consistent as well. If you center all your designs on each page make sure they are center everywhere. Try to keep spacing even around the sides as well. Showing errors in consistency your portfolio will reflect what your design work could be like.

4. Including the Right Designs

You should spend a lot of time choosing the right work for your portfolio. If you are in design school be sure to have your teachers help you out, or ask your designer friends for input. Your work should be current and you should tailor the type of work in your portfolio to the job you are applying for. If you are applying for a job at a magazine, be sure to include projects related to this area of work. Don’t show up with a bunch of CD covers and poster designs and no magazine covers or spreads.

5. Strong Start

When the viewer opens your portfolio you want to “wow” them, but the key is to keep them “wowed” throughout the entire presentation. Pick one of your strongest pieces for the opening page, which is usually a single page and not a spread. Its better to keep your resume and any other paper work in the back or in a separate folder.

6. Strong Finish

Ending strong is just as important as starting strong, if not more important, because you want to leave a good visual memory in the mind of the viewer. You should include another very strong piece at the end. Your portfolio should get stronger as it goes on, not weaker!

7. Placement of Work

Your work should be trimmed neatly with no rough edges and placed firmly on each page. You should use some sort of sticky tack or removable double sided tape so your work does not shift around on the page. The last thing you wanna do is open up a portfolio for an interview and see all your work jumbled around and falling out of the page slips!

8. Labeling Your Work

More often than not, interviewers will ask you to leave a portfolio at the office for future viewing so labeling your work with a title and very brief description can help refresh their memory if they begin looking through your portfolio again. Labels can also serve as notes for you while you talk about your work. Keep the labels consistent; in the same place, size and fonts.

9. Talking About Your Work

It is very important to be able to speak about each piece in your portfolio for at least a few minutes each. Know who it was for, what the project details were, what you did, what the concept was, what style you used, why and so on!

10. Practice Makes Perfect

You may know everything there is to know about your work, but being able to speak about it confidently is a whole other game. Practice in front of friends, family and even strangers so you can get over any uncomfortable feelings sooner than later. The more your practice the better your presentation will be! Just remember not to ramble on for too long on about each project.

11. Networking

Networking is an essential aspect of any career, and the more designers and art directors you know the better. Its great to be able to show your portfolio to honest people in the field. Most designers and art directors are used to giving honest, non bull-crap critiques so their opinions can be very valuable!

12. Maintaining and Updating your Portfolio

Keeping you portfolio current is important because you could unexpectedly get fired, or your dream job might pop up out of no where! You need to be ready at a moments notice; so update your portfolio once in a while and this includes replacing any bent or ripped pieces of work and cleaning fingerprints and smudges from the clear page slips.

Tell us About Your Experiences!

We would love to hear about your graphic design portfolio, portfolios you have seen and interviews you have been on in the comments below! Feel free to include pics of your portfolios in the comments as well and links to your portfolio websites.

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 Cadence Wu

Cadence is You The Designer's senior blogger, and the most jack-of-all-trades of the staff. She's always trying out something different every day, some of which fuels her posts here on the blog. Let her know if you want us to post more about your favorite topic - she might know more than a thing or two about it!

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  • http://fourthangle.com Nicklaus Deyring

    A good posting, but there isn’t much mention here of website portfolios, which are ? of all work that I see on a regular basis. Printed portfolios are well and good, but design firms won’t get to the point where they even see it if your online portfolio is sub-par. Even the author of the post mentions ‘feel fre to include pics of your portfolios as well and links to your portfolio webistes.’

    One method that I’ve seen work well, as the author mentions, is to take your book and shoot it lovingly against a sublty lit white background with a bit of shadow. Some large photography of your work, with some well chosen text, usually gets you that ? through the first door.

  • http://tonytacacci.com Tony Tacacci

    Here’s mine: tonytacacci.com :D

  • http://www.pinkpetrol.com Pinkpetrol.com

    Some great points, many thanks!

  • http://www.imaginarydesign.co.uk Adam

    Great post! Thank you :-)

  • http://www.thefloatingfrog.co.uk The Floating frog

    Useful, thanks

  • http://www.bryanjzimmerman.com Bryan

    This was an awesome post!! Thanks for the tips.

    I am currently putting together an online portfolio without much luck. My biggest issue is presentation both visually and written. I have trashed the “thumbnail” design after reading way too many negatives.

    How should one display the descriptions of their work? Do you include software used? What about a description? Do you try to condense the entire project from start to finish so the potential client or recruiter can see your workflow?

    Any suggestions will be most appreciated.

