What do clients and employers look for in a portfolio?

What is the perfect portfolio?

What is the most effective way to get new work from your portfolio?

In this blog, we interview several tutors at Blue Sky Graphics and seek to dispel common myths about what clients and employers actually look for in a portfolio by offering you some of the best tips from our industry experts and Graphic Design Tutors here at Blue Sky Graphics.

We ask four tutors what they think.

Han (Master Graphic Design Tutor)

When showcasing your work to new clients may be through a website you’ve designed or online space, but to make yourself stand out, you should have a print portfolio in addition to an online version. I would say that since you may not know what that client is looking for you should show versatility.

It’s no secret that graphic design can be quite a cutthroat field especially at the top level in agency and every serious job seeker in this industry doesn’t just have a CV, they also have a portfolio of their best work and that’s what counts.

TIP: While choosing your strongest projects, you also need to make sure that you are displaying the maximum scale of your creations.

Most graphic designers have their portfolio websites and should be varied and versatile! While your work as a computer graphic designer will involve you to ensure your art looks ace in digital form, i.e. mobile phone screen or computer screen, you should also prove that you can also create high-quality print materials with your skills. Choose some of your designs that will look best on paper, then print them off on high gloss paper. Graphic designers who can work in multiple mediums are appealing to employers and if you are looking for a computer graphic design job, you need to distinguish your portfolio from the rest to make sure your potential employers see you standing out.

No matter what the stage of your career is, a versatile graphic design portfolio wins clients and project work every time so remember: versatility is key and a few things you should address are your process and your willingness to take risks. Once you show these three things you’ve mastered it, but a varied portfolio which is substantial in number can be a tricky move ( we say a maximum of 20 designs tops) and if it comes to picking a project based on quality versus the range of work, then go for the quality.

Try thinking of your online graphic design portfolio website as your creative window of opportunity and a good and versatile graphic design portfolio website tells your narrative, encourages belief, showcases your talent and creative aptitude, and open doors for partnerships.

Lori (Senior Graphic Design Tutor):

As a graphic designer, your portfolio is the most important showcase of your work. Whether you are a student at Blue Sky Graphics, or just finished school, on the move for a change in career, or a freelancer looking out for clients – your graphic design portfolio is the most important thing on which potential clients and employers will categorically 100% judge you.

TIP: Have a clear purpose and keep the portfolio looking organised and beautiful.

Having often been pre-assigned with having OCD by friends and family without any real medical justification I am highly organised in both my personal and work life, so organising student work is important for me. I tell students it is good practice to sequence their work in a way that narrates a story and builds a compelling Graphic Designer case for you. Your portfolio should be in digital form and on a website, which should ideally present all your work a structured visual order to make an impact on the client. You will ideally organise this structure by type of media or type of business or chronologically. It may be worth using tags to filter individual client projects and allows a way for new clients to find the pertinent work examples that they are looking for before they choose. The key is whichever you systematically organise and showcase your work is that the client understands the context and your portfolio is accessible, easy to navigate and impressionable.

When making your portfolio beautiful, begin with choosing on the purpose of your portfolio and your target audience and ensure the work you have is beautiful too in its own right. If you are looking for work, focus on the work you want to do more of and showcase similar projects upfront to attract this. If your online graphic design portfolio is primarily about brand awareness, then you have the flexibility to freestyle your own personal work and style with previous projects undertaken for clients. If you are a freelancer looking for clients, display case your winning and most beautiful casework first to highlight how you have helped clients achieve success. Including a few client testimonials are also useful.

Chen (Graphic Design Tutor and Art Director)

TIP: Be Daring and Be Seen or Be Average and Follow the Crowd

It can sometimes pay to go against the norm and ruffle a few feathers which may now always win everyone’s vote but ultimately it is worth taking this deviation. You can do this by looking at the market and compare what has already been done over the previous 18 months (keeping it contemporary) and then doing your own thing. It is worth avoiding designs that have been overexposed such as minimalist which was one everyone’s agenda during previous years maybe because of electronic brands like Samsung, Apple and HTC.

TIP: Make things easy through simplicity but don’t make it too simple.

You want to ensure that your portfolio is clutter-free and is presented in a simple yet effective way through a good user experience interface. A common mistake that I’ve seen people do is over trying and unnecessarily complicating their portfolio. Your portfolio site is proof that you exist as a designer- simply put, your graphic design portfolio opens doors. Your portfolio will help your business accelerate and grow and get you more clients so keep it clear, and with consistent visual style, that is goal-focused.

TIP: Think about the order of your work-presentation is a vital part of your portfolio.

Finally, be strategic about the order and sequence in the order in which you want to present your work in your portfolio to the prospective client. I prefer leaving a great impression by using a metaphoric slap in the face beginning and mouth-watering ending by leaving the best to last. All your pieces should be bold, daring, but make sure the very last one is the best one and the first one is also great. In terms of pieces of work try to stick to anywhere between 15 to 20 pieces but not more than that.

Regarding the presentation for your digital portfolio stick to the same principle as above but perhaps incorporate a theme into the portfolio whether it’s by work/date/sector/ and or maybe add an interactive element to make it the fun user experience. Remember an innovative presentation shows more than just your work since it depicts excellent communication skills, an important attribute for getting any work these days! Also, don’t forget to market your portfolio website: promote, promote, promote!

Noah (Student Experience Advisor and Course Coordinator)

Thank you, Lori, Han and Chen, for the invaluable advice above. Having worked in this industry and regularly meeting Graphic Editors and Clients I would like to summarise by saying stick to what you are passionate about!

Last TIP:

If you believe it should be there kept it and no matter what the stage of your career is, an impressive graphic design portfolio does and will always win clients and projects. Employers of Graphic Designers are increasingly less interested in whoever holds a Graphic Design degree but focusing on portfolio and experience. I would say given its impact, making your online graphic design portfolio in both digital and print form is perhaps the most important design brief you will ever do. It is your keys to the world of work and who you are as an artist!

Now go and sell your talent – there are hundreds of companies out there that need you!

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