Chasing the Perfect Portfolio
At Whipsaw we come across many different portfolios covering a variety of different skill levels. Organizing and presenting a portfolio can be a daunting task. You’ve spent years pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into your work, and now it’s time to be judged blind against an army of other designers, on the hunt for the same job. Whether you’re a student in search of an internship, recent graduate in search of your first job, or a seasoned professional looking for a fresh creative environment, here is some sage advice from our team.
You Eat with Your Eyes
You have 10 seconds to make an impression. The way you present your work, and how your work is laid out and communicated is just as important as the content inside. Think about shopping for food, only the most appealing items catch your eye. This all comes down to good packaging design that lets the food speak for itself. Let your portfolio do the same. Present your work with professionalism, simple callouts and reduced clutter. Allow the content to draw people in.
After making that first impression, the quality of your content should excite potential employers and drive them to dig deeper. Everyone remembers the first thing they see on your site, and it becomes etched in our minds. Layout your work to strike with the most visual impact. Use large beautiful hero renderings and photographs to visually represent the breadth of what’s beyond the landing page. Most commonly, student work is organized based on the cadence of a school semester, but when it’s placed into a portfolio, remember that potential employers didn’t spend months researching, sketching, and coming to the same conclusions as you. Without a doubt, a concept must be followed up by storytelling and substance, but we’re all visual people. Make an impact and draw people in to read more.
Tell a Story
A portfolio is a glimpse into the person behind it and may be your only chance to give the reviewers an insight into who you are and how you think. Your portfolio should exude your passion and soul and should never look like a stitched together version of your school projects. It should tell a visual story that goes beyond the surface understanding of process or rendering capabilities. It’s good practice to tell a different story with each project. The stories don’t need to be complex. In fact, they should be simple and easy to follow. Walk the viewer through your process. Even if the project was handed to you in school, coming up with a “why” will give it much more depth. Showcase your development of guidelines and requirements that influenced your design solutions.
The Meat to Back it Up
By now you’ve hooked people, they’ve scrolled beyond the introduction and want to know more. Here’s where you can prove you’ve done your research, talked to users, and made prototypes. It’s just like middle school math class…show the work to give us insight into how you thought through the problem, not just how you solved it in the end. Explain the highlights of the project, the “ah-ha” moments, and any milestone realization along the way. Anything that’s pivotal to the final design should be described, but keep it concise. Leave the research dissertation at home.
“You’re going to be judged by your weakest project, not your strongest.”
Playing it safe never got anyone anywhere so why would design be an exception? The worst thing you can do is take the safe approach when it comes to your projects; take a risk and present something unique. Your portfolio needs to grab the reviewers attention within the first minute. Reviewers often skim a few projects of a portfolio and if they aren’t compelled to dive deeper they move on.
What is your design “hook”? Presenting impactful images that tell a visual story and clear, concise headlines frame context effectively – the person looking at your portfolio isn’t interested in studying a tome, they are looking to be inspired by unique stories, images, and processes.
It’s easy to log onto Pinterest or surf trend blogs and be inspired by the products you see. What you may not realize is that many other designers around you are doing the same. Turning inspiration into influence is where things get dangerous, all of a sudden everyone’s work looks the same, influenced by the same images online. Don’t fall for it! Professional design teams reviewing your portfolio can see right through a fancy render to a flimsy design. Exercise your creativity and be original. Design is all about using your own voice to push the boundaries to create something special. Focus on what you excel at and highlight it. Many designers try to spread themselves too thin by being “mediocre” at everything – strive to be exceptional at a few skills and competent in others.
Beyond the Portfolio
Your portfolio is obviously an important tool to get you in the door and start the conversation, but don’t forget to bring your personality and intellect to the interview. In order to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously, you will need to be able to effectively communicate with the team. Being able to reference decision points and share your design considerations builds authenticity to your presentation. It also allows for a deeper exploration of who you are as a designer and prospective member of the team.