    Regards,
    Bryan

  • Gino

    Nicklaus Deyring – I actually already wrote a guide to creating a portfolio website which you can find here:

    http://www.youthedesigner.com/2008/01/31/the-one-page-graphic-design-portfolio-guide/

    I’m trying to tackle one topic at a time so i can go in depth on each item.

  • Gino

    Bryan – I agree the bigger the image the better, but all on one page is usually best.

    I would title each piece and maybe write a one sentence description under it. It is also common to mention what you did on the project such as: art direction and design or design and programming

    I don’t think you need to include software used.

    I think normally the final product is just shown but you can add little number links to switch views to show other images such as sketches and other work flow steps.

  • http://www.tutorialsgarden.com 3DS Max Tutorials

    Great tips thx.

    Btw dugg :)

  • Souljourn

    I loved your article and found it to be a very important inclusion to what you are trying to do with your site.

    I wanted to offer up a few other suggestions I have found to help me (with the hopes that they might help someone else).

    You’re very correct in mentioning about keeping your work up to date. In fact, I never permanently mount any of my work onto the pages of my portfolio as this allows me to make changes and customize my portfolio more easily. I use a black paper background (seems to help make the colors and design pop) and will either cut slits or use a low-tack rubber cement to mount anything onto it. I also bring along extra copies of items containing more than one page. This allows me to pull the samples out to show the potential client/employer the insides of a piece when they post a particular interest in a piece (without having to awkwardly take apart your portfolio there on the spot). You’ll be surprised how holding something in their hand can make a much bigger impression than merely viewing it through a plastic film.

    Also, I also wanted to provide some additional ideas to the leaving your portfolio behind. I’ve needed to do this several times and I’ve had my portfolio damaged in the process. As we’ll invest a great deal of time and money, I’d rather not have to make repairs after every interview. I’ve also had a few experiences where I’ve needed to visit with several clients/potential employers within a few days from one another and leaving my portfolio was not a possibility. Instead, I’ve learned to take some of my work and reproduce them into a “leave behind pamphlet”. Inside it has my work with an explanation of what it is and what when behind the work. This is great as it also becomes something that you can mail to potential clients (or as promotional material of your services). If you do websites (you really need to have this under your belt), try burning your work along with websites onto a CD and leaving it. This will allow any interested party to go back and review your work as they have time. During slow periods, I will generate artwork to use as poster/calendar material and mail those throughout the year. Leave this with your interview as it reminds them of who you are and what you can do should the interview not bring about a job. I try to make these posters, pieces of art that the client will hang up in their office. I’ve gotten calls and referrals from them long after the interview. YOU’RE the designer – this is an awesome forum for you to be as creative as you want (or can afford). Pick a clever theme and play off of it, showing your client what you can do for a project.

    Hope this helps. Take good care!

  • cat without a face

    excellent advice! thanks!
    word up! Tacos!

  • Jon

    This is a great article. I’m pretty familiar with presenting. I’ve had my BFA in Graphic Design for 5 years now. I present on a regular basis too.

    Start strong, finish strong is so true. I always start with the best piece and finish with the second best piece.

    And practicing, even just once, makes an enormous difference.

    Last, when people give you criticism on your work, take it to heart (if they’re qualified to give feedback.) They’re not telling you these things to hurt you, they’re trying to help you. Don’t immediately dismiss what they say. You need to consider what they are saying and make an informed decision.

  • http://blog.michaelfasani.com London Creative

    Thanks for the good read!

  • Mick

    Printed portfolios are so 2000 and old school. A simple website will do all that work for you and easy updating.

  • QUARN

    GINOOO…….wats goin on man? this was a good post….great advice too. hows everything man ?

  • Gino

    Mick – I think its still essential to have a print portfolio. Many studios still want to see you and your portfolio in person.

  • Gino

    Hey Quarn, thanks for the comment! Everything is great how have you been?

  • http://www.rowdygroup.com Crystal

    I would like to get some perspective on my portfolio: http://www.rowdygroup.com
    Anyone got any constructive criticism for me?

  • http://is.gd/Fo2 website design

    What tells people you a Super Graphic Designer? Your design portfolio, of course! Ten steps to creating one…

  • Nilson Saavedra

    very nice ideas, but i notice that the many designers advice to have their portafolio made in flash, tajt mekes the more interactive the presentation of your projects, and will create a higher impact in the person´s mind you have the interview.

  • http://blog.jordanshaw.com JSHAW

    great tips thanks!

  • http://www.giorgosgeladakis.blogspot.com giorgos

    There is another thing I would like to add.I dont know if it is common round the world but here in greece were Iam posting and working many jobs required to show your portfolio throw video.
    So you need some post production to get that but the result is quiet impressing.
    You can also “save” some of your projects that aren’t so great but their brand is need to be on your portfolio.
    From the other hand all the above tips are great and this is a way to copyright our works.

  • http://mgjuyacy.com Kazelsek

    Hi webmaster!

  • http://www.GolterGraphix.com GolterGraphix: Graphic, Print & Web Design!

    #12 is very important.
    Functional? Yes
    Complete? Never.
    There’s always room for improvement and always new (relevant) pieces to add.
    I couldn’t agree more.

    Erica, Sr. Art Director
    http://www.GolterGraphix.com

  • JKSiri

    Great advice………………………thanks man…!!!

  • http://www.savisualarts.com Silvana

    Very good tips for beginners. I can also add, be aware of where you store your portfolio.
    I have reviewed portfolios that stank, literally. A bad smell on you or your portfolio can kill your presentation.

  • Nickie

    I’ve heard people talk about print portfolios for many years, but being new in graphic design I’ve never seen one and I’m having a hard visualizing it. I envision using some kind of card stock to mount the pieces, but then a few people mentioned plastic sheets… do you mount all your work on 8.5 x 11 sheets and then slide them into plastic protectors? I’m just not sure the type of look I should be going for.

    Thanks.

  • http://www.jesgraphicdesignco.com Jana Schweiss

    I recently printed my graphic design portfolio in hardcover book form. It grabs your attention, and I have had so many wonderful compliments. I placed one piece of work per page – 10 pages total.
    It is unforgettable!
    Check out my website http://www.jesgraphicdesignco.com
    Thanks.

  • http://www.firebubbledesign.com Logo Design UK

    I think it important to have a nice portfolio case as this is the first thing a client will see so you want to make a good first impression. I also really like the light grey paper to present your work on looks very professional and is not distracting to the design work you present. Excellent post thank you gino.

  • http://webdots.in Anish Trehan

    I m not a graphic designer but really i can pass this information to some of my freinds!! Really Helfull!

  • http://www.bediphilips.com Bedi

    Great article!! I think I should redo my portfolio
    Thanks Gino!

  • http://www.bediphilips.wordpress.com Bedi

    Hi Anish, your comment has a typo error, HELFULL…:) sounds like hell! I hope this would have been ‘helpful’!

  • Taha

    gr8 advises….as i am new in this field so it really help me to make my portfolio more attractive…….

  • http://www.absolutecovers.com/ Ovi Dogar

    Great advice!… Thanks for sharing…

    Keep up the great work!
    Ovi Dogar
    AbsoluteCovers.com

  • http://www.fatfrog.eu Amy

    Great advice- definately gave me some things to think about. As we are finding that we are pitching more and more based on our credentials rather than producing creative work (which of course is a much fairer system) our portfolio is becoming more and more important. It just takes so long to keep up to date!

  • stephanazs

    Interesting facts.I have bookmarked this site. stephanazs

  • Angel

    Hi, great tips, Gino, I specially agree on #4!! I’ve bookmarked this site too, as I’m still new to Graphic Design (started GD this year, in fact, but loving it).

    I love this site. Thanks!

  • Anonymous

    i love you

  • http://multimediaspark.com/blog/ Leo

    Very nice tips! Now I will put together my own portfolio, Thanks!

  • J

    I recently graduated with a graphic design degree and about 25% of the graduated class created their portfolios using Pina Zangaro Rossano Screwpost Portfolio Books. We decided to go this directions because it would take less time to put together and have a cleaner look. No cutting, taping, rubber cement or no spray mount. Plus, it would show that some of us would know how to layout a multiple page document (if publishing books or magazines would be our future career).

    Are there any articles or websites that show or talks about screwpost porfolios and their positives and negatives?

    I have also created a online portfolio using HTML and CSS without tables.
    Will this become the de facto standard for future website creation?

  • Andy C

    I only have a print portfolio and have had no problem whatsoever getting jobs. As long as you have a PDF of your portfolio to email etc that’s fine. I think you only NEED (it’s always beneficial to have an online portfolio) a website if you are an web designer there is absolutely no excuse for not having an online portfolio in this case.

  • Victoria

    Well, I’m not sure if anyone will reply to this in time (I’ll be printing on Tuesday), but I was wondering…

    I have done one campaign and in total, there are 20 pieces of art works for that one campaign, so should I show all 20 pieces? It’s not really about the money but whether it is necessary.
    Also, if I want to put the same campaign on my online portfolio site, how many pieces of work should I put up for it? I have noticed that most people only put up about 5 at most…

    Any advice, Gino?

  • Victoria

    Well, I’ve 2 new questions now:

    1) How many pieces of art work should you put inside a page (A4 sized)? Say you have a series of 3 adverts, should you put them all inside a page or separate them (one per page)?

