5 Steps to Writing a Winning Design Portfolio

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Hey there! As a fellow designer, I know you‘re well aware that an impressive portfolio is crucial for landing your dream design job or attracting high-paying clients. But creating a portfolio that stands out takes strategy and work.

Let me walk you through the complete process I‘ve found for developing winning design portfolios over my 10+ years as a digital designer. I‘m excited to share everything I‘ve learned!

Step 1: Define Your Target Audience and Goals

The very first thing you need to figure out is who you want to view your portfolio. Here are some typical audiences designers create portfolios for:

  • Employers – Both large agencies and small firms looking to hire. You‘ll want to emphasize professionalism and show you can handle their typical client work.

  • Clients – Such as small businesses, startups, nonprofits. Show you understand their industries and can solve their problems creatively.

  • Competitions – Like design awards and scholarships. Focus on your best conceptual or self-initiated work.

  • Yourself – To benchmark your skills. Include learning experiences and works-in-progress.

Once you know who your audience is, think about what impression you want them to have after viewing your portfolio. How do you want to come across? Some examples:

  • Knowledgeable about web design, UX and best practices
  • Proficient with design tools and software
  • Strong collaborator who values feedback
  • Quick learner eager to take on new challenges
  • Leader who can independently manage projects
  • Specialist in responsive mobile design

With your goals and target viewer defined, you can choose projects and design your portfolio strategically to achieve the results you want.

Step 2: Curate the Best Work Samples

Now it‘s time to comb through your files and pick the work samples that highlight your skills in the best light.

Here are my top tips for choosing stellar portfolio pieces:

  • Recent work – The past 1-2 years is ideal. It shows your current abilities.

  • Variety – Mix of websites, apps, branding, print materials, etc. Shows range.

  • Problem-solving – Real client work that overcame challenges. Not just decorative.

  • Process – Show early sketches and iterations to demonstrate thinking.

  • 8-12 samples – Enough to show breadth, not so much it‘s overwhelming.

  • Quality over quantity – Be very selective. Only your best work.

  • Customize – Swap pieces tailored to each job application.

I recommend spending significant time evaluating and choosing your work samples – this is the core of your portfolio!

Step 3: Choose the Right Platform

Now it‘s time to decide where and how to present your projects. Here‘s a quick comparison of portfolio platform options:

Platform Pros Cons Skill Level
Hosted portfolio service (Behance, Dribbble) Quick setup, template designs, built-in community Limited customization Beginner
Website builder (Squarespace, Wix) More customization, multiple pages Less design control Beginner to intermediate
Custom-coded site Complete design control Requires coding skills Advanced

There are great options available whatever your technical skill level. Just be sure to choose a platform that allows your work to shine.

I recommend starting with a website builder or hosted portfolio until you have enough projects to warrant investing time in a custom site. This 2016 survey found 54% of designers use Squarespace or Behance portfolios.

Step 4: Write Strong Project Descriptions

I can‘t stress enough how important the write-ups are for each project in your portfolio! Well-written descriptions provide vital context and tell the story behind your work.

For each piece, explain:

  • The problem – What challenge or need was the client facing? Who was the target user?

  • Your role – Were you lead designer? Collaborator? What were your responsibilities?

  • Process – What design stages did you go through? Key decisions made?

  • Results – How you solved the problem, met objectives, pleased the client.

  • Skills used – Programs, frameworks, technologies leveraged.

Keep descriptions concise and scannable – 250-400 words each max. Use bullet points and headings. Link to live sites. Show don‘t just tell!

Step 5: Optimize the Viewing Experience

With your projects selected and described, it‘s time to design the overall viewing experience for your visitors.

Follow these UX and web design best practices when assembling your portfolio:

  • Mobile-friendly – Looks great on phones and tablets. This is critical today.

  • Simple navigation – About, Work, Contact pages. Intuitive menus and links.

  • Logical flow – Organize projects from newest to oldest or by category.

  • Project images – High quality, cropped nicely, not too small.

  • Easy contact – LinkedIn, email, contact form. Make it simple to get in touch.

  • Fast load speed – Optimize images, limit large videos, and compress files.

  • Classic design – Avoid overly trendy or distracting elements. Let projects be the focus.

  • Regularly update – Archive old projects, add new work every quarter.

Thinking through these presentation factors will ensure your work gets the showcase it deserves.

Keep Building Your Portfolio Over Time

Whew, there are certainly a lot of factors that go into creating a stand-out design portfolio! The work doesn‘t stop once you‘ve assembled your first portfolio either.

Make sure to continually update your portfolio with new projects every few months. Swap out pieces that are no longer relevant. Write and re-write descriptions as you gain more perspective.

Over time, consider expanding your portfolio into a full professional website, showcasing different bodies of work. Use it to build your personal brand and design career.

The effort you put into crafting a strong, strategic portfolio pays off greatly down the road. It takes time to build a book of impressive work samples and refine how you present yourself – but the investment is well worth it!

Let me know if you have any other questions! I‘m always happy to chat more about developing design portfolios. Just shoot me an email. Best of luck as you build your book and land that dream job!

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