9 Tested Tips for Creating Amazing Design Portfolio Pt1

9 Tested Tips for Creating Amazing Design Portfolio Pt1

Table of Contents

Your design portfolio has the ability to capture the attention of potential clients at first glance. To achieve this, you have to get the right details right. It’s not just what you present, but also how you present it. There are couple of things you have to carefully consider. What is the best to curate examples of your work? How can you make your work more “eye-catching”? What structure will make your case studies more interesting? Should you present present personal project? What are the biggest mistakes you must avoid? Learn the best tips to create an eye-catching design portfolio.

Tip no.6 – 9: in part 2

Tip no.1: Showcase your best work and not all of it

One of the most important questions we have to answer is how many examples of our work should we show. When it comes to creating killer design portfolio, quantity doesn’t necessarily mean quality. In a fact, when we decide to focus purely on quality, it can start to backfire. In some cases, quantity-centric approach can even cause damage to our portfolio. What’s more, when we feel like some example of our work is just not good enough, we sometimes tend to show more shots of it.

Why do we do that? We are trying to somehow supplement the lack of quality by higher number of shots. We think that approach will help us build it up and take that average example at least one level higher. There are just two problems with approach. First, it doesn’t work. We can supplement quality with quantity in a few areas of life and business, to some degree. However, design portfolio is not one of these areas. Second, when we show our portfolio to any other professional web designer he will almost immediately see through our trick.

The (almost) perfect solution

The only solution that will work every single time is this. Showcase only your best pieces and nothing more. We discussed this rule of thumb in Successful Freelance Web Designer – 5 Tips to Get Momentum Pt2 article. And, it is worth mentioning again because it just works. What if you don’t have enough examples of your work to show? You can try couple things. First, let’s say you have some time, but the number of your clients is quite low or they just don’t want to try bold designs. Then, I would suggest working either on a small personal project or doing free work (yes).

Some of you may be lucky and have clients who didn’t hire you for this specific reason, but they are at least willing to experiment. Then, if you believe that you can improve their business with new design, you can try to convince them to give you a chance and redesign their current website. If your client is hesitant to approve your idea, you can make your pitch more interesting with one simple thing. Offer your client that he will pay for the design only if he will like it and decide to use it. Otherwise, you will not include this work into current project and charge for it.

There is at least one benefit of using approach. Whether will your client accept your final design and use or not, you will still have another example to show on design portfolio. Sure, it will be unpaid, but it is still better than having nothing at hand at all. On the other hand, if your client will like your design and decide to use it you will have one new example for your design portfolio and also get paid more. I should also mention another potential benefit of doing. If your new design will improve client’s business, you can increase client’s satisfaction with your work.

How much should you show

Another question related to design portfolio is how many examples of your work should you show. My suggestion is to keep the number of examples under ten. If you are using twelve-column grid, nine is a good choice. If you’re still considering that you show more more than nine or ten examples, think again about what is your goal. Do you want to focus on showing only examples of the highest quality or do you want to show as many examples as you can? Remember, quantity is not always the best option. It’s up to you to decide. You can either jump onto this quantity-centered train, or you can follow my next suggestion.

If you have more than ten examples of exceptional work, review all of them and rate them on the scale from one to five or one to ten. After that, take ten examples with the highest score and showcase them on your design portfolio. What should you do with the rest? Well, you can keep these examples for pitching and presentation of your services to clients when your design portfolio will not be able to do the job on its own. Although, this is quite unlikely to happen. Anyway, just give it a try and limit your choice to nine or ten best examples at max.

Tip no.2: Use eye-catching images and spice them up with story

Let’s assume that you have collection of examples of your work you will show on your design portfolio. Next step is to think about the way to present it in the best light. First, use only images able to catch visitors’ attention immediately. Trust me, you don’t want to risk of making either bad or poor first impression. It is not that first impression is impossible to “fix”. There are a couple of ways that will help you improve the first impression. The problem is that it will take additional effort and time and, let’s be honest, it is not necessary.

Let’s assume that you have a set of high quality images showing your work in the best light. Do you want to create really killer design portfolio? If so, you can take this one step further. It is not a secret (well, maybe it is) that people visiting your portfolio are interested in getting to know the story behind your finished work. Therefore, you have to think about how will you setup your presentation to show your whole design process. Don’t be afraid of letting people look under the hood of how you get from the initial concept, to first sketches, to the finished design.

