So you know how a carpenter has broken furniture at his own house? Or how an electrician usually has exposed wires at his place? Isn’t that the same case with us designers too? We’re constantly working for others; making websites, designing their apps, perfecting their products but when it comes to building our own portfolio, we turn into lazy bums and class A procrastinators!
I really had to struggle and push myself out of this lazy bum mindset; when I finally decided to build myself a portfolio. After a lot of delaying, postponing and stalling mixed with hours upon hours of hard work, my portfolio is finally done! It was a strenuous process but totally worth it because I was able to win interview opportunities with big companies like Klarna and Metalab even with the help of an incomplete, half-baked portfolio.
Your portfolio plays a vital role in building your career and helps you find the best possible opportunities for yourself. In this article, I’ve answered some of the most common questions that pop in designers’ minds (they also popped in mine!) when they’re contemplating whether they’d benefit from having a portfolio. I have also mentioned some useful tips for making one!
Do I really need a portfolio?
What can a portfolio do that a resume already doesn’t do? Plus, if the recruiters ask for my latest work, I can just put it all together in a PDF and email it to them. Isn’t all this enough for recruiters to assess my skills?
The Answer: Yes, you do!
Portfolios help you curate your work, and provide context for it in the form of detailed case studies; which allows for the recruiters to understand your design process better and gauge your ability to come up with creative solutions for varying design problems.
Through case studies, you can show the number of iterations it took you to reach a design solution, which is much appreciated by the recruiters; while resumes and PDFs are a very old-fashioned way of sharing your work and only show the end results. On the other hand, portfolios are more easily accessible and an overall better experience.
Granted that resumes are a quick way of listing your past experience and services, they still fail to show the recruiters much about your problem-solving skills as a designer. Let me assure you if two candidates apply for the same job; where one sends in a mere resume while the other sends their online portfolio, the latter has a significantly higher chance of getting the job.
Last year, I applied for 10 jobs with only my resume and none except 1 recruiter even bothered to get back to me and that too with a rejection.
Why shouldn’t I just use online design platforms?
After all, there are lots of super-handy design platforms available online (like Dribbble, Behance, and Instagram) that allow me to showcase my work for free and don’t take as much time as designing an entire portfolio from scratch.
The Answer: Sending out links to your online design platforms is a big no for recruiters!
I am sure you think using online design platforms such as Dribbble, Behance, and LinkedIn are a great way to reflect on your experience and display your work; I used to think the same. I’ve been freelancing for the past 7 years, and showcasing my work on Dribbble has not only helped me get some great opportunities but also allowed me to connect with other designers from around the world and learn new things.
So when two years ago, I realized that my potential as a designer wasn’t being fully utilized as a freelancer; I decided to give full-time a shot. I was super confident about sending out my Dribbble profile when I started applying for jobs, but to my surprise, most recruiters never got back to me which left me utterly and totally confused!
After doing some research and connecting with people who were part of the recruitment process, I came to understand that sending out links to your Dribbble or other online design platforms is taken as an insult in the recruitment process.
Not having your own portfolio reflects negatively on you and showcases you as a non-serious designer, while having one sets you apart from thousands of other applicants who only send out links to their online design platforms.
Do I even have the required skills to build a portfolio?
After all, a good portfolio also requires expertise apart from design, like front-end and back-end development, content writing, illustration etc. I’m not sure I can do all that; or if I want to spend more money on hiring people for the job.
The Answer: There’s always room to learn new things!
It can be a daunting thing to start working on your portfolio when you don’t know the first thing about front-end development or don’t have much command over content creation. Hiring people might seem like a risk, but I’m here to tell you that the risk is worth it because you end up getting quality results and learning new skills.
I hired a front-end developer and content writer to help me with my portfolio and I’ll tell you why it was a good decision. The front-end collaboration helped me realize the mistakes I was making and the standards I was ignoring. It helped me see the design from a different perspective. I learned new possibilities with each iteration and always ended up designing something better than the last one. The collaboration on content allowed me to learn how to put my designs into words. It helped me jot down my thoughts about my designs; as a result of which I understand my own design process a lot better now.
When you learn to put your process into words that’s when you really meet your process.
Learning all these new skills has made me more resourceful and independent as a designer. I’m not saying I’ve learned everything there was to learn about these skills, but it has helped me see my work in a different light and made me better.
Should I really be spending my time and money on this?
Isn’t it kind of silly to invest my time and money on building a portfolio, when I can easily be spending that time on paid projects? I already have a good stream of well-paying clients; which is what a portfolio is supposed to achieve, why then should I spend my resources on it?
The Answer: Building your portfolio is a lucrative investment!
Your portfolio is a great way of showing that you understand your client’s needs; that you know what you’re doing and that you’re a reliable designer.
Whether you’re applying for a freelance project or a full-time job, you need to prove to the recruiters that you’re worth spending money over. They need to see how your past clients benefited from your services, for this you need to show how you helped elevate their user base and sales. This can only be done well through a portfolio and it will help you secure interviews with big companies; while getting the job would mean you’re making your money back in no time.
Besides, when was the last time you did a project out of the sheer joy of it? Spending time on your portfolio is a great way to flex your creative muscles because you have total creative freedom. From colors to the font to literally everything else! Although you still need to keep the main purpose and target audience in mind; it’s still good for your creativity. It also helps you reflect on your previous works and see how you’ve improved or where you’ve made mistakes; ultimately making you a better designer.
I’ll tell you this, no matter how skilled you are as a designer if you don’t have a portfolio; you’re basically a design-monger selling your goods on the streets! Making a portfolio is like buying a beautiful shop to display your goods in, which significantly increases the value of the goods you’re trying to sell. It allows you the freedom to plan how you’re going to greet your audience when they first land in your shop, and what you’re going to show them at your doorstep.
Now that we’ve talked about the perks of having a portfolio; I want to mention some of the tips I picked up while making mine.
Tip 1: Show Your Process
Attractive visuals and images are appealing but not enough. Recruiters want to know your process, how you tackle problems and how efficient your solutions are. Don’t show mere end-results; show how many attempts it took you to reach the right design solution and why previous iterations failed to meet the goals.
Your case studies should be comprehensive but make sure you’re not adding useless information. If it’s a multi-phase project, your navigational structure should be well thought out.
Don’t use images that are too small or skewed because they are impossible to discern and disrupt the entire experience. Make each of your case studies unique by using a different style e.g. use the presented project’s primary color for every case study, this will help add a unique flavor to each one.
Tip 2: Don’t Clutter
Your portfolio is not an archive, so don’t post all of your work!
Focus on work that showcases the latest design trends and the projects you had fun working on. Present your best work to your potential employers.
Tip 3: Convince Your Audience
Always keep the target audience in mind. Keep a balance between aesthetics and important information you need to show to your potential clients.
Show that you’re a team player. Talk about your collaborations with different teams and your experience working with people from different fields e.g. engineering, education, business etc. Don’t be afraid to show failed iterations along with your final solution; this shows that you’re honest and have the capability to learn from your mistakes. If you can, show live projects that are using your designs, it will have a huge impact in your favor.
A good portfolio is important for both full-time and freelance opportunities. Just like a company portfolio showcases their identity; your portfolio is a window into your identity as a designer; it showcases your potential and capabilities.
Tip 4: Online Tools
If you can’t afford to hire experts, there’re some great tools available online (e.g. Simplice, Webflow, SquareSpace etc.) where, with a little learning, you can build your portfolio yourself.
Tip 5: Get Feedback
Let go of your ego and ask other designers for feedback, it will do wonders for your portfolio! I was hesitant and embarrassed at first too but was fortunate enough to get great feedback that I incorporated into my work.
Portfolios are the key to unlocking your door to great opportunities, but getting yourself through that door is another story.
Remember, a good portfolio can help you stand out among thousands of applicants and win better interview opportunities, but it doesn’t guarantee a job. To land the job, however, you need to show the recruiters that you’ll fit well with their team and that apart from design skills; you also have great soft skills.
Now get off that lazy bum and go build yourself a stellar portfolio!