This is a guest post by Alec McGuffey. Alec co-founded RookieUp, a design education platform that offers short-term bootcamps and portfolio-building tools to give designers everything they need to build a great portfolio and career.
After you’ve spent months learning the fundamentals of design, practicing technical tools like Illustrator and Sketch, and working on design projects, how do you create a unique portfolio that will make a lasting impression on employers and clients? Especially when you’re just getting started in your design career, creating an incredible portfolio can seem like an impossible task, especially when you’ve seen dozens of other incredible design portfolios on sites like Dribbble and Behance.
Don’t worry - even though it’s a challenge to create an amazing portfolio, there are a few guidelines you can follow to make the daunting task of creating your portfolio a bit more manageable. In this article, we’re going to share a few of the portfolio-building tips we’ve learned from recruiters and hiring managers in the creative industry. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating an amazing design portfolio that will showcase your strengths and explain who you are and why someone should hire you. And if you need extra help, check out the Portfolio Starter Kit on Creative Market.
1. Choose which projects to showcase
The most important aspect of your portfolio should be pretty obvious -- it’s your projects! While having a beautiful portfolio site is important, it’s even more important to ensure that you’re showing the right projects depending on the type of roles you’re applying for.
First, gather up all of the projects you’ve worked on during your design education and organize them by field (UX/UI, Branding, etc.) and then rank them by strongest to weakest. Most employers we’ve spoken with have said that 3-5 strong projects are a good starting point for a junior design portfolio. In order to choose which projects to include in your portfolio, think about what kind of roles you’re interested in.
Employers love designers who have a wide range of skills, but they’d generally prefer to hire someone who is a true expert in the skills needed for a specific role rather than someone who has a basic understanding of many different aspects of design. This makes sense intuitively, as employers post roles based on specific needs and they want to hire someone who they can count on to truly own that job.
2. Be sure your projects solve real-world problems
If you realize that you don’t have enough comprehensive projects to fill a portfolio, create some more! Instead of just redesigning the homepage for an existing site like Facebook or iTunes (unless you have real research-backed reasoning for wanting to redesign existing sites), think about problems that you experience on a daily basis and try to think about how you can solve those problems with design.
For a UX portfolio, you might design an app that helps to solve a simple problem you experience every day. And for a Branding portfolio, you might redesign the branding, print materials, and marketing assets for a local business. As long as your projects are based on real-world problems (and as long as you can back up your design decisions with real research and user testing, you’ll be well on your way to a great portfolio!
If you need a bit of help coming up with ideas for projects and then turning them into well-researched and comprehensive final portfolio projects, check out the Portfolio Starter Kit, which includes 30+ projects and tons of resources to help you craft amazing design projects.
3. Show your projects as real case studies
Once you’ve gathered enough projects together, it’s time to get them ready for your portfolio! Most recruiters only spend around 60 seconds looking at a portfolio before they decide whether to move a candidate to the next round so it’s absolutely crucial to cleanly and logically showcase your projects on your portfolio site.
When preparing your projects to display on your portfolio, start by outlining the initial problem and then discuss how you approached solving it. Discuss what your role was on the design team if applicable. Then show your process as you worked through the project. Show early wireframes and sketches, discuss the problems you encountered as you worked on the project, and explain how you overcame those problems. Finally, showcase the final beautiful designs mocked up onto relevant devices or surfaces.
4. Make a strong initial impression!
Make a strong and distinctive first impression! As soon as someone lands on your homepage they should be easily to quickly get an idea of your style, focus, and specialties. The homepage of your portfolio site should clearly showcase who you are and what your abilities are. It should also be visually appealing, unique, and clearly show that you are someone this person should take note of.
5. Make your site easy to navigate
Make it easy to navigate. Any recruiters navigating your site likely only have a minute or two before they have to make a decision about you. Have a persistent navigation bar that makes it easy for them to get to any page of the site. Have a clear order to your layout. Be sure projects are grouped by type. Make it as easy as possible for a recruiter to get an idea of your strengths and review relevant projects.
6. Showcase your personality and passion.
Recruiters look through dozens, if not hundreds, of portfolios every day, and sometimes it can take more to stand out than a few well-thought-out projects. Consider the following (while being careful not to take the focus away from your actual work)...
- Start a blog where you write about your interests and opinions on current design trends. Medium is a great site to write about design and grow a small following.
- Showcase quirky and interesting passions or side projects that have nothing to do with the job you’re applying for (these don’t have to be design-related)
- Add color or interesting hover state animations to your nav bar or footer.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with your portfolio site. As long as your work is easy to review, your site is easily navigable, and you go into the appropriate amount of depth on each project, showing your personality is totally fine!
7. Have a clear and unique About page
Having a clear About page that showcases your background, strengths, current role, and previous employers. Let your personality shine through in your About section - try to make it as memorable as your work itself. After all, employers are hiring you for your skills but also want to hire someone who will add a unique dynamic to the team and will bring new ideas to the table. At the end of the About page, have a clear and simple way for someone to get in touch with you, either through a simple Contact Form or just by including your email address!
Treat your portfolio site as you would any other design project: start by outlining the end user (in this case, the recruiter or client) and think about how they’d ideally want to go through your site. Craft unique projects informed by research and then showcase them as case studies on your site, and make your site aesthetically interesting and easy to navigate. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to an amazing portfolio site that will land you a job! And remember, if you ever need help creating your site, check out the Portfolio Starter Kit on Creative Market.