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How to create the perfect design portfolio


Having spent 5 months recruiting for a senior creative designer for one of our top brand/design agency clients, we’d like to share some insights straight from the client to help our creative candidates do themselves justice and get that dream job. If you’re a designer and it’s your mission to join one of the country's top studios then your portfolio needs to have the wow factor. Here are some useful tips to help you get their attention.

Your portfolio is going to do most of the talking, so your CV can be simple (but beautiful), though you shouldn’t neglect small and important details such as these:

  • If you include your own brand identity then make sure it looks as slick as the rest of the brands in your portfolio. A portfolio brimming with big brand work accompanied by a CV with a glaringly ill-fitting personal brand identity will often land you in the ‘no’ pile.

  • Typography is really important!

  • Most creative CVs are one-pagers. There is no hard and fast rule, but concise is often best. On the other hand, make sure your CV tells the reader what they need to hear, like the software you’ve used and how proficient you are, where you’ve worked and when you worked there, whether you were designing, art directing, presenting ideas to clients, mentoring junior members of the team – those sorts of things.

  • Don’t forget to show personality – what do you do outside of work? Who (or what) inspires you and why?

  • Infographics can be a great way of portraying information more clearly, but more often than not we see CVs where infographics have the opposite effect (that’s not to say they can’t work though). Text is fine and infographics are only appropriate if they add value.

  • Simple is often more beautiful. Your CV should look clean and uncluttered, and any additional design elements should serve a purpose or portray an idea.

Once your CV is polished, the bigger task is the portfolio. We’re talking about breaking into the best of the best here, so you need to really go all out. Take your time to make it perfect.

  • Generally speaking, it’s good to have a mixture of branding and campaign work if you’ve got it, but if a job advert focuses on a specific area, give the client what they want.

  • Clients expect flawless execution, so only include your best work! A poorly designed campaign for Coca Cola is not going to grab as much of the right attention as a beautifully executed business card for a start-up.  

  • Big ideas that transcend specific mediums are probably essential. I could quote this from a number of different clients! Your portfolio needs to show BIG IDEAS, however it's worth knowing that Creative Directors and Design Directors will usually appreciate that your bigger brand clients won’t have always allowed the more daring of ideas get implements, so if you have big brand work that doesn’t quite tick off this all-important competency, it's perfectly acceptable to include the stuff that the client didn’t go with. You can even include really awesome ideas that you came up with at Uni or in your own time.

  • Scamps are your friend even if they're hand drawn on scraps of paper and scanned in (if presented beautifully). Scamps and sketches are often considered a great way to see how a creative person thinks, it's where big ideas first get fleshed out. Do include scamps and sketches where appropriate. If you don’t keep these, start doing so! You WILL need them.

  • Don’t dilute the ‘wow’. Quality is better than quantity. Yes, variety is good – digital, packaging, exhibition stand, infographics, brand identity work are generally all great things to include in your portfolio. If you’ve done it all then it’s good to show an example of each (or better still, the concept that transcends them all and a glimpse of the execution across each). But, you only really need to choose your best 4 or 5 examples. 6 maybe at a push. If you had three brilliant examples and 3 good examples, only show the 3 brilliant ones and maybe 1 of the good ones if you really have to.

  • Don’t write too much. You should have one example or client case study per page, accompanied by a line or two lines explaining what YOU did on the design – was it entirely your work or did you contribute as part of a team? Be honest.

If you’ve got the raw talent, and this post helps you upgrade your portfolio from good to awesome, then why not check out our creative job vacancies to find your dream job.

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