Putting together a kick-ass graphic design portfolio isn’t just something you need to worry about when you’re a student. You need to think about maintaining, improving and evolving your portfolio throughout your graphic design career.
We all know a winning portfolio is vital when you’re going for a new job. But that’s not all. You might be called in at a moment’s notice to chat with your art director to discuss a promotion opportunity or a hot new project you didn’t even know about. And you don’t want to be caught short by a graphic design portfolio that’s not all it could be.
If you’re looking to get your portfolio to the next level, then below you’ll find a selection of 35 graphic design portfolio websites to inspire you, curated by our team at Shillington. We also offer our very best graphic design portfolio tips to help you raise your portfolio and make it your best tool for career success.
Inspired by these amazing graphic design portfolio examples, and ready to start improving your current portfolio? Well, follow these expert graphic design portfolio tips, and you shouldn’t go far wrong…
When you’ve put a lot of time, effort and emotional energy into a particular project, you naturally want to show it off to people and include it in your graphic design portfolio. But if you want your portfolio to be the best it can be, it needs to be ruthlessly edited. And that means being tough with yourself about only including the very best work.
There’s no hard and fast rule about how many pieces to include, but remember that you can’t predict what people will dive into, and so your reputation is only as good as your last good piece. More reason, then, to ditch the weaker pieces, and only include the work you can be truly proud of. Since you have a short amount of time to grab the art director’s attention, ideally, you should include 10-12 top quality pieces that highlight your best work to make the most impact.
As Shanti Sparrow, head of teaching at Shillington New York points out:
You are only as good as your worst project, so you must learn to edit and let go. By including projects of varying quality, an employer may think you are inconsistent. Ask a peer or mentor to honestly critique your work and either ‘improve or remove’ the problem areas.
There’s a qualification to the idea that you should only include your best work. Even if a particular project is brilliantly worthy, it’s still worth considering leaving it out if it’s the kind of work you want to move away from in the future.
Clare Terry, director of Shillington Australia, puts it bluntly. “Like attracts like, so ask yourself: does your folio reflect the work you’d like to attract? If not, add more of those clients and projects in.”
For example, if you’ve done a lot of digital design projects, but you want your next job or freelance gig to be focused on print design, then you need to tailor your design profile accordingly. People are not mind-readers, and you have to tailor your brand visually, just as you would a brand you were working for.
As Jimmy Muldoon, teacher at Shillington New York, points out:
Does your portfolio reflect who you are today? As people and designers, we’re constantly evolving. Make sure your portfolio authentically represents who you are now.
It’s one of those annoying pieces of advice that’s easy to dish out, much more difficult to do. But in reality, numerous employees have told us they want to see “some of your personality” come through in your portfolio.
Don’t go over the top with this: it’s the kind of thing that can backfire if done casually or thoughtlessly. But it’s worth considering if there’s any way you can show a little of who you are through your portfolio, whether that’s through the work you curate, your personal branding, the way you present it, the copy you write, or any other method.
When you’re still a student on a graphic design course, it can be tricky to find enough work to fill a portfolio, and tutors will usually advise you to generate other design work outside of normal client relationships, including side projects, pro bono work and competition entries.
And in principle that doesn’t stop when you finish your course, either. Later in your career, even when you’ve had years of experience in a design studio, you may still find these approaches useful in making your portfolio better. Especially when it comes to highlighting the kind of work you want to do in future, which your current employer may be preventing you from doing.
The biggest mistake many graphic designers make with their portfolios is only showing the finished work. That’s frustrating for many potential clients and employers, who typically want to know things like who else was working on the project, what your contribution was, what the brief was, what the challenges were in fulfilling it, and how you went about overcoming them.
Very little of what can be seen in one glossy final image, so make sure there’s extra content that shows the process you went through to get there, including sketches, screenshots and other works-in-progress where appropriate.
Designer and illustrator Jane Bowyer stresses that not every project you include needs to have been a success from start to finish:
Don’t be afraid to discuss where things went wrong with a piece of work, but consider talking about what you learned from the experience, rather than focusing on the negative.
Nowadays, a portfolio typically appears in the form of a web page or series of web pages. But there may be times when that isn’t the best solution.
For example, you might be having an interview or meeting in a place with no Wi-Fi and where mobile internet is choppy or non-existent. So it’s always good if you can put together a PDF portfolio that you can store on your laptop or tablet, and put on a USB stick in case the other party wants to have a look through too.
Also, while a physical, printed portfolio is no longer expected by most, it certainly won’t harm your prospects to produce one, and may well help endear you to the other party, who’ll appreciate you going the extra mile.
It’s also useful to have a presence on an online creative platform like Dribbble or Behance—but don’t spread yourself too thin; only commit to one of these if you can devote enough time to do one well. An outdated profile is only going to worsen your chances of consideration.
Employers will also be expecting you to have some kind of social media presence, too. Again, focus on one or two platforms you can consistently maintain, rather than trying to populate all of them. But it’s important to have a design-specific account that’s separate from your friends and family images.
While a graphic design portfolio is primarily about visuals, don’t think that words aren’t important. When people spot a spelling mistake in your work, it’s usually taken as a sign of sloppiness, laziness or a don’t care attitude.
That might seem unfair: after all, everyone lets a typo slip once in a while; if they claim they don’t, they’re simply lying. But harsh judgements like that are simply the world we live in, so it’s vital that you double- and triple-check every word you write, and then get others to do so too (as they will inevitably spot something you’ve missed).
Of course, spelling mistakes aren’t the only reason to show other people your portfolio. One of the most straightforward and reliable ways to improve a graphic design portfolio overall is to get it critiqued by others, whether that’s a colleague, your creative director, a tutor or even just a friend in a related profession, such as the media.
Not everyone does this because quite frankly no one likes to be told that the thing they’ve poured their heart and soul into isn’t perfect. But isn’t it better to be told that by someone who doesn’t have a big influence over your future, and rather than finding out when it’s far too late?
However awesome your portfolio is, if you just walk into an interviewer’s office, show it to them, and sit back waiting to be praised, you’ll probably be waiting a long time. In reality, you must walk them through it, step by step, explaining what they should be looking at and why it’s relevant.
Again, this is something that’s best practised beforehand, so you don’t stumble over your words or get lost halfway through. We’ve all done that at one stage or another, so the maxim ‘practice makes perfect’ really does apply here.
If all this sounds like a lot of work, then you’re correct: if you’re doing everything right, it will be. But equally, you will get back the time you’ve spent tenfold in terms of the career and freelancing opportunities that a killer portfolio opens up.
It’s natural to feel occasionally feel aggrieved about the hours you’re putting in. After all, why can’t they just take your word for it that you can do the job, or complete the freelance project? Whenever you feel like this, though, think about how they see it. They’re considering investing their hard-earned money in you, and they don’t want it to go to waste.
You’d rarely spend even a few pounds on, say, a hardback book or cinema ticket unless you’d seen a nicely designed book cover, movie poster or trailer. So someone is willing to put shift tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds your way throughout your career, they’re going to need selling to in the same way.