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In Design Last updated: December 14, 2021
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For both graphic and web designers, a stellar portfolio is the #1 instrument to attract clients or land a dream job.

It’s the best and most valuable tool to promote your skills and expand your professional opportunities. But for a design portfolio to work on you, it’s a must to create and organize it right.

A winning portfolio not only demonstrates your most compelling works as a designer but also communicates your personality to your target audience. It should grab a viewer’s interest, impress and surprise them, therefore evoking emotions and making them remember you. Your design portfolio can tell a client or a prospective employer about how you generate design ideas and organize the whole creative process.

With so many tips on creating design portfolios available online, it’s easy to get lost in the information, and it’s challenging to select the core principles that would fit your situation. In this article, you’ll find the standard steps to writing a winning design portfolio that works for all designers, regardless of their specialization.


#1. Decide on a core purpose and format of your design portfolio

As a designer, you might want to jump in to cool ideas on how your portfolio should look, what colors to choose, or what latest design trends to use for representing your best works.

Stop! Keep them for later.

First and foremost, you need to specify the core purpose of your design portfolio. What do you want from it?

  • Do you want the world to see your work samples so you could grow your online presence and build an audience?
  • Are you a newbie designer who needs viewers to see who you are and how you approach problems?
  • Do you want them to read about your design process so you could attract new clients to your freelance work?
  • Do you want to share your biggest design project, describing its every part, from research to implementation?
  • Or, do you need nothing else but document your knowledge and achievements?

Once you know the purpose, you’ll understand what information to include in your portfolio and what format to choose for representing it best. You will know how to express it visually and how to start writing it to hook your target audience.

#2. Decide on works to include in the portfolio

Oh, by the way, do you know who your target audience is? Do you write a design portfolio for future employers, potential clients, your fellow designers, or maybe yourself? Write down the information these people would want to read about you:

  • Who are you as a designer? What types of work do you do?
  • What message do you want to communicate with your design portfolio? When someone looks at it, how could they identify your design specialization: web design, UX, product design, graphic design, and so on?

Based on that information, decide on what project samples to include in your design portfolio. You’ll need to sort them by type and time of creation, or you can just put the best and most impressive ones at the top. Quality comes over quantity here.

There’s no need to show every work you did as a designer: Focus on the best stuff that would also demonstrate the diversity of your projects. In other words, don’t publish five web designs you did for e-commerce websites; you better add one you did for a bank, one — for a pet club, and one — for a non-profit organization.

The balance for quality and diversity of your samples will demonstrate your talent and creativity to prospective clients, as well as your exposure to different media.

So, here goes a summary of the rules:

  • Showcase only the most brilliant design works in your portfolio.
  • Include a variety of samples for others to see the width of your design experience.
  • Don’t include ALL your designs, unless you are a new design graduate who doesn’t have tons of samples yet. Avoid the works you are not incredibly proud of: Think of your portfolio as an exhibition of art, not an image stock.

#3. Choose a platform for your design portfolio

The next step is choosing the right platform for your design portfolio, and it will depend on your technical skills. Some offer formatting that requires the HTML and CSS knowledge, while others are less customizable and, therefore, more comfortable to use. (However, the latter ones give you less freedom to design a portfolio the way you want.)

Sure enough, web and UX designers might want to choose platforms that require coding, so they could show off their coding experience by creating a unique portfolio that would demonstrate their design personality.

Here are the options for you to consider:

Hosted portfolio websites, such as Portfoliobox or Dunked. It’s the most comfortable option because such sites don’t require any coding. All you need to do is to choose a template and upload your files to a ready-made layout.

Hosted business websites, such as Squarespace or Weebly. Here you can also choose a template for your portfolio but have more control over it. You can customize it, select premium options, or leave it as it is.

Self-hosted websites, where you create a custom web design portfolio from scratch. Here you can demonstrate all the skills you have and come up with a personal website, showing off your design and building your persona brand.

#4. Describe each design work like a boss

Okay, you’ve chosen a platform and specified the design works to add to your design portfolio. But you can’t simply put the images or screenshots of your work and wait for clients to come and hire you.

Each work in your portfolio should tell a story, explaining what a client’s goals were and how your design achieved them. You need to include a summary of the process and the results from each project. It shouldn’t be a long read or a case study describing all the details, but please give viewers an understanding of what it is all about.

That’s where your expository writing skills will come in handy. You might want to include the following information:

  • What were the problems and the goal of this project?
  • Was there any hypothesis behind it?
  • What was your process? How did you arrive at the design decision you used?
  • Any conclusions and learnings from the project? If you have feedback from a client, don’t hesitate to add it to the description.

The most critical information here is about your role in the project. Did you manage the whole project? Did you work as a part of a design team? Or, maybe you designed everything yourself, as a remote worker or a freelance specialist? The viewers of your portfolio need to know what efforts you made for such a breakthrough product.

#5. Optimize your design portfolio for viewers

Once you have gathered all the information to include in your portfolio, it’s time to design and organize it with the main principles of usability in mind. User experience matters, so you need to make your portfolio not only visually eminent but also readable for viewers.

How to do that?

Please remember that most users don’t read but scan online; so, do your best to make your portfolio skimmable for viewers to see all the core information at once. Break the text into short paragraphs, use headings and subheadings, include bullet lists, add sketches rather than lengthy descriptions to show the process, etc.

Also, make the navigation accessible. If you create a personal website for your portfolio, think carefully about its Menu. Add core pages only: Home, About Me, My Work, and Contacts. If you decide to use ready-made layouts for your portfolio, choose those with these options too. Whatever the platform, viewers need to know who you are, what you do, and how to contact you.

Don’t overplay with colors, font, or animations. Yes, it’s tempting to show off all your design talents in one place, but you better focus on basic typography settings that would work on any browser and device. (Make sure to test your design for small screens, and think of mobiles first.)

Also, remember about color psychology and contrast ratio when designing. Your portfolio needs to be eye-pleasing, not visually overwhelming.

Long story short, choose design elements for your portfolio that would look pleasing and scannable but, at the same time, demonstrate your design skills for prospective clients and employers. Focus on the story you want to convey and the work you want the world to see. As they say, everything of genius is simple.

In a word

When you decide to write a winning design portfolio, it’s critical to specify and remember its purpose and goals you want to achieve with it. It’s your tool to build a professional network, attract prospective clients or employers, and, sooner or later, make money.

A well-designed portfolio shows off your professionalism, worldview, and creativity. Sort out your best projects to include in it, wrap your mind around descriptions, and optimize your portfolio by all standards of UX. And please don’t forget to promote your work for the world to see it: Join online design communities, share your projects, ask for feedback from other creatives, and network with colleagues to learn and get inspiration from them.

The sooner you create a stellar design portfolio, the faster it will start bringing you results.

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