10 Tips to Build a Great Design Portfolio

To a prospective client, you as a designer are often only as good as your portfolio. They’re checking you out for the first time, and if you don’t impress them enough, you won’t get their work. And if you don’t get work, you don’t get paid. And if you don’t get paid, then you… aw, you get it. Point is, having a great design portfolio can greatly increase your chances of getting more work and money. The following are the 10 best tips for building a great design portfolio.

What it ultimately comes down to is quickly answering the question “why?” for a visitor (as in why they should go with you for their design work) and showing your personality, making it easy for them to navigate around your portfolio and contact you, and making it clear what you can offer them.

So without further ado, here are the 10 best tips for building a great design portfolio…

1. Have a clear logo and tagline

Your logo is your brand; your tagline is who you are. In the short-attention-span internet age, you need to be able to capture attention and answer the question “why?” very quickly. Otherwise, the visitor will click the back button very quickly. Your portfolio is not exempt from this.

By having a clear logo and tagline, a potential client will quickly see who you are (your name is in the logo, and the style of the logo will give a sense of your design style) and what you do (the short description you offer in your tagline).

Make the logo representative of your design style, and make the tagline short and descriptive of the value you can give to a potential client. Remember: quickly answer the question “why?” or the visitor will bounce outta there quicker than, um, a really bouncy ball.

Tim Potter

2. Make your portfolio easy to navigate

This is pretty forehead-slapping common sense. Still, it’s worth mentioning again: the best website don’t mean jack squat if it’s hard to navigate. If you can’t get to your work examples easily or quickly be able to contact you, then it doesn’t really matter how good your work is: the visitor will potentially grow frustrated and try another designer.

Make your portfolio super-easy to navigate. Simplify and streamline the menu items, reduce and consolidate pages, and keep the navigation style simple rather than getting clever with it.

Chris Magiera

3. Make it easy to contact you

What’s the ultimate point of making a portfolio? To get clients – and get paid. The easier you make it for a visitor—a prospective client—to be able to contact you, the greater the chance you’ll end up getting his or her work – and get paid.

Tim Boelaars

4. Don’t show everything – only the best

Keep the “B-sides” off of your portfolio. For the non-music readers, a B-side is a tune not good enough to be a “hit” and is delegated to track 2 status on a single. There’s a reason most artists’ greatest hits only have the hits, not the B-sides.

Think of your portfolio as your greatest hits album. Only showcase the hits—your absolute best, most impressive and representative work—and keep the lesser work samples off of your portfolio. Just how a flawless greatest hits album will instantly make a fan out of a new listener, a flawless design portfolio can instantly impress and interest a new prospective client.

Michael Raba

5. Categorize your work

This is a continuation of the easy navigation tip. Categorize your work samples to make the browsing of your portfolio easier. Even, say, 10 items are instantly easier to make sense of if they’re categorized by logos, websites, banners, whatever.

Eurico Sá Fernandes

6. Include testimonials

Social proof is one of the most effective ways to reduce risk for a prospective client. Think about it: if you’re not sure of this new designer and see people raving about the quality of the work, and you see a link going to the website in question to prove that it’s legit rather than a lame fake testimonial, then you’re much more likely to take a chance. That’s what testimonials do to prospective clients – reduce their risk and make them more likely to try you out.

7. Offer a downloadable portfolio/resume for printing

This isn’t essential but a nice bonus for some visitors. Say they want to print out your portfolio to show their boss in person, or simply look it over on a non-digital device. Having a PDF of your work lets them do that – and you can increase your client-getting percentage, even if by a little bit. Again, this step isn’t essential, but if it’s not too hard to do, then why not? It’s not in the way.

It’s like an online store offering phone support – yeah, most won’t use it, but it’s out of the way and can increase the number of orders.

Ralph Millard

8. Clearly say what work you’re available for

You might be noticing a theme in these tips – make it as easy as possible for the visitor. And this tip is no different: clearly say what work you’re available for to the prospective client. Don’t make them figure out what type of work you do – clearly say it. So a visitor comes in, quickly sees your style and what value you offer, checks out the work, looks at the testimonials, and is sold – the last piece of the puzzle is for them to quickly see what kind of work you can do for them.


9. Add info about yourself

Since a prospective client won’t meet you in person, add some info about yourself. After all, businessis personal – it’s done between people, not robots, and the relationships can be just as much about personality compatibility and your character as much as your skills. You can add a simple About page with a brief description of you (not your skills, but you as a person, your likes and dislikes, and so forth), and you can consider adding your social network links if you feel they represent who you are and won’t compromise getting clients.

Thomas Prior

10. Don’t forget the X factor – your uniqueness

This is an extension of the previous tip on adding info about yourself. Stamp your uniqueness all over your portfolio. In your wording, in your website’s design, and anywhere else you can. Because there’s tons of other designers with equally-pro-looking portfolios out there, so why would a prospective client go with you? Again, this goes back to the theme of answering the question “why?” for your visitors. Whatever your X factor is, it can help you answer that question.

Assuming your quality of work is up there with the best, then maybe the prospective client relates to you as a person or shares a similar interest. Or they happen to like your quirks more than other designers they’ve been checking out that day. Or your design style resonates with them most. Point is, by adding your uniqueness as much as possible to not only your work but your portfolio, you can increase the chance of answering the question “why?” and getting work from that prospective client – and ultimately, getting paid.
Alex Pierce

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Guest post by Oleg Mokhov.

Needle is a platform for hiring creative talent.

From web designers to UI/UX professoinals, the platform has a searchable database of more than 500,000 creative profiles filled with portfolios, work history, and personality profiles. Fill your creative position with the free beta today!

Visit needlehr.com for more information.


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