Portfolio tips for design graduates and seasoned professionals

  • Armila Llanaj

Whether you are a creative graduate or a seasoned creative professional, these tips will help brush up your portfolio.

Representing the Futureheads Creative & Design team, Gin and I attended D&AD’s New Blood Portfolio Surgery. This is a side event to D&AD where industry members meet with creative graduates to review their portfolios and give advice on how graduates can best present themselves and land their first dream role in the creative industry.  Whether you are a creative graduate or a seasoned creative professional, these tips will help brush up your portfolio.
Case study styled portfolios
When reviewing work, Creative or Design Directors really want to see and understand the process behind each project.  The final design or idea is important, but it is almost more important to understand how you got to that point.  
A lot of Designers and Creatives now showcase their work in mini-case studies; taking the viewer from the brief, through the creative process (whatever their discipline) to their final piece of work.  Some things to think about:
  • - What was the brief, who set it and how long did you take to complete it?
  • - Who were you working with? Give credit to others when relevant 
  • - How did you approach the project? Detail the full creative/design process 
  • - Present finished idea/design
  • - What you learnt from the project/skills developed/what would you do differently in a different scenario, e.g. maybe with bigger budgets or more time 
Interviewing & talking through your projects
Know your projects inside out! When you have the opportunity to meet a company for a placement or position, make sure you can efficiently talk the interviewer through each project in detail. The interviewer will want to hear about the process and how you got to the final design, why you chose a certain colour, or why you chose to take the project in a certain direction. They want to hear design/creative rationale. This comes in use not just for job interviews but also further in your career when you are presenting work to clients and stakeholders.On meeting a company, it is also important to understand that your interviewers are busy people and their time is precious. Before meeting with them, research the company fully. Work out which projects in your portfolio are most relevant to their business, and have these projects ready to talk through first. It’s likely you will only have between 30 minutes and an hour so make the most of that time. (It could also be quite useful to clarify how much time you have before the meeting, so you can fully prepare).
CV and Website
Having a one-page CV (maximum two pages) and a portfolio website is a necessity.  To get the interview or initial meeting you really need to be able to sell yourself through one, other or both of these mediums. Your work should do a lot of that, but at a junior level, companies really buy into who you are as a person. They want someone they can develop, train, and sculpt. Someone who doesn’t mind putting in the long hours, and has that eagerness to sink their teeth into any creative/design project.
A lot of the content from the CV can also be used within an ‘About Me’ section of your website. Some things to think about:
  • - Full skillset – software you can use and proficiency in each 
  • - Other work experience – no need to list every Saturday job through school, but showing you have some experience in a working environment is always useful
  • - Try to get your personality across – the kind of person are you, what inspires you, other hobbies you have (but be accurate with these!)
CV design
Here are my tips on designing a CV: 
  • - Stick to a couple of colours (maximum). Black and white can also look really good. 
  • - Incorporate the design with your personal brand if you have already created this 
  • - Make sure your skills and experience are clear and can be spotted quickly
  • - Keep it minimal and slick – this will appeal to both smaller creative agencies and large corporates. Anything too busy will only detract from the important stuff. 
  • - Make sure it’s legible when printed
- CV design and content are difficult, so feel free to send across and we would be more than happy to feedback our thoughts and advice.
Personal website
Tips for your personal website:
  • - Domain name: use one that makes sense and that you will want for the rest of your career. It might seem boring, but your name is the most effective. And it won’t be forgotten.
  • - Projects: don’t list them all. Instead, select 6-10 that you’re really proud of. These can be commercial (if you have any yet), projects from university, or self-initiated projects.
  • - Check out portfolio websites such as Behance and Dribble. These are great to have in addition to your personal website and you become part of the online design community as well.  
LinkedIn profiles
A lot of the industry now use LinkedIn – it’s rarer that someone doesn’t have a page than does.  For those of you who have not come across it yet, LinkedIn is a social network for professionals and your LinkedIn profile is very similar to your CV and should hold similar content.Create a profile that again sells yourself like your CV will, but with room to add in extra details you may have left out of your CV. Make sure to add your portfolio website to your profile, and then look to engage/connect with people within the industry, e.g. Creative Directors, Design Directors, Recruiters, Internal Recruiters/Talent Resourcers, etc. 
Researching companies
It is always good to know who you want to work for. Lots of Designers/Creatives have their ‘dream’ companies. However, I would suggest doing some research and creating a list of 50+ companies you really like the look of, that do the kind of work you want to be doing and are fairly in line with your skills.Once you have that list, try to approach these companies. You can find out a lot of information on the internet on who the best people to contact might be. 
And finally...
Keep up-to-date with industry news and understand what companies doing, e.g. finding out which agencies are winning accounts will give you a really good insight into the sector and be something you can mention/ask about in an interview. Showing your wider knowledge and enthusiasm for the sector will demonstrate your dedication to the career. For further advice on your portfolio, CV, or how to best present yourself within an interview, please get in touch at creative@wearefutureheads.co.uk and myself or another member of the team will be more than happy to give you some pointers.