The Good Graduate Guide - Part Three

Building a killer portfolio

If you’ve read the first two installments of our ‘Good Graduate Guide’ then by now, you’ll have a beautifully crafted, kick-ass CV and you’ll have figured out how you’re going to make sure it’s noticed. So what now? Time to start working on your creative portfolio.

Tip Three: Use Your Best Assets

As a designer, there is nothing more sacred than your portfolio so don’t be afraid to be your own worst critic. You want your portfolio to do you justice, so when it comes to building yours, there are three things we suggest you keep in mind. Quality, diversity and ideas.

Lets tackle them one-by-one…

Quality (over quantity)

You’ve heard the saying ‘less is more’ right? That’s never more accurate than in the case of your portfolio.

While you’ve been studying, you’ve no doubt created hundreds of pieces of design work and it can be tempting to include every last one of them. Don’t. It’s far better to provide a potential employer with 5 or 6 stand out examples than to bombard them with hundreds of mediocre samples.

If you want to build a perfect portfolio, then you need to be selective and showcase only your finest work. The work that makes you proud and that you can talk about, comprehensively and with conviction. When you’re choosing, be objective. If you’re unsure about a particular piece, ask yourself this. ‘If I’m not convinced, will anyone else be?’ If the answer is no, then why would you include it?

Crucially, as well as the finished piece, don’t be afraid to showcase your creative process either. If you have sketches and scamