Two of my main goals for 2011 included revamping my web and print portfolios. I’d done so many projects since my last version that I felt like my portfolios were no longer an accurate representation of my skill level. So, I got to work, first redeveloping the print version and then basing my web version off of that.
When I’m having a face-to-face meeting, I always present a print-based portfolio. Why, especially in this digital-crazy age? First and foremost, I feel like it’s more formal to present a book of work. Designers are always going to be drawn to the tactile no matter how much digital creeps in. Secondly, remember that your interviewer is not necessarily as young as you; they most likely created a print portfolio of their own at one point. If you’re still set on digital, bring in both; a print portfolio with the best of the best and then an iPad or laptop with even more projects and details if you are requested to show more.
I think of print and web portfolios in completely different ways. Here’s my personal strategy:
My print portfolio is the equivalent of a tightly edited short story. Measuring 11 x 17 inches and sandwiched between custom hardcovers, it is carefully curated to highlight a very select group of projects that flow from beginning to end. Additionally, it features a few projects that are too client-sensitive to share online and allows me to explain the process of these particular pieces in person. In comparison, my web portfolio is a much deeper archive with three times as many projects arranged in chronological order.
Why the difference in scope? When interviewing with a potential client or employer, you have a very short amount of time to share your work and the accompanying backstory, sometimes as little as twenty minutes. Because of this, what you choose to showcase has to be limited to what you consider your absolute best.
Often, this tightly edited body of work opens the door and leaves the interviewer hungry for more. What else do you have? What other clients have you worked with? This is your opportunity to lead them to your online portfolio where they can dig through a treasure trove of projects on their own time, at their own pace. This is your chance to go big and to even share more.
Excerpts from my 11 x 17 print portfolio. All layouts are designed in spreads.
When putting together your print portfolio, here are some tips that can help you along the way:
1. Edit, edit, edit.
Limit the projects that you choose to showcase to the absolute best. A combination of projects completed for top clients mixed with those that you feel most confident about should round out the mix. A good number to keep in mind is 10 to 12 projects max (only if each project is not longer than 1 to 2 pages each — otherwise, include even less). As you gain more clients and a wider variety of work, it becomes harder to narrow down the amount of pieces that you feel are worthy of inclusion. I always try to get a second opinion (or two) before finalizing the mix. Remember that the people reviewing your portfolio usually have very tight time constraints so keep your book short, sweet and on-topic. The last thing you want to do is annoy the people in charge of hiring you!
2. Showcase as much professional work as possible.
While there’s nothing wrong with showcasing some school work (especially if the project is absolutely amazing), including client work in your portfolio projects a level of expertise and professionalism. It demonstrates that you are able to work in the real world with companies who have actual deadlines and budgets. Client work implies that you can handle feedback on your work while delivering solid results. Also, when working with clients outside of school, the deadlines tend to be tighter, the guidelines are often more firm and the the expectations for professionalism are higher. Interviewers want to know that you can handle the intensity, stress and demands while still delivering a quality outcome.
I interned at an ad agency my entire second year of school and worked as hard as I could to replace as many school projects in my book as possible. Within a year of graduating, I had maybe one still lurking. Now, I have none. It takes some time but work as hard as you can and as fast as you can to get real world projects in your book!
3. A portfolio is never truly finished.
You just printed your brand new portfolio; think you’re done? You might be for the moment but set a goal of revising your portfolio at least once per year. The reason I say this is because the longer you wait, the more overwhelming the process of revamping your portfolio becomes. For instance, I’d completed between 20 and 30 new projects since my last portfolio overhaul. The process of collecting assets and writing the descriptions was too much; I didn’t know where to start. If I’d kept a list of new projects I’d completed and took an hour to gather assets once each project was wrapped up, the process would have gone much faster. Now that I’m finished, every time I complete a new project that I can share publicly, I upload it to my web portfolio (along with a description) since it’s in chronological order so I can see what I’ve completed.
You never want to find yourself in the position of having a job suddenly end and get stuck revamping your portfolio before you can start looking for a new one. Always be prepared and ready to go!
4. Invest in a format that you’re passionate about.
Some designers present their portfolios as handmade books or even create specially made cards but I prefer to keep my presentation as clean and unfussy as possible. Since my work changes so often, I want the ease of reprinting and assembling the pages without too much time investment. For three years, I had been using a white glossy acrylic 11 x 17 portfolio cover by Pina Zangaro and I absolutely loved it. The simplicity, durability and expandability all played prominently into my decision to go with this format. As time went on and I did more student portfolio reviews, I realized that we often had the same portfolio covers. My business was growing a lot and I wanted to stand apart from the competition so I recently had covers custom made with my brand name embossed with silver foil. Everyone has different budget constraints and preferences so do some research to find the best fit for your brand.
5. Embrace simple layouts.
Remember, the focus should remain on your work, not your portfolio. For this reason, I recommend sticking with white backgrounds, clean layouts and developing a grid and margins that carry through from beginning to end. White space is your friend! Think of your portfolio like a design book — the pieces that you’ve chosen to showcase should speak for themselves; keep flourishes, gradients, drop shadows, patterned backgrounds and textures to a minimum.
6. Develop an order that works for you.
This is another area where everyone has a differing opinion but you really have to weigh what’s right for your needs and also consider who you’re meeting with. Creating an order usually begins with selecting two of your strongest pieces to begin and end with. The middle should be assembled in a way that creates an interesting mix through varying color schemes, styles and formats. I usually begin with a page of logos (since branding is one of my primary focuses) and then move back and forth between larger corporate clients and smaller, more creative clients to show variety and that I can handle jobs both big and small.
Though, when building a portfolio, don’t be afraid to break the rules. Last year, I had a meeting with a designer that I really admire. She had some interesting advice about how a portfolio should create a vision. Her idea revolved around beginning with flat, 2-D based work (such as print design and logos) building to interactive, web-based work and ending with 3-D based work (packaging design, retail displays, etc.) Though this advice won’t necessarily work for everyone, it’s always interesting to hear a new perspective.
More portfolio excerpts.
Remember that everyone is going to have an opinion about your portfolio. What matters the most is that you’re proud and confident about your book since you’re the one that will be presenting it. Feedback is great and often, it will address details that you’ve overlooked but it’s important to filter it and to do what suits your work best. Your portfolio is your vision as a designer, not anyone else’s. A portfolio is never truly done but as designers, we need to learn to let go and to accept that we’ve done our best for that moment. As you grow as a designer, your portfolio has the potential to grow with you. Each project, each internship and each job should be viewed as a stepping stone to an even better portfolio.
One of my favorite portfolio projects, branding for Kristin Cofer.
Designers, what format do you prefer to present your portfolio in? Any tips or advice that you’d like to share?