Chasing the Perfect Portfolio

At Whipsaw we come across countless portfolios covering a variety of skill levels. Organizing and presenting a portfolio can be a daunting task. You’ve spent years pouring your blood, sweat, and tears into your work, and now it’s time to be judged blind against an army of other designers, on the hunt for the same job. Whether you’re a student in search of an internship, a recent graduate in search of your first job, or a seasoned professional looking for a fresh creative environment, here is some sage advice from our team.

You Eat with Your Eyes

You have 10 seconds to make an impression. The way you present your work, and how your work is laid out and communicated is just as important as the content inside. Think about shopping for food…Only the most appealing items catch your eye. This all comes down to good packaging design that lets the food speak for itself. Let your portfolio do the same. Present your work with professionalism, simple callouts, and reduced clutter. Allow the content to draw people in.

After making that first impression, the quality of your content should excite potential employers and drive them to dig deeper. Everyone remembers the first thing they see on your site, and it becomes etched in our minds. Lay out your work to strike with the most visual impact. Use large beautiful hero renderings and photographs to visually represent the breadth of what’s beyond the landing page. Most commonly, student work is organized based on the cadence of a school semester. When it’s placed into a portfolio, however, remember that potential employers didn’t spend months researching, sketching, and coming to the same conclusions as you. Without a doubt, a concept must be followed up by storytelling and substance, but at the end of the day, we’re all visual people. Make an impact and draw people in to read more.

Tell a Story

A portfolio is a glimpse into the person behind it, and may be your only chance to give the reviewers an insight into who you are and how you think. Your portfolio should exude your passion and soul. It should never look like a stitched together version of your school projects. Instead, it should tell a visual story that goes beyond the surface understanding of process or rendering capabilities. It’s good practice to tell a different story with each project. The stories don’t need to be complex. In fact, they should be simple and easy to follow. Walk the viewer through your process. Even if the project was handed to you in school, coming up with a “why” will give it much more depth. Showcase your development of guidelines and requirements that influenced your design solutions.

“You’re going to be judged by your weakest project, not your strongest.”

Take Risks

Playing it safe never got anyone anywhere, so why would design be an exception? The worst thing you can do is take the safe approach when it comes to your projects. Take a risk and present something unique. Your portfolio needs to grab the reviewers attention within the first minute. Reviewers often skim a few projects of a portfolio, and if they aren’t compelled to dive deeper, they move on.

What is your design “hook”? Presenting impactful images that tell a visual story with clear, concise headlines frame context effectively. The person looking at your portfolio isn’t interested in studying a tome. They are looking to be inspired by unique stories, images, and processes.  

Stand Out

It’s easy to log onto Pinterest or surf trend blogs and be inspired by the products you see. What you may not realize is that many other designers around you are doing the same thing. Turning inspiration into influence is where things get dangerous. All of a sudden, everyone’s work looks the same because they’re all influenced by the same images online. Don’t fall for it! Professional design teams reviewing your portfolio can see right through a fancy render to a flimsy design. Exercise your creativity and be original. Design is all about using your own voice to push the boundaries to create something special. Focus on what you excel at and highlight it. Many designers try to spread themselves too thin by being “mediocre” at everything. Just strive to be exceptional at a few skills and competent in others.

Beyond the Portfolio

Your portfolio is obviously an important tool to get you in the door and start the conversation, but don’t forget to bring your personality and intellect to the interview. In order to get a seat at the table and be taken seriously, you will need to be able to effectively communicate with the team. Being able to reference decision points and share your design considerations builds authenticity to your presentation. It also allows for a deeper exploration of who you are as a designer and prospective team member.

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