A good story can increase trust

The truth is that there are a number of people who may be interested in hiring you. They just might not be sure whether you are the right choice. When you briefly describe your design process, you will show these people that you know your job. You will show them that your design is based on specific process that has been tested over and over again with success. In other words, you will show every visitor that your design decisions are based on specific reasons instead of just luck, “coincidence”, intuition or gut feeling.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about trusting your intuition or gut feeling. Based on my own experience, I know very well that intuition or gut feeling are often the initial triggers or catalysts for coming up with the solution. The problem is that the majority of clients don’t like and want to hear that. They don’t want to hear that they paid you a decent amount to design a new website for their business that is based on your intuition or gut feeling. In some sense, this may seem like buying a lottery ticket and hoping to win. The majority of rational people don’t like that.

How to create proper structure for you presentation

Therefore, it is a good idea to support the presentation of your work with short info. How should you structure presentations for your design portfolio? A good rule of thumb is to present the whole design first. If it’s a web design, put the image of the whole page first. After this first image, you can include other, more detailed, shots. From top to bottom. What I also like to do is create shots with typography styles and color palette. Take a look at this UI/UX design project called FeeIn. By doing so, you can show how precise your work is. Should you special styles for the images? This can be a nice enhancement. Just make sure it doesn’t distract from the work itself.

Okay, now you have at least some idea about the structure and flow of shots. Next is text. The first step you should make is to use a short paragraph to put your work or project into the right context. I almost forgot. Start with a title that makes sense and helps visitors understand what the project was about. In every case study about your work, you should describe couple things. First, give people a short info about the project and its goals. Second, describe the challenges you had to face. This can be specific technology, platform, market segment, and so on.

The third step is to describe how you solve those challenges. Describe why did you choose this specific solution. As a bonus, you can also mention what deliverable your client got. If you want, you can include more types of information. There are designers who like to describe their design more in-depth. Other designers like to take some space and talk briefly about the initial design, if there was any. Another very good idea is to describe the results of your design, how it helped your client and his business. Every potential client will want to know that your design also works.

Keep in mind the constraints

There is almost unlimited amount of information you can include in your case study. However, there is also a thin line you shouldn’t cross. Otherwise, you will create something that is too far from short quick read case study. When it comes to presenting your work, you have to remember that whoever will visit your design portfolio will have only limited amount of time. In most cases, visitors will quickly skim the content, look at couple images, maybe even all, and decide whether they should contact you or not.

For this reason, I would encourage you to keep the amount of information rather shorter than longer. Limit info in every section (goals, challenge, solution, etc.) to one or two paragraphs with four to five lines. That should be enough to give visitors a hint and help them understand what it’s about while keeping it short enough so they will want to read it. Also, keep in mind that the title, intro and first image should be engaging. It should make people want to look at the entire case study. You can find more great tips on crafting better case study on Behance in this article.

Tip no.3: Show the kind of work you want to work on

Another important question related to design portfolio is what kind of work should you present. This is not the question you should be asking to get the best answer. Instead, I think that we can get the best answer if we ask a different question … What kind of work do you want to be hired for? The undeniable fact is that your portfolio defines who you are as a designer. Your design portfolio also determines the direction where you want to go and what type of clients will contact you. Portfolio full of web design will be most attractive to people looking for web designer.

Therefore, you should think about what work do you want to do because this work will then attract people looking for someone who can do this specific work. In other words, focus your design portfolio on the type of work you want to do. Many designers want to show that they are versatile. They want to show that they can get done any and every project that comes along. It is great to be what I call expert generalist, but being versatile is not the same thing as being able to work in every design field and on every project.

The art of being expert generalist and mastery

What is more important is the ability to be resourceful and to explore various creative approaches within certain field. You should always strive to master one field. And, only when you have explored every angle and gained solid experience you can move to the next one. The pursuit of shallow understanding and constant switching between disciplines will get you nowhere. In many situations, being a Jack of all trades in design means being just Jack of all averages. You can do dozen things well, but none of them amazingly well.

Does this mean that mastering more than one discipline is impossible? Does it mean that you have to stick to just one thing the rest of your life if you want to be in, say, top ten percents? No. You can be great in multiple trades. However, you have to take it just one step in a time. You have to dedicate sufficient amount of time, months or years, to one craft and focus on it. After you master it, then you can move on and tackle something next. This is, I think the safest approach for acquiring experience, knowledge and expertise in multiple areas.

