Your Portfolio Isn’t About Your Art

Collin Strachan
Oct 22, 2018 · 5 min read
Yeah, it should look good, but it’s really there to make YOU look good. Source

I wrote last week about what your resume should look like if you’re trying to get your first graphic design job.

Whether you’re transitioning careers or fresh out of the great graphic designer hatchery, you’re going to need a portfolio to land your dream graphic design job — or even a sucky one. Even though most of my writing focuses on how being a business professional will get you further than you could ever imagine in the design world, there will be a point at which your work really does matter.

Now that we’re all on the same page here, I have good news and bad news.

Here’s the bad news, no messing around: there are countless, innumerable, many many many, designers in this big blue world who are better than you. Accept it. Deal with it. Get over it. You will see work that is better, more forward-thinking, and more high profile than yours every time you get on your computer.

Wasn’t that fun?

Here’s the good news: your portfolio doesn’t have to show that you’re the best artist in the pile of applications. It needs to show, instead, that you rock at getting stuff done.

Now, that does not mean that I’m giving you permission to throw together some random collection of *decent* work and say “see, I can use every program in the creative cloud suite!” No, I do not mean that at all. It’s pretty dang easy these days to find someone who can use photoshop or illustrator. As a matter of fact, most of us can download templates or just get a gig on Fiverr to jam out super simple jobs that just need words on a page. What’s not easy to find, however, is someone who can design well and then follow up with a well-written email to a client. Or deliver a packaged project with properly sized assets and labeled layers. Or work across multiple production profiles between the digital print shop down the street, a production press, and packaging manufacturers in China.

Rather than showing that you know how to do design projects, prove to your new employer that you know how to finish design projects.

Ready to get results form your portfolio? Our 3-step process will increase the effectiveness of your job applications. If it doesn’t work for you, we’ll give your money back.

A book that someone printed, which is similar to my story. Source

I’ll share a story to demonstrate with I mean.

I was working with a client recently who needed a 20-page booklet designed and production-ready. They had their own digital press and finishing, so all I needed to do was get the design right and deliver production-ready files digitally. At the onset, it couldn’t have been more simple; they had branding guidelines, a template InDesign file — everything. They only needed me because their designer was out for a week and wasn’t able to wrap the project up before its deadline. As far as most of my work goes, this was like playing t-ball. Just hit it past the kid picking flowers in left field, run the bases, and send the invoice.

If you’ve never worked in design, here’s the best advice I’ll ever give you:it never goes that easy.

I delivered proofs several days before the deadline and revisions were going great. Then, the day before they planned to print it (which was three days before they needed it), the client called me and told me their finisher was broken, so they weren’t going to be able to print it. Because their designer (and, conveniently, the only guy who knew more than how to press “go” on the press) was out, no one was sure what they should do. Before calling me, they just decided to run it loose-leaf on the office printer and figure it out the next week.

A perfectly executed job and it ends up getting stapled at the corner and tossed out? Ew.

*Deep Breath*

Here’s where it all comes together. We ended up working together to find a local printer who had the capacity for a rush job and got the booklets printed and bound just in time. It’s no crazy story, but if I were to put this one in a portfolio, I would not leave out the ending. Instead, I’d rather leave out one of the spreads I designed to have room for a brief summary! I wasn’t valuable to that client at the end of the day because I designed a book from a template with branding guidelines. I was valuable because I called 10 printers in their area, set up production files, and got the darn thing printed by its deadline.

There are a million posts out there, far better than I could write, about how to create the most beautiful portfolio that man has ever seen. It is not the goal of Designed Academy to make you a better artist or to give you the secret sequence that will make your design more hypnotically tantalizing than any other out there.

Instead, I want you to take away one thing: your portfolio will stand out if it shows that you finish well. If it’s a heavy typographic piece, it’s formatted consistently with great font pairings and even better use of white space. If it’s web design, it has a clear sequence of information and call to action. Show your new boss that you’ll finish what you start,hit deadlines, and communicate clearly, and you’ll soar to the top.

So as you’re putting together your portfolio, consider making it a presentation for a business man who likes to spend money wisely, rather than for an art aficionado. Write brief summaries, detail your involvement, and show that when you’re on a project, it gets done right.

Ready to get results form your portfolio? Our 3-step process will increase the effectiveness of your job applications. If it doesn’t work for you, we’ll give your money back.

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