When you're just starting out, it's important to ensure that there's some sort of visual thoroughfare or consistency in the works that you present, especially because as a new grad, you have all these different skillsets and diverse projects you'd want to showcase that might not overlap much visually or conceptually. Your "signature style" will develop naturally over time (and experience), and become more apparent in your work without having to make a pronounced effort. And don't feel self-conscious about having mock client work in your portfolio — in fact, take it a few steps beyond the scope of what was required in a classroom setting, and really build it out in your free time so you feel more confident owning it and presenting it!
— Seowon Bang RGD, Senior Designer at eBay
The portfolio is an entryway to build future relationships with clients, agencies or corporations. And now, that entryway is through various social media platforms like LinkedIn, Instagram and personal websites. Make sure that you build a storyline that is consistent through all these apps. Also, if you are choosing a very defined design stream, make sure your portfolio reflects those interests. Example: You want to design for the gaming industry, then build the visual experience as a game.
— Elize Bogossian, Senior Visual Communications Manager at Air Canada
Please keep in mind that what you are presenting, to anyone, is YOUR work, something that you need to be proud of, and stand up for it!
— Giulia Bonforte RGD, Senior Graphic Designer at Burrard Properties
The portfolio is a reflection of not only the quality of work, but also a reflection of the personality and intention of the designer. When putting together their portfolios, step in the shoes of the interviewer and ask:
- What are some of the things that they may look for that I have not shown?
- How do I come across as a well-rounded creative that's adaptable?
- Is the way I'm presenting my work selling myself short?
- Is my work an accurate reflection of where I want to go?
- Is my personality reflected in the work and in the way I'm presenting my work?
My overall comment from the work that's shown is that I'd like to see more from some of the brand projects. Brand is much more than just a logo and stationery, it encompasses physical, environmental and digital spaces, how that brand interacts with people is important to show in a well-rounded portfolio.
— Karl Chen, Associate Creative Director at Mosaic
Keep your audience in mind — if needed, customize your book to what is likely going to get their attention. Only put in your best work; sometimes it is tempting to put a bit of everything to show that you can do it, but the ugly duckling will bring the house down. Think of various platforms that allow for flexibility: Google docs, for example, can contain video and you can customize each book (so you can have different ones). Finally, ask a tough friend or colleague to take a look. We sometimes fall in love with our own work for various reasons, but it might not be right as a curated piece of PF.
— Nathalie Cusson, Creative Director Design at Le Parc Design, Juniper Park \ TBWA
The one thing students should remember is to be as authentic and as a clear as possible with their strengths, and show it in their work. There are many ways of presenting a portfolio, but many of us are looking for designers that have an expansive vision, are curious but above all are true to themselves! This is the unique way of seeing that you can bring both to your work and to a studio.
— Vanessa Eckstein RGD, Founder & Creative Director at blok design
I tell all young designers that to resonate with your audience, you need to tell a story. This applies to your portfolio and how you present yourself. It’s about a show, not just informing your audience, but entertaining them too. I often ask them to think about it like this; would you rather flip through an annual report, or a beautiful coffee-table book?
— Will Hum RGD, Principal at Clear Space Design
Tell me your story. I want to get to know you. Hiring panels want to know if you are a good fit for their team. So don't be afraid to show me who you are beyond your work. Or, show me work that reveals who you are. Remember to work on those soft skills not necessarily taught in the classroom, but that will set you apart. And honestly, soft skills, including communication/writing skills, time management, work ethic, and public speaking, are all highly desirable traits. Get used to talking about your work. Practice critiquing your work from a third-person perspective. Practice, practice, practice. The more you do it, the less uncomfortable it will be.
— Cecilia Mok, Senior Designer at Sinai Health Foundation
Quality trumps quantity. Your student work can be refined and improved after the work has been graded. Identify your top three case studies and take them to the next level. Start by looking at award-winning design case studies for inspiration. Raise your bar by raising your awareness of what design excellence looks like. Be open to constructive feedback from a pro—if you get the same comments from a few industry vets, act on it.
— Howard Poon RGD, VP Design at DDB Canada
I hope the next step for students and new grads is to stop, reflect, and maybe even offer a little self-congratulation and acknowledgement for all the work it took to get where they are. When they dig back in to finesse their portfolios, I urge them to apply the valuable lessons learned during Creative Directions with a caveat: Filter that advice through your own values, aesthetic sensibilities, and goals. Nobody knows your career better than you do! We’re here to support along the way.
— Kelly Riback-Small RGD, Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Intents & Purposes Inc.
The presentation is as important as the portfolio; prepare it in advance. Putting a portfolio together requires work and curation on your part, and I advise showcasing only your best work (around five pieces). Additionally, I think that students and new grads frequently get hung up on the fact that it does not look perfect, and while I understand the feeling, you need to start somewhere. Done is better than perfect. If your interest is lettering, try to get at least 50% of your portfolio focused on lettering. Not all projects need to be school-assigned or client-based; you can include passion projects.
— Andrea Rodriguez RGD, Digital Designer, Lettering Artist & Muralist
I would say the best thing they can do to prepare is practice taking someone through their book, explaining their thought process and insights that led to their creative decisions. They should not discount the value that explaining/defending their choices has; it's crucial in this business because that's exactly how you sell clients your work.
— Pamela Rounis, Creative Director at Rethink
A portfolio isn't something static. You'll be updating it throughout your career, so your portfolio is never going to feel 100% finished. Include work that showcases not only what you can do, but also gives the reviewer a bit of insight as to who you are as a designer and person.
— Elana Rudick RGD, Owner, Creative Director at Design Is Yummy
Many portfolio interviews take place virtually with screen sharing, so consider the format of how you are showing your work for the greatest visual impact. Rather than browsing around your portfolio site, I recommend presenting a landscape-oriented pdf or slide deck. For each project, spread it out over 3–5 slides with large images and explain your work as you flip through.
— Jay Wall RGD, Principal Creative Director at RallyRally x Briteweb
When presenting portfolio pieces, it's always good to include tangible and measurable results whenever possible. The design of course must aesthetically look good first and foremost. However, to really impress business leaders and show that you're not simply making something look pretty, you should provide an additional layer of context with specific results on how your design impacted the bottom line or, in the case of new grads, what the business impact you believe your work will achieve.
— Peter Wong RGD, Creative Director at Ada
Think about the pacing of your work. If you're showing process work and sketches, consider including them before the final piece as you describe the challenge you were tasked with. This will help build up anticipation as you describe your process and reveal your finished piece. Similarly, if you're redesigning something — a logo, book jacket, website etc. — be sure to include the original design in a way that best highlights the changes that you've made.
— Michael J.Young RGD, Design Lead at Government of Ontario