The darker side of versatility

Before we move to the next tip, I want to mention that, although being versatile can be quite useful, it can also be dangerous. The thing is that many people are skeptical when it comes to the ability of being versatile. First, we know that there are only a few real polymaths. Second, we all know that saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”. To make everything worse, this saying is more famous than the term “polymath”. Therefore, when you say someone that you are a designer and full-stack developer, it is like telling them that you have some superpowers.

So, should you decrease the number of discipline you are proficient, pitch these and then maybe add that you also know this or that? I’m sorry for this answer, but it depends. If you don’t have sufficient amount of high quality pieces to support your claims, the answer is yes. It might be better to temporarily pitch expertise only in one or two skills you can support with tangible evidence. On the other hand, if you have a number of examples of exceptional quality, I would encourage you to go all in.

The brighter side of versatility

It may be harder and you may have to prove your skills to potential clients. However, with design portfolio filled with great work this will not be such a problem. Aside to the darker side, versatility has its brighter side. I will assume that you are exceptionally good at all your crafts. First, versatility can also help you build strong and unique brand for yourself. Being master of multiple crafts, or expert generalist, automatically puts you in better position than the rest of the crowd. In other words, versatility can help you differentiate yourself.

The second benefit of being master of multiple crafts is that you will be able to provide much higher value to your clients. You will be also able to save your clients some money because you can get done different jobs still with exceptional quality. Imagine someone who is a great designer and full-stack developer. With this guy or girl you don’t have to also look for designer or front-end or back-end developer. You have all them in one “package” for the same price. Instead, you may only look for copywriter. The benefit here is that the higher value you provide the more you can charge.

Tip no.4: Let the work lead the stage

When you decide to create your design portfolio, you have to keep in mind one thing. It has to be built around the content (your work). Sure, you can use cool effects and styling to make it look great, but it shouldn’t distract people or block them from accessing the examples of your work. This is why many designers, when they create their design portfolio, focus on minimalist design. They want to reduce the number of possible distractions and give the work space to lead the stage.

What this means for you? You must focus on creating simple and user-friendly interface and design of your portfolio. Use simple navigation with lowest number of links possible. The same applies to number of website sections, fonts and also color palette. Don’t try to make it too complicated. The absolute minimum is gallery page for showing your work and contact page. You can also add about page with paragraph or two to let visitors know you better. That’s it. Keep it simple. This will allow you to put more emphasis on your work.

Tip no.5: Go beyond personal projects

There are couple of benefits side or personal projects have. The question is how much should you rely on them in terms of your design portfolio. If you don’t have sufficient amount of work to present (nine to ten), you can supplement it with personal project. However, you should not rely on them. And, you should replace personal projects with real ones as soon as you can. The reason is that real project has one thing which personal project often lacks. Real project comes with specific constraints and parameters.

When you work on real project you also have to work with client’s recommendations. You have to go through regular revisions and justify the decisions you made. Anyway, if you have to supplement your design portfolio with personal project, make sure they are really worth showing. Don’t show something just because you created it. You still have to focus on top-notch quality. Lastly, make sure the mockups also look real. They have to indistinguishable from the real ones.

Closing thoughts on creating killer design portfolio

Congratulations, you are on your way to build perfect design portfolio that will work like a magnet on potential clients. To quickly recap, we discussed that you must focus on quality instead of quantity. Show only your best work and limit the number of pieces to ten. Next, you can use eye-catching images and the story behind it to make your case studies more interesting and let visitors take a look under the hood. Remember that people are curious. They want to know these stories.

The third tip was to show the kind of work you want to work on. When you build your design portfolio you should think about the future. What kind of work you present will determine what kind of clients will contact you. Fourth, you should use your design portfolio only as a way to present your work. It shouldn’t distract visitors from it. Make sure the design of your website is simple and user-friendly and let your work lead the stage.

Lastly, use personal projects only to supplement scarcity of real ones. Don’t rely too much on personal projects and replace them with real ones as soon as you can. Just like with real project, remember to show only high-quality projects. Don’t show anything or everything. You have to curate your personal project with the same stubbornness as you would in real project.


If you liked this article, please subscribe so you don't miss any future post.

If you'd like to support me and this blog, you can become a patron, or you can buy me a coffee 🙂

By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.