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Guide: How to Create a Killer Portfolio

You never get a second chance at a first impression, but with an on point portfolio – you won’t need one. Here's how to create a killer portfolio...

Posted 25 Jun 2020
How to Create a Portfolio

If the thought of creating the perfect portfolio makes you want to wrap yourself up in a blanket and sob into a tub of Ben + Jerry’s – you’re not alone. The idea of scrutinising and minimising your entire body of work into one pretty little package is not just overwhelming, it’s downright terrifying!

But, as a designer, your portfolio is your first port of call for prospective clients, jobs or opportunities, so you have to absolutely nail it. You never get a second chance at a first impression, but with an on point portfolio – you won’t need one.

Whether you’re looking to amplify your portfolio, revamp your portfolio, or build a whole new portfolio from scratch, we’ve put together this handy guide containing everything you need to know to showcase your work in style.

01. Curate Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide
Broken grid portfolio page – Lm Chatbot

The first step of creating a great portfolio is potentially the hardest: selecting your best work. While it can be tempting to feature as much work as possible to pad out your portfolio, it’s more effective to curate a few high-quality projects rather than a lot of average ones.

A portfolio is all about highlighting your best work – not all of it. So while it can be easy to become attached to every design and project, you’ve gotta be cut throat! Go for projects that best demonstrate your creativity, skill and versatility, and allow each example to have enough room to shine. Remember – quality over quantity.

Don’t be worried if you don’t have that many projects to showcase yet, or if you feel a project is too small.

Camilla Anderson, Envato Designer

“Don’t be worried if you don’t have that many projects to showcase yet, or if you feel a project is too small, as you can always build on your existing projects to create a more substantial portfolio,” says Envato designer – and resident portfolio expert – Camilla Anderson. “For example, if you’ve designed a logo on its own, create a mini style-guide with a color palette and image mood board for that brand, or download a few mockups to showcase how that logo looks on stationery and promotional material.”

02. Plan Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide
Personal branding + PortfolioEve Lyn Lau

As a designer, your portfolio is so much more than just a collection of pretty pictures. Your portfolio is your resume, your job application, your best-selling tool – so it’s super important to make sure it reflects not only your work, but your purpose.

Planning is essential for presenting your work professionally and purposefully, so think about your goals, your style, your strategy, your brand and your target clients, as well as what you’re highlighting and why.  

“I would suggest thinking of yourself as a brand, and your portfolio as a piece of marketing to sell that brand,” says Camilla. “ It can help to write a design brief for yourself that answers a few fundamental questions. Once you know these things about yourself you’ll be in a great place to create a folio that shows who you are, and is aimed at the jobs or clients you want to attract.”

When planning your portfolio, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the purpose of the folio? What do you want to achieve?
  2. Who is the audience, or what kind of audience do you want to attract?
  3. What’s your point of difference, or your strongest selling point?

03. Create Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide
Portfolio 2020Lak Lak

Once you’ve got your portfolio all planned out, it’s time to bring it to life!

While print portfolios can be a lovely, professional touch for job interviews or client meetings, in this day and age, having an online portfolio is absolutely crucial. And creating your own standalone website for your portfolio not only increases your professionalism and credibility – it’s also a great client acquisition tool.

“These days you should be focusing on having a digital portfolio over a printed one,” Camilla says. “There are various sites and platforms you can use to showcase your work online alongside other creatives, but having a sleek-looking portfolio website of your own will go a long way in making you look more professional.” 

These days you should be focusing on having a digital portfolio over a printed one.

Camilla Anderson, Envato Designer

While every designer should express their own unique style, as a general rule, your portfolio website should be simple, sleek and straightforward. A beautifully designed website may be eye-catching, but your work still needs to be the star of the show. 

While creating a website can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! Think of your website as a one-stop-shop for your clients to get a glimpse of your work, who you are, and what you do. 

“Having an online portfolio is a great way to show off extra skills, even if you didn’t design and code the site from scratch,” Camilla adds. “You can use a website-builder tool or find a WordPress theme that suits your content, then customize it to suit your aesthetic.” 

If you’re looking for something quick, easy and effective, there are plenty of website templates and template kits to help you create a perfect portfolio in no time! Simply choose a template that aligns with your desired style, upload your work and info, and you’re ready to go!

If you prefer to create a print portfolio, check out these articles on making a portfolio in InDesign, creating stylish layouts for a print portfolio, or how to make an architecture portfolio in InDesign.

04. Present Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide
Portfolio – Studio Almond

Ever heard the saying “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”? Well, portfolios are no exception! 

People’s perceptions of you and your work will heavily depend on how you present it. Whether your body of work is vast or humble, think about the most professional, complementary or interesting ways of presenting your portfolio to best highlight your work. 

People love knowing the story behind your finished work, so think about presenting your process – from conceptualization, to the project in progress, to the finished product.

“If you have a single illustration, show concept sketches, zoom in on special details like texture, or mock up the illustration on a website or in a magazine article,” Camilla suggests. 

It can also pay to contextualize each project with an engaging title and short paragraph – but keep the text to a minimum. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words! 

05. Personalise Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide
Product Design Portfolio 2020Vihar Kotecha

As a designer and creative, you have a unique perspective, experience and story – so now’s the time to tell it! Craft a bio that expresses your unique process, journey or point of view, and personalize your portfolio to tell your story – don’t just list your past jobs.

I think a great portfolio should show more than just the projects you’ve worked on.

Camilla Anderson, Envato Designer

“I think a great portfolio should show more than just the projects you’ve worked on,” says Camilla. “It should give a bit of insight into who you are, how you think, and what you’ll be like to work with. Some of these insights will be less obvious than others, but they’ll come through in the way you choose to present your work and the written details you include about each project and how you came to the final result.”

This is also a great opportunity to sell yourself, so consider including any other distinctive achievements or extra elements to give you an edge. This could include awards, accolades,  notable clients, or even a link to your blog or social media pages.

06. Innovate Your Portfolio

Portfolio Guide

While it’s tempting to just opt for the easiest, quickest or most comfortable way of presenting your work, adding a little bit of sparkle to your portfolio is much more likely to catch a client’s eye. After all –  outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens.

Tried-and-tested portfolios are popular for a reason – they work! But, if you want yours to stand out, it can pay to do things a little differently. 

Whether it’s integrating motion, interactive elements, a demo reel, or even creating a physical look book to complement your digital portfolio, push yourself to create something unique. 

“Try to think of ways to make your folio more dynamic, for example with movement or interactivity,” says Camilla. “You could add some subtle animation to elements on your website or within the mockups themselves, or include a playful interaction to make your folio more memorable. You could also create a demo reel for your design work to include on the homepage of your website, or to email out to prospective companies and clients.”

07. Refresh Your Portfolio

Congratulations, you’ve just created a killer portfolio! But… the work doesn’t end here. The best portfolios are never static – they’re constantly growing and evolving. As you continue honing your craft, make sure you’re regularly updating your portfolio to ensure it reflects your growth. Add your latest and greatest work, showcase your latest projects, and keep your copy fresh – and always remember: quality over quantity.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out the selection of portfolio templates on Envato Elements, and portfolio website themes on ThemeForest – all designed by Envato creators!

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