Portfolios 101

A Few Tips to Improve Your Portfolio

Zach Deocadiz
Queer Design Club

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Are you finding it hard to begin working on your portfolio? Have you been applying for jobs but haven’t been hearing back? Here are some of our top design tips for better portfolios, featuring portfolios from folks in the Queer Design Club community!

Just a quick note: this advice is meant to be applicable across different design disciplines and levels of experience, so take the advice that feels most useful for you.

1| Find portfolios of folks who are at your same experience level and scope out your competition

You should have a good idea of the quality of portfolios you’ll be going up against so you can see what you’re doing well and what areas you may need some extra work. If you’re looking for an entry level position and not getting any interviews after applying, maybe you aren’t presenting your work in the way recruiters expect to see it or you may need more projects targeted at a specific area.

Some tips for finding designers at various levels:

  • If you’re an entry-level designer, try googling for recent college grads of schools with an established reputation in the specific field you’re looking at. You’ll often find directories of graduating seniors or a centralized portfolio website where you can search through recent grads’ work.
  • Try searching through directories — such as the Queer Design Club directory — and opening up a ton of portfolios in your specific design field. Many professional design fields have associations, such as the AIGA or the IGDA.
Amber Turnbull is a recent Graphic & Digital Design graduate. Their portfolio shows off very polished work that uses beautiful typography and bright colors. Source: Amber Turnbull

2| Keep in mind your target audience

Think about who will be viewing your portfolio and optimize for them. When you apply for a position, it will often be routed to recruiters who may not be designers themselves and may be handling hundreds of applicants for various positions they’re hiring for. Make it easy for them to find the information they need so they can quickly put your application into the approved pile to give to the hiring manager. Consider that if they are super busy, they may be viewing your portfolio on a phone — is your website responsive?

The same advice goes for freelance roles or jobs — are you submitting an application to an art director? A non-industry client? Keep in mind what they need out of your portfolio to approve your hire and immediately give them that information.

In both Joshua Lipka’s portfolio and in Audrey Gu’s portfolio, each project is labelled with the area of design that is reflected in that particular project—perfect for a recruiter who may be looking for one particular focus of design. Source: Joshua Lipka and Audrey Gu

3| Display your work prominently on the first page of your portfolio

Show off your work proudly and make sure every image on the home page is interesting and striking. This will make people want to click into the projects to read more about them. Try not to hide images of your work behind links — hit them over the head with how awesome your work looks!

To make your projects stand out from the crowd:

  • Consider showing things in context to make it obvious you know that there is a purpose behind your design
  • Consider the cropping of the images and how they may display in different formats such as on a phone versus on a desktop browser
  • Consider what the project images look like together on your website and make sure they don’t clash with each other
  • Put your strongest projects up top to grab attention immediately
Caroline Stjarnborg goes for broke and hits viewers with a large image of their most striking piece—their 2020 Boston Elections project. Source: Just Another Bad Artist

4| Optimize for the quick read but provide more information for the curious

When someone clicks through to a specific project, try to include a hero image at the top of the page that summarizes the project and a short, concise description. Consider including important information about each project: was this a solo project or did you work in a team? What were you in charge of? Where can they see this project in the wild? Who was the client? Make this short and concise so people who are skimming can quickly understand what the project is about

For folks who remain interested and want to read more, it’s great to include more details and more images of your project. It may be good to include some images and description of your process while working on the project so they can see exactly how you work and what they would be getting if they hired you.

Shay Ho’s studio, Made Up Studio, starts each project off by including a brief summary, a list of applicable skills, and a hero image showing off the project. This is perfect for getting a quick read of the entire project. Source: Made Up Studio

5| Show only the work you want to make in your next job

If you hate doing branding work but feature that in your portfolio, a hiring manager may be hiring you based on that project and would expect you to continue doing that in your new position. Similarly, if you want to be doing work with photography but show no evidence that you’ve ever art directed a photoshoot, you’ll likely be passed over for someone who has that work reflected in their portfolio. This goes not only for types of design, but also for topics or industries you want to design for.

Recruiters can only judge you with what they see. They won’t hire you to make work you want to make unless they understand that from the work you present — they’ll only hire you to repeat the success of your previous projects.

Cecilia Righini’s studio, Studio Lutalica, explicitly calls out that they work specifically with feminists and queers—and then follows that up with work done for those groups. Source: Studio Lutalica

6| It’s okay to use pre-made portfolio websites

Don’t feel like you have to know how to code a website or come up with the perfect website design if those aren’t your strengths. There’s nothing wrong with using a pre-built platform and it may even help you gain more traction if you use a platform that includes a social media aspect like Behance or Dribbble. If you need help getting started, Queer Design Club has a partnership with Carbonmade that gives QDC members two free months of a Carbonmade PRO plan.

Hui Chen uses Behance as his portfolio website of choice. It comes with large project photos and a banner image that can be used to personalize the look of your portfolio. Source: Hui Chen

7| Regardless of the platform, add some style to your portfolio

Pick appropriate styles for your portfolio that really reflect the work you make. For example, if you’re going for children’s book illustration, it may be better to go with a more youthful-looking font. However, if you’re looking for design jobs at a high fashion company, you may want to style your portfolio as looking more sophisticated.

That being said, at the end of the day, this portfolio should be a reflection of you as well as your work. Showing personality makes you memorable, especially in a sea of portfolios that may be very similar. This doesn’t mean you have to go wild, though. Think about the kind of person you want to be seen as and try to reflect that in the way you present your work.

On the left: use of lots of interesting typography, iconography, and bright colors implies a lot of fun and strong visual styling in the work. Source: Rebekah Rhoden | On the right: black, bright red, and bright blue with a modern sans serif typeface implies a more serious and mysterious presence—perfect for Delta Ark’s work into VR platforms and experimental tech projects. Source: Delta Ark

This article is part of a series on professional advice from the Queer Design Club. We hope you found these tips useful! If you’re here and queer, feel free to drop your portfolio in our #jobs-advice channel in Slack for more personalized advice.

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Zach Deocadiz
Queer Design Club

An XR designer who dreams about creating more inclusive virtual worlds