5 Design Portfolio Mistakes & How To Fix Them

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5 Design Portfolio Mistakes

There a lot of talented designers out there, all shouting for attention or competing for that job at that awesome agency. You need to put your best foot forward, your portfolio has to be spot on.

Having spent over 17 years in the graphic design industry, I have both submitted portfolios, and reviewed them. I want to share with you some of the insights I have gained in this time. Perhaps I can pass along some useful advice for those aspiring to get that next graphic design job.

So here are 5 design portfolio mistakes and how to fix them.

1. Including too many works

This is a common mistake. This occurs with both students and veteran designers. There is a feeling that showing more is better, or perhaps providing proof that you have the experience to cut it. This is not entirely true. If you want to show you have had a lot of clients, or lots of experience include that in the resume or CV. Your portfolio is a place for your best work, period.

Why is this bad?

People are busy

One of the main problems with including too many works is time. Creative directors, and hiring managers just don’t have the time to review all your work.

Too many pieces can dilute quality

If you are showing a lot of work, there is going to be some works that aren’t your best, don’t dilute the mixture with substandard work.

How many is enough?

Well this is not so easy to answer, but I would generally aim for no less than five and no more than 15 pieces.

Criteria to help you cull the weak

Relevance

Choose relevant portfolio pieces if you can. This may not be easy if you are new to the specific industry, or a recently graduated student, but it should still be a consideration. For example: If you are looking for work at an agency that does primarily UI/UX work then showcase that type of work.

Strengths

Play to your strengths, include work that you excel at. Include only your best work.

Freshness

Good design rarely goes bad so if the work is a good strong piece include it regardless of age, however try to keep work recent if you can. This shows that you are up to date with current practices, and bespoke methods.

2. Not being critical enough

This second point is really an extension of the first one (Including too many works).

We are rarely satisfied with our own work (let’s face it, we can be our own worst critics). Yet when it comes to putting a portfolio of work together we often become blind or are afraid to cut something from the roster. The fear that it might be something that a creative director might want to see.

Be Objective

So here is your chance to be the creative or art director. Look at your work objectively, and critically. You will have to put your own doubts about your work aside for this too, because an empty portfolio is no good either.

If you are having trouble being selective or objective, try to tap into a community of trusted peers (design forums, Dribbble, or Behance) and get feedback. You may have colleagues in the industry, schoolmates, or professors willing to help you, if you do this is great. Accept their help with open arms. Avoid asking family or friends, their feedback will be too biased.

3. Putting the portfolio first, the work second

I see this a fair amount when reviewing potential hires. The designer spends all the time on the website, portfolio case, etc. and then let’s it all down with substandard work. I always applaud the effort but the truth is… the nicest website or most creative portfolio case is probably not going to help if the work itself isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. Make the presentation the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

4. Be Professional

Be pro, even if you aren’t yet and are just aspiring to be (we all have to start somewhere right?). Professionals should be meticulous and conscientious. Start thinking that way and you are already almost there.

So what does this really mean?

Typos and spelling hurt

Spelling, and grammar need to be bang on. Few things detract more than glaring spelling mistakes, or typos. It shows a lack of attention to detail, and laziness.

Good Typography in your resume or CV

The resume is often overlooked. It shouldn’t be.

You are a graphic designer, make sure your typography is solid. Don’t kern like a beginner. Use appropriate font combinations for readability and presentation. We all like to see creative use of type, but if I can’t read it, or it takes too long to digest then I might just pass it off to the trash bin. Time is money and I am not going to waste it trying to decipher some clever, overly rendered type design. Save that for the portfolio.

Presentation

Take the time to get your work printed with a high quality printer or take the extra time to make sure your website is clean and professional. If you are not a web designer or developer, there are a lot of nice WordPress themes that will help showcase your work (just make sure to not pass the theme off as your work… that’s not pro).

5. Don’t save your best for last, save it for first and last

So at this point we have the best of our best works in the portfolio, so which ones come first? If it isn’t industry specific it’s my suggestion that you lead with the strongest first, and then have the next strongest last. Leave them with a good impression. Perhaps they are all perfectly amazing and you won’t even have to consider this step!

In conclusion

It’s a tough field out there, so lead with your best foot forward, showcase the work, not the showcase itself, and always be professional. I hope you enjoyed 5 design portfolio mistakes and how to fix them. If you have any comments, suggestions or insights to add, I would be happy to hear them. Feel free to leave comments below.

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