Is Your Portfolio Getting You The Jobs You Want?

How to Improve Your Graphic Design Portfolio

We all know our design portfolios are what mostly get us hired. Thankfully, I’ve managed to get some work despite knowing my current portfolio page has always needed improvement. Well, at least it was enough to get a few potential clients asking for more, so I get to send them a better and more comprehensive PDF portfolio. Admittedly, it isn’t good practice to put up an online portfolio that isn’t good enough and just hope it will get us some jobs anyway. It’s almost like going for a job interview carrying a beat-up case with poorly organized pieces or pages falling off.

So now, I finally have time to work on my portfolio page and hope to have it much improved and up in a few days. Here’s what I’m doing and if you’re also feeling that your page needs updating, I hope you find this helpful.


Making it Presentable

It depends on what kind of work you do and how you feel is the best way to present it. As this is my identity portfolio, I’m all for using thumbnails on one page. A note on using thumbnails, it should be large enough to show the most relevant part of the work itself, like just a logomark, if you prefer not to show it along with the company name. It annoys me when I look through portfolios with thumbnails that show a tiny part of the work and I am forced to click on it, assuming I’m still interested. Potential clients may have less patience. Also, the thumbnails should link to a larger preview or a page with more details about the project. We expect thumbnails to be clickable.

Unless the work is really good, I don’t have much patience for flash portfolios either. If you are presenting your work in flash, consider first if it is really the best way to show your work. (If you specialize in flash websites, of course flash is right for you.)


Putting Together the Content

What we put in our portfolios need not be every design we have ever done in our careers, just those we believe are the best representations of our skills.

It’s always a good idea to include a short description of the project. Some photos or mock-ups will also give the viewer a better understanding and appreciation of the work.

When sharing to potential clients, I would just like to say that you shouldn’t sound apologetic. Be proud of your work because no one else will be proud of it for you (except your mom). Needless to say, all work we do, whether it’s to be included or not in our portfolios, should always be something we are proud of in the first place. When I worked in an office years ago, my boss used to ask me, “Are you proud of this?” (read: I’m not entirely pleased). It’s a question I still ask myself before sending a file to a client.

It’s easy to put ourselves down when we view excellent work done by other designers. The thing to remember however is, we aren’t aiming to be inferior versions of Milton Glaser, we are aiming to be better versions of ourselves.

I’ve gone a bit off-topic there but I think it needed to be said. Anyway, as we become better designers, we replace the weaker pieces of our portfolios with our most recent and stronger ones.


Providing a Call-to-Action

I don’t mean Buy Now buttons, unless you’re indeed selling something, but since we put up portfolios so clients can see our work, we ought to make it easy for them to hire us or discuss some more. So put a link to your email or contact page, invite them to read the testimonials, link to your About, Pricing or FAQ pages. Put all those on the portfolio page. The point is to make it as easy as possible for the client to have a clearer picture of what it’s like to work with you and talk about hiring you.


Improving our portfolios would certainly increase our chances of getting the jobs and clients we want. How about you, is your portfolio working for you? What tips can you share that made your portfolio stand out?

Update 02-015-13: My updated portfolio

  • July 26th, 2011 /

9 Comments to “Is Your Portfolio Getting You The Jobs You Want?”

  1. Muneeb Ahmad says:

    “So now, I finally have time to work on my portfolio page and hope to have it much improved and up in a few days. ”

    — ——————————————————————————————–

    This is where I hope to be soon! 🙂

    My new website has a slideshow gallery type portfolio and it is very basic and admittedly I did rush it. When I get the time I will be following your advice. Firstly I’ll be making it more attractive, then separate into work on a client basis so everything is sectioned off per client rather being jumbled up all in one and finally I will be adding a nice call to action’ type button where they can read testimonials.

    My ‘Contact Me’ button follows down and up with the user interactions so they can always view my contact info. any time by just one click.

  2. David Airey says:

    Good call on the thumbnail content. I’ve never understood why people leave potential clients with a guessing game, i.e., a grid of tiny thumbnails that give no indication of what’s behind them.

    Seems like your idea of a decent portfolio is similar to mine, Grace. Flash is off-putting for me, too (unless of course that’s the design speciality being pimped).

  3. Grace Oris says:

    Muneeb, I wonder why we rush through creating our portfolio pages when we know it’s that important? 🙂

    David, I like how you did your portfolio with your work shown in large images in context. That way, I think the client immediately “gets it” and doesn’t even need to click through. Oh, and had you used flash, I wouldn’t have remained a loyal subscriber…

  4. Muneeb Ahmad says:

    I guess, for me anyway, I was in a rush to get the new site launched after so much delays and problems so I had to sacrifice things, But I am somewhat ‘lucky’ (if you can even call it that I suppose) in that I haven’t had the chance to properly advertise my business yet as my first Client has ordered a huge amount of design services from me so I’ve been buys with that. I suspect no one really even knows of my site yet so I don’t think people will notice a somewhat rushed portfolio for now anyway.

    Obviously I’ll be fixing it ASAP and in fact your post has really helped to realise what else I could improve on my site before it’s properly advertised so I guess you’ve helped me even more Grace, thanks! 😀

  5. Muneeb Ahmad says:

    Oops, meant busy not buys.

  6. David Airey says:

    Reminds me of my own situation some years back when I thought no-one would notice. My advice is if you think your portfolio looks like it was created in a rush, keep it offline until it doesn’t. Put a simple placeholder/about page in its place — you only get one chance to make a first impression.

    Well done with your first client, though, Muneeb. All the best.

  7. Muneeb Ahmad says:

    You’re probably right David, will definitely take that into consideration and thanks for your kind comments. 🙂

  8. Heidi says:

    It interesting that you state PDF portfolio is the way to go, while in college I had only made a PDF portfolio once and it wasn’t emphasized as much as other projects methods where. I remember when many other professional criticized my final portfolio and each one had told me something different. For example one designer liked the details about the project on the front so he didn’t have to waste time flipping it over, while others didn’t because it was a distraction from the piece. It was interesting to learn how everyone has a different opinion as to how they would like to view portfolio’s, just like everyone has different likes and dislike as the styles within the artwork.

  9. Grace Oris says:

    Thanks for dropping by and sharing, Heidi.

    As you mentioned, everyone has a different opinion, so I think it’s smart to design your portfolio based on who’s going to look at it. I actually prepare different sets/formats for when clients ask to look for more work than what I have online. From initial interactions with a prospective client, I get an idea of the style of work he/she needs to see, the variety (or not) of work, the amount of detail to give, etc. It’s also another way of showing what kind of work you’d like to do and the client you want to work with 🙂

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