There is no way around it—if you are looking for new clients, your design portfolio is the most important tool you have at your disposal. According to a study conducted by The Creative Group, 63% of the decision to hire you for a creative job is influenced by your portfolio.
Think about it. Your portfolio doesn’t get nervous or shy during interviews. It doesn’t lose its train of thought or say the wrong thing. Your portfolio is the unbiased, impartial view of your work that clients are looking for.
In this day and age, it seems like a no-brainer—you need to have an online presence. And yet still, an overwhelming 93% of job seekers don’t have a personal portfolio website.
More often than not, your portfolio will be the first point of contact between you and your next job. It’s integral that it says all the things you want clients to know about you and your work. It should be a concise representation that highlights your skills, showcases your best work and communicates who you are as a designer.
Here are eleven tips to help you create a design portfolio that will attract clients and help you land your next big job.
1. Ditch the PDF/printed portfolio
Traditional portfolios are often associated with high cost and effort. You have to lug it around with you and in most cases, if you want to update your collection, you need to make an entirely new portfolio.
And PDFs aren’t much better—a PDF with high res images will swamp an inbox and most likely annoy potential clients.
An online portfolio has one major difference to both the PDF and printed portfolio. While they all act as a curated body of your professional work, only one can be seen by anyone, anywhere in the world, with just the click of a button.
Ultimately, being online is better for business. You can reach an unthinkably large audience that will become clients and fans of your work.
2. Become your toughest critic.
Step outside of yourself and imagine that you’re a potential client looking at the work. What grabs your attention? What do you quickly scroll past?
You are only as good as the worst of your projects showcased. If you have projects that don’t meet your usual standards, people will judge you by those weaker projects. It is important to keep it simple—focus on quality over quantity.
Even if you only have three strong projects, showcase those three on your portfolio and forgo the filler projects.
3. Highlight your area of interest
Sometimes, designers worry about pigeon-holing themselves by showing a specialization. In reality, it is actually the opposite. If your portfolio shows a preference towards a certain type of work, you are more likely to attract clients who will further your career in the right direction.
Clients will only consider you for the job that you actively seek out. If you don’t have much professional experience in a certain area that you’re interested in, consider creating a gallery of your personal projects to highlight your varied skills and interests.
4. Leverage your current client list
As a designer, you don’t necessarily need a standard resume. Instead, let your client list do the talking. If you’ve worked with well known brands, or have helped to create impressive campaigns in the past, leverage that work and those relationships. Your client list can be your ticket to your next exciting opportunity.
5. Create a visual journey
It is very important for your portfolio to have a cohesive story. Take a look at your own portfolio. Do you see really powerful work next to weak work or extremely edgy work next to designs for your friend’s mother’s bakery? If you do, you’ll need to work on the flow and structure of your portfolio.
Break down your work into sections or themes to keep your portfolio organized and potential clients engaged. Look at the composition of your favourite designers’ portfolios. How is their work titled? How do pieces flow from one to the next? How do they credit their collaborators? These are important elements that help to structure your portfolio and highlight important aspects of your work.
6. Follow the rule of three
Things just work better when they come in threes. Here’s why: our brains process information by identifying patterns and three is the smallest number to create a pattern. It’s the quickest way to delight your audience.
When you are deciding on the layout of your portfolio, keep the rule of three in mind.
The first image in a “set” creates an expectation in the viewer. The second image establishes a pattern and third image should break that pattern. It’s all about surprising the viewer—as soon as they think they’ve got the pattern down, you show them something different to keep them interested.
7. Caption your images
Although nothing compares to the visual impact of a stunning design, captions should be used to added context. You don’t create in a silo—there’s always a story behind great work.
Captions are also a great opportunity to credit your collaborators, and mention the brands and companies you have worked for in the past.
If you’ve used specific manipulations to achieve your final product, including those details could make the viewer’s experience more profound.
8. Treat yourself like a client
When you begin to customize your portfolio, remember that it should match the brand you have created for your business.
Treat yourself like your first client and pay attention to the bigger picture that you’re creating. Show that you have the skills to think on a grand scale while paying attention to the details. When you step back and look at your branded material, is it telling one cohesive story? Will your audience get a sense of who you are and what you’re about?
9. Don’t neglect your bio
When you’re building the perfect online portfolio, you’re showcasing both your work and your personality at the same time. It should reflect your voice, interests and skills. Within a few seconds of scanning your portfolio, it should be easy to get a sense of who you are and what you’re about.
As much as we like to think that our work speaks for itself, a bit of background information can go a long way. Frame your work by letting potential clients know a bit about who you are.
10. Make it easy to contact you
It might seem obvious, but your contact information should be easy to find on your portfolio. If you’re not comfortable with making your personal email address public, use a contact form for visitors to submit questions and comments. All emails should be responded to within one business day. If you’re unresponsive, clients will assume that you’re difficult to work with.
11. Keep your portfolio up to date
Don’t underestimate how important it is to feature your latest work on your online portfolio. An updated portfolio demonstrate to clients that you are an active designer full of ideas. It also ensures clients see the kind of work you produce now, as opposed to the work you were creating two years ago.
Try sticking to a schedule where you update your portfolio every month with new images. Set a challenge to update your blog with fresh work and you’ll be rewarded by the results. It’s also a great opportunity to share your talent on social media for everyone to see.
Want to learn how to build a portfolio website that will take your career to the next level? Download Format’s free ebook “Design, Curate & Attract” and head to Format.com to start building your online portfolio right now.