    2) Plastic film protector or not?
    Personally, I like being able to feel the page’s texture but I worry that the interviewer might have ink (or something else) on their finger tips and will stain the page! I figured maybe I should do a matt lamination on the pages but the stain still stays!

    Advice?

  • http://klucid.com J – Klucid Graphic Design

    Amazing post. I need an overhaul of my online portfolio!

  • Jeremy Adam

    Well put, thx. I am currently starting my career in graphic design and i think most imporantly it is important to keep things clear and brief.

  • http://www.eblue.ch eBlue Graphic Design

    grat post! This will definitely help me improove my portfolio!

  • Julie

    I worked in an entry level graphic position for about 6 years. I really enjoyed this career but found I was given a lot of daily grind work like office forms, flyers (with provided text) , jobs that just needed copy changes. I did a great job doing this but knew I could do better than this (realizing my portfolio seemed kind of dull.) I had about an hour and half drive to work and decided to leave and go back to school to learn some web site design and do some freelance. Was I wrong?

  • Graphic Designer

    ya, these above all 12 Steps to a Super Graphic Design Portfolio is really nice and i used it for improve my designing and i really like it, i used it in siliconwebsolutions.in

  • http://www.carina-franz.com Carina

    Thank you very much for all the useful advice!!! It will help me to put the print version of my portfolio together.
    Carina :)

  • http://mosquitofolio.carbonmade.com/ Stefany Atmadja

    Thanks for the post… I’m a fresh grad and looking for job.. :) so, it’s really helpful..

  • Saminder

    hey can anyone help me….i want to take addmission in Nottingham university…but they said u have to prepare a portfolio….but i dont know, i have to prepare and how to prepare

  • http://www.dempseygraphics.com/ the website guy

    A big mistake I made my first year in web design was to include EVERY project I had worked on in my portfolio. If you have 2 great designs and one bad one, just show the 2. The overall impact of your work will be greater that way.

  • http://www.arafatpress.com Muhammad Ali

    This is reference for a Graphic Designer. I am a creative graphic designer.
    I have maximum Four years experience in the work of Graphic Designing.
    I have worked at four places which are given in my C.V. I can do any work
    by a good manner and I have experience of good ideas to do difficult work.

    Contact # +923323425304

  • Jefferson Pillworthy

    I’ve been in this business for thirty years, and I’ve attended hundreds of presentations and interviews, and interviewed countless designers, artists and photographers. It doesn’t matter a rip whether you have a ‘black page’ plastic ring bound case, or a handful of Polaroid photographs in your pocket, it’s the CONTENT that speaks. If the design and ideas are good you can present them in any form and the quality will shine through. Imagine a postcard of the statue of Liberty, It’s quite clear from looking at that humble image that the subject is an immense work of art, representing cutting edge engineering of the time, artistic flair and emotional representation. Having a web page is a ‘means’ to an end, not the ‘end in itself’. It helps, but it’s only one of many, many ways to communicate. An interview or presentation of any kind is a type of ‘theatre’ and should draw a viewer into your world. I once met a designer who had mounted beautiful photographs of his work onto thin square copper sheets, which he drew out of a wooden case. The whole thing was an event and a delight to witness. Needless to say he got the work, just for putting his ‘design mind’ into the process of being interviewed. Be original. Potential employers see thousands of ‘ring binder’ books with grey or black sheets in them and after a while they all merge into one. But the guy who brings out a small light box and displays his work on 10×8 photographic transparencies, or the gal who has mounted everything in a leather bound, ‘family photo album’ will stand out as a different. Stunning design is about being different, but familiar. Radical but approachable. And, unconventional but inspiring.

  • Chantel

    Great tips! Any ideas for mounting/displaying multi-page designs, for example a calendar or annual report?

  • http://www.facebook.com/bijesh.nair.503 Dolphin Hutz

    nice tips..!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003061553682 Prince Aditya

    thanks …it was helpful

  • vineet pani

    i am a graphic designer and chatacter designer thanks for your guiedence it was helpful

  • Margarita

    I have a bachelor degree in communication, but I work at Walmart. It is very depressing, I been there for almost five years. It is very difficult find the right job. I live in Deltona, Florida. If somebody can help me I will be very happy.

    • Xxxx

      Hi
      I had a cousin in the same situation
      Try getting a Job in sales first and find a way to break in through freelance

      If you know software like photoshop and illistrator I suggest

      Sites like 99designs.com
      Fivver.com
      Cater to people who need projects it’s competitive but lays well if you win

  • tommygunn123

    This article says almost nothing