Portfolio 101

Published:  February 5, 2012
Pip Jamieson
Portfolio 101

In our hugely competitive industry, the all-important question is what makes one portfolio stand out from another. Enter The Loop Portfolio Masterclasses, where aspiring creatives get the opportunity to have their portfolio reviewed by leading Australian creative directors.

We’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with some of Australia’s leading creatives during the Masterclass sessions and, now, we’re thrilled to share with you the tips that have really stuck with us.

Online versus physical portfolio
It always makes me giggle how passionate people get about this debate. Really, if you want to steam ahead, you should have both. The general rule of thumb is that an online portfolio will get you an interview, while a physical portfolio will get you the job. Things are starting to move online, but the more traditional employers still want the tactile experience of viewing a physical portfolio.

Less is more
Or as we like to say in the office ‘all killer, no filler’. This has been passionately advocated by all the creative directors we’ve ever worked with. Don’t worry if your portfolio isn’t bursting at the seams; be diligent in selecting only those few pieces of work that you are most proud of. Including filler only detracts from your best work and, sadly, sometimes even overshadows it.

Design director of Interbrand, Jake Smallman, sums this up: “What you leave out is as important as what you put in. It’s not a problem that you’ve done a bad piece of work, but putting it in your portfolio says you don’t know it’s bad.”

The better the portfolio, the jucier the role.

Be true to yourself

Your portfolio should reflect your own aesthetic and clearly show the type of work you want to be doing.

According to Tin&Ed, “You’ll attract the type of jobs that reflect the work in your portfolio. So, if you didn’t enjoy the work, don’t add it or you’ll end up working on stuff you don’t enjoy.”

Self-initiated projects
All the creative directors we’ve worked with have been massive fans of portfolios that include personal as well as client/student work. So, unless you are one of the few creatives that have complete creative licence over your work, include personal projects in your portfolio. If you have already, we salute you. It is a great way of showing your passion, what you are capable of, and securing those jobs you want, not those jobs you need.

Andrew Johnstone, co-founder Semi- Permanent, is a firm believer in this. Says Johnstone: “Always include personal design work in your portfolio. I always look for a person who is passionate about design and works on personal projects in their spare time. If your portfolio is just full of college or client work, it may show that you’re capable, but does not necessarily show you’re passionate about design in all aspects of your life.”

Add commercial work
Oh if only we could make rent just doing passion projects. But the reality of our industry is that commercial work keeps food on the table, so make sure your portfolio shows you can deliver on a client brief. This is strongly advocated by recruitment manager Adele Leah from Become, “If you can, get work experience so you can include some commercial pieces in your folio. If you are finding it hard to get real world experience, set yourself mock briefs.”

Create your own brand
Let’s face it, your own brand is the most valuable brand you’ll ever work on. Adele Leah sees thousands of portfolios a year, so creatives that develop their own identity catch her eye every time, “Your portfolio is your sales brochure/sales kit, so make sure it reflects you, your personality and your design skills. This is also a great opportunity to set yourself a branding project.”

Theory of relativity
Think about the type of clients or collaborators you’d like to work with and make sure your portfolio is relevant to that audience. Do your research and cater for their needs, not just your own.

Creative director and illustrator Luke Lucas says, “It’s beneficial to have flexibility with your portfolio, so that you can make it as relevant as possible to the job you’re applying for. Employers are generally looking to fill a specific position for the specific needs of the business.”

Something that most of the mentors we have had the pleasure of including in the classes have highlighted is the importance of communicating your ideas. Michaela Webb, co-director of Studio Round, is a big proponent of this, saying, “Well-written project descriptions that allow me to understand the brief and constraints are really important, since the designer is not there to explain.”

Give credit
Give credit where credit is due. If you’ve collaborated on a project, it’s important to credit those you worked with – not only is it the right thing to do, but it also flexes your capability as a collaborator.

Include collaborations in your folio, this will show your prospective employer your flexibility as an employee.

Professionally photographed
Get your work professionally photographed. A beautifully shot portfolio will enhance your work. If you’re not a dab-hand with the camera, however, don’t worry, there
are plenty of young photographers looking for experience. Just make sure that when you get your work professionally shot, you agree with the photographer that the sole ownership (IP) of the photo remains yours, otherwise you may find your work on a site like Getty Images.

Include a resumé
All those little bits about you do count. In many of the larger agencies, it’s recruiters or human resource managers who will create the short list of applicants, not someone within the creative department. So, even if your work is incredible, you may not make the cut unless you give them a feel for your background and experience, including where you went to university, your skills, past employers and clients.

Many of our Portfolio Masterclass mentors say a big focus for them is identifying the next generation of innovators and idea makers. Illustrator and agent at The Jacky Winter Group, Kelly Thompson sums this up nicely by saying, “It was always impressive to see something that can only ever belong to that one person and doesn’t look like the work of those who inspire them.”

Michaela Webb echoes this by saying, “You should showcase projects that allow your individual voice as a designer to come through, rather than demonstrating technical proficiency.”

Be innovative, potential employers are always looking for the next generation of thinkers.

Keep it current
It’s an obvious one, but keeping your portfolio current is key. If you’re not quite right for a project, but you show potential, employers, clients and collaborators will often bookmark your online portfolio and review it at a later date. So, if you have fresh work on your site, you’ll stand a better chance of landing that next opportunity.

Keep it simple
When it comes to printing your portfolio, all our mentors have a single firm opinion on design: Keep it simple… the work should own centre stage.

Ant Donovan, creative director at Moon Communications, is a big believer in this. “Don’t overdesign your portfolio – the work should do the work,” he says. While Mark Moffitt, of Moffitt.Moffitt., echoes his thoughts: “I like to see the work, not how cleverly you can present it. Fancy angles, selective focus, tiny thumbnails and complicated set-ups detract from the work.”

Attention to detail
Do not, under any circumstances, blow all of your hard work on a lack of attention to detail. When you send your portfolio or CV, make sure you direct it to the right person, don’t just address it ‘Dear Sir/Madam’. If an employer has asked to see an online portfolio, make sure that’s what you send, and not a PDF or Word document. Make sure the typefaces are consistent and there are no spelling mistakes. Companies are looking for reasons to cull the huge number of portfolios that hit their desk each day. So don’t give them one.

In the end, good work leads to a good portfolio. Mark Moffitt sums this up perfectly: “You are the curator. Your work is the art and your portfolio is the gallery. This concept is applied not only from a visual perspective, but through the responsibility of choosing and telling the relative story of each piece of work. In summary, as the curator you will be judged on how you cohesively bring your body of work together.”


Images are copyright by Snip Green / The Jacky Winter Group.

From desktop magazine.

3 Responses

  1. What form do folios generally take these days? When I graduated we mounted our work on black paper, put it in a plastic pocket and then in a large ring bound folder. Just wondering how things have changed…

  2. Some additional advice to any graduates reading this out there… Please note that there is a difference between creating a brand for your self as a designer, and selling yourself as a design studio. We often receive folios from graduates seeking full-time positions with links to websites with price lists and information about their “studio”. This is off-putting to a potential employer and basically kills your chances of getting a response.

    • Dan J Williams

      Very useful point Jason, a lot of designers forget this. After all, the creatives/directors you’re pitching yourself to are in the business of dissecting brands.

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