If a potential employer or client is looking at your design portfolio, they saw or heard something that made them want to examine your work and learn more about you.
As you assemble your portfolio, put yourself in the shoes of a potential employer or client who might review your portfolio for one of these reasons:
- They may have gotten a recommendation from someone that you would be a good fit for a project or position.
- They might be impressed by an application you submitted.
- They might have connected with you through the skills and qualifications you posted at LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor, or one of the other job posting and networking channels.
In short, if a potential employer or client is looking at your portfolio, that means you’ve got a foot in the door. And that’s good!
The implications? Your portfolio is the place to seal the deal, hit the ball out of the park, wow the audience… OK, we’re running out of cliches here. But the point is, your portfolio is where you really sell your skills and yourself.
Remember, a potential client or employer is going to be able to find other designers with identical or similar skill sets. You’re not the only talented and driven young designer coming out of class and entering the world of professional design.
So, how do you distinguish yourself from the crowd?
Your starting point is that there is only one you! The task is to find ways to convey that in your portfolio. For the most part, you do that with an inviting, accessible presentation of your skills and your projects.
You do that by carefully collecting your class projects and work you do outside of class (see Collecting Portfolio Content from Day One). And as you do, be thinking about how the projects you create for class can reflect ways in which you applied unique and creative initiative to solve design problems.
And document that creative initiative by weaving in a carefully crafted narrative of the process that went into each project (see Why Your Portfolio Should Emphasize Process, Not Just Content).
In short, step back and look at your portfolio as you begin to put it together. Does it really project not just the work you’ve done, but you, your talents, interests, and strengths?
Be multidimensional, but not an open book
One way to distinguish yourself is by including projects that showcase your passions, talents, and interests outside of commercial or school assignments. If you have sketches, app prototypes, or posters you created in relation to those passions, they can help distinguish you.
Have you created…
- A photo essay of your neighborhood?
- An app to create your own music?
- A video documenting your morning run?
- A comic book character?
When you curate what you select to present your passions and “outside the box” interests, keep your audience in mind. You don’t want to make a client or employer commit to agreeing with your distaste for a certain style of clothing, or support for a specific political perspective in order to appreciate your skills and talents and give you work.
The purpose of sharing passions and interests that are not directly connected to commercial projects is that it gives a sense of what you bring to the table in approaching design challenges.
- A photo essay might reveal your key for light, architecture, or capturing people.
- An app prototype for your music might demonstrate the ability to present audio.
- A short documentary on your morning run might demonstrate endurance, energy, and perseverance.
- A comic book character could demonstrate your sense of humor, your drawing skills, your storytelling abilities.
These (and many others) could be valuable assets.
Making a splash with your landing page
The most focused element in your portfolio for making a statement and standing out is your landing page.
You will find arguments for and against a specifically designed landing page. The argument against a landing page is essentially: focus on work. Prospective clients and employers are not interested in you, they want to see what you can do.
But a landing page that makes a statement about what you can do, that is not a presentation of a specific project, can be a dynamic and even dramatic way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Let’s look at how three successful designers introduce their portfolios on their landing pages.
First, a disclaimer (of sorts): The purpose of exploring unconventional (but successful) applications of individuality in portfolio landing pages is to stretch your imagination and expand your vision of what kinds of approaches are possible. When you study these landing pages, note how they really make the designer (or design team) stand out from the crowd. And then think about how you might channel some of your unique skills and talents into a landing page.
Wade and Leta
The multi-dimensional design team of Wade and Leta make a major statement with an animated, interactive landing page on their portfolio. Leta Sobierajski, the “Leta” in Wade and Leta. She has worked as an independent designer with clients such as Adobe, Bloomberg Businessweek, Google, Gucci, IBM, The New York Times, Refinery 29, Renault, Target, and UNIQLO among many others.
Leta Sobierajski goes deeply into her studio’s body of work and approach to promoting it in an interview in the Making the Transition from Design Student to Working Professional series. Here’s a look at her studio’s portfolio landing page.
Brian LaRossa is a highly successful art director at a major publishing house. If you’re interested in Brian LaRossa’s expert advice on making the transition from design student to working professional, check out this conversation with him on that topic.
Brian’s portfolio landing page is an essay (!) that provides links to typography and other design and creative projects.
Finally, let’s look at the highly unconventional portfolio landing page of game designer Pedro Sanches. In his interview in the series Making the Transition from Design Student to Working Professional, he reveals that “I made this weird 3D website, and it had no portfolio material at all. It was very scrappily done but it ended up being what got me a job at Google.”
Visitors draw on a canvas that interacts with Pedro’s scribblings and work. A static depiction of that approach can’t do it justice, so check it out at https://www.psanches.com/.
The more examples of portfolios you explore, the better yours will be. Here are several design portfolios that demonstrate different approaches and styles. Have a look!
- Owltastic • Web designer and developer by Meagan Fisher Couldwell
- STEVEN BONNERSELECTED WORK | Steven Bonner
- Adrian & Gidi
- Erik Marinovich
- Verena Michelitsch – Art Direction, Graphic Design, Creative Direction
A big challenge in creating your portfolio is distinguishing yourself from a planet full of talented, trained design professionals. The key to doing that is to make an objective evaluation of your unique strengths, and then find ways to translate them into what you present in your portfolio.
- Identify your unique assets.
- Infuse your project process narratives with your unique strengths.
- Present your projects on your portfolio landing page in a distinctive way.
- If and when appropriate, design a landing page that makes a statement about your approach and style.
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