January 18, 2014

Design Portfolio: Top 4 Things Professional Buyers Want from It

Design Portpolio Best Practices. Top 4 Things a Professional Buyer Loves to See in Your Design Portfolio

These design portfolio best practices are the combined voice of 20+ creative directors, art directors, marketing managers, editors, agents etc. People who repeatedly buy services of freelance graphic designers, illustrators, and web designers. If you want professional design buyers to LOVE your online design portfolio let these 4 factors guide you.

1. Only Show Your Best Work

[box] Edit Yourself. Hard. Shawn Smith

Only show best work, as art directors often say they remember the worst image in a portfolio, not the best. If in doubt leave it out! Illustration Industry[/box]

Pick only pieces that showcase your USP, e.g. a signature style. Pick only the pieces that stand out/feels different in your chosen categories. Scrap the rest.

Resist the temptation to bulk out your design portfolio with old, irrelevant or less than top-notch samples of your work.

8-15 Pieces

[box]If you’re good, it’ll be evident in ten to fifteen pieces. Gail Anderson, Creative Director

Show enough of your work to clearly demonstrate your style and vision, but not so much that you lose your viewer’s interest. Jennifer Kilberg, FluidVision[/box]

Start with the best of the best. Finish with your second best. In between a few more solid examples.

Don’t show more than one or two examples of the same sort of work, e.g. only one or two banners for cell phone plans even if you have done dozens.

Leave them wanting more.

Go Big

[box]I suspect most creative directors like myself have some pretty big screens. Do not be afraid to use big images, even in thumbnails, to show off your work. Jess Bachman, Creative Director, Visually[/box]

Show your work in totality first. That means show the whole thing – ideally at full resolution.

Details matter to professional buyers.

Keep It Fresh

Show current work – ideally from the past year.

Max 5 years old. Exception: If you were the originator of a high-profile, universally admired campaign.

Work Someone Actually Paid For

[box]I’d much rather see how a young designer tackles an identity for a local dentist, or something equally mundane. Adrian Shaughnessy[/box]

Professional buyers are looking for practical skills for real, client-driven everyday design work.

Don't show too much school work.

If you don't have enough pieces self-initiate something. Remake something to show your passions and skills, but not book covers or posters… Anyone can make those look good.

Re-brand a famous brand or a well-known piece of advertising.

Show Work as It Is Intended to Be Used

[box]If you are designing stationery, then obviously I want to see how it looks on actual stationery. But if you are designing something that will be displayed only on screens, then an on-angle selfie will only make me question your design judgment. Jess Bachman, Creative Director, Visual.ly

I like to see projects in their true form. Petrula Vrontikis, Creative Director[/box]

It's all about the context, and showing your designs as they were intended to be seen. Don’t show work out of context, e.g. on a cool, but unnatural angle.

Take photos of printed material.

2. Make Your Work Easy to Review

[box]The reviewer or creative director often has seconds to make a gut decision. Jess Bachman, Creative Director, Visual.ly

I look at portfolios more quickly than their owners would like. I can usually – almost right away – tell whether or not someone’s work appeals to me. Michael Beirut, Pentagram

For The Love of All That’s Holy, Don’t Make Me Work! Obscuring the work behind some novel navigation or gimmicky flippy-slidey-clicky gallery is not doing you any favors. Dave Gorum, Creative Director, Carbonmade[/box]

Professional buyers often review tens if not hundreds of design portfolios every week. Make them happy by focusing your portfolio site on your best work, grouping work that is associated together, making the portfolio easy to navigate and the images quick to load.

First show the work in its totality. Put it on the landing page.

Next: close-ups and notes.

Helpful Categories

[box][categorization] helps me get an overview of what I am looking at and I can focus on the quality of the work rather than deciphering the context. Jess Bachman, Creative Director, Visually[/box]

Help design buyers to review your portfolio faster by categorizing your work properly!

If you work in two or three different styles or have different skills, i.e. web design and illustration, strongly consider having separate portfolios for each.

Explain Your Work

[box]Rather than just showing the finished artwork, give an insight into how you did it. Give a short description of the brief and how you interpreted it to fulfill the wishes of the client. Creative Bloq

We look for thoughtful ideas and problem-solving abilities. Steve Liska, Founder, Liska+Associates[/box]

Ability to explain your work impresses: Inspirations, skills used, the thinking behind it etc.

Provide context, but keep it short.

Be Clear about What You Did on Each Project

[box]Nothing drives a creative director battier than looking through a portfolio of top shelf work and having no idea what the applicant did on each project. Dave Gorum, Creative Director, Carbonmade[/box]

Make sure to show what extra value you added. Tell how you took the initiative.

This is not the time to be humble.

Kill Distractions

[box]Please refrain from unnecessary fading or moving effects; those just slow me down. They may impress a wide-eyed potential client, but it’s just friction to me. Jess Bachman, Creative Director, Visually

“Don’t lump too many things onto one page. Give the work some breathing room. This is especially true of logos. Josh Berta, Creative Director[/box]

Keep the presentation dead simple.

3. Show Yourself. Your Passions. Your Thinking.

A potential client needs to like and trust you. Give them a glimpse of who you are: Your personality, your aspirations, your thinking, inspirations, passions, interests, and skills.

Build your personal brand.

Position Yourself

[box]…what you have in your portfolio, is what you’re going to get commissioned to do. When I’m art directing, the only thing I see is what’s in someone’s portfolio. It rarely crosses my mind that this person would want to do something else than what’s presented in his or her portfolio. Lotta Niemenen, Art Director[/box]

Remember, a design portfolio is your branding and marketing tool! Pick pieces that clearly reflect what you want to be known for and the type of jobs you want.

Build your portfolio with the work you want to do in the future. Your portfolio is not what you did, but what you’re going to do next.

If you don’t have enough pieces that fit your aspirations: Self-initiate a project that does, re-brand Apple…

Photos of You

[box]…a photograph of you will show you’re a real person and could make you more memorable to an Art Director who sees too many names & faces to remember each week. Zero2illo[/box]

Be present in the flesh. As a bare minimum, publish a photo of yourself on the About page.

Smile. :)

Express Personality

[box]A strong representation of self is nearly as important as a strong representation of skills. When reviewing a digital portfolio, you're gauging cultural fit, too. Jillian Kurvers, Content Marketing Manager[/box]

Let them glimpse the person behind the work. Show your personality, passions and interests through the pieces you pick and accompanying notes.

Show passion for what you do.

Highlight Complementary Skills

[box]Are you only good at illustration or editorial layout? Of course you're not: you're also a solid communicator who understands budgets and deadlines, as well as the importance of meetings and updates. These are all professional skills. Make sure your design portfolio clearly showcases that you posses these, even if you just simply list them in your accompanying notes. Creative Bloq[/box]

Again, this is not the time to be humble.

Describe your skills with confidence.

4. Contact Information

[box]Your contact details should ideally be on every page or at least clearly listed in your navigation options. Zero2illo[/box]

Enough said.


To make professional design buyers happy:

  1. Only show your absolute best work! Scrap the rest.
  2. Flawless navigation and categorization! Help them review your portfolio super fast!
  3. Show yourself! Express your passions! Help them like and trust you.
  4. Very prominent contact information!