3 key points for building a good portfolio

Previously, we talked about what portfolios are and the importance of keeping them updated to get new clients and projects. However, if we have not taken the time to organize our projects, building an effective portfolio can become an overwhelming task, and even hated by many creatives.

The root of this can come from the fact that we have not yet decided to organize our services as professionals or have not really discovered the type of work that represents us. Everyone’s path is very particular and in between we can see ourselves working or being part of projects that are not a reflection of the type of project we want to work on in the future. And that’s okay, because we are not static.

Understanding that a portfolio should not be confused with a catalog, we can use it as an effective tool to show what we do.

If you don’t know how to start telling your story as a creative, below are three key points to keep in mind when putting together a good portfolio.

Filter your work.

Don’t show everything you do. For two reasons: first, the portfolio can become very long and irrelevant and second, not everything we do lives up to our expectations. This is so, and we must be critical about our work, not coming from a destructive POV, but from the experiences and learning that each of these projects have left us.

You can filter your work by:

  • Type. Ex: Social Media, branding, communications, etc.
  • Project or Institution. Ex: If you have worked on different aspects of the same client or brand.
  • Theme. E.g.: If you have worked with very specific areas such as gastronomy, fashion, architecture, etc.

You have to tell the story.

It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words. But behind an image or final product there is always an intention, a concept, a brief or an idea. Even though you don’t have to write 40 pages about why you chose yellow for that logo, it’s necessary that every project be accompanied by text, even if it’s short. A portfolio is not only about designing in an aesthetic way and following coherent criteria, people who are reading the document must know at least the basic details of the project. Such as:

  • Name of the project
  • Customer
  • Year/Duration
  • Tools used, software, etc.
  • Work Team

PROTIP: Write these things in a document that has auto-correct and then paste it into Photoshop or Illustrator to avoid spelling errors.

More quality, less quantity.

After organizing and typing your projects, it’s time to select them. If it is a portfolio on your website or a platform (ex. Behance), there you really have much more extension and freedom to publish as many projects as you want. However, if you are building a specific portfolio for a client or project, it is necessary to limit the amount of project for two reasons:

  • Size. It is recommended that your final file does not weigh more than 4 MB. I recommend using tooks like smallpdf or ilovepdf to compress your final file without losing the quality of the images.
  • Time. We must be realistic, a recruiter will not look at a portfolio of 80 pages. It simply does not make sense.

If they want to see more things or the latest projects you’ve been working on, you can then direct traffic to your social media profiles or your website.

And a bonus,

Beware of over-designing.

It gets complicated when we want to show our projects. We must make sure the format we use is not too overloaded and takes away the prominence of the things we are showing. It would be good to choose a limited palette of colors, one or two typographies and thus not compete with the rest. This has always been my biggest problem when showing my work!

Now, something fun! Because I can’t talk about tips without practical examples, below are the links to some portfolios I’ve made over the years:

  • Sample 1 (2018) I made this one specifically for architecture-related job hunting.
  • Sample 2 (2019) I mixed my architecture visualization work with my graphic design work.
  • Sample 3 (2020) Illustration only portfolio.

Did these tips work for you? Would you add anything to keep in mind?

Let me know!

Fabiana Parra

Fabiana Parra

I’m a designer and illustrator with a quirk to draw everything.
Here you’ll find my experience as a freelance designer working from home in Buenos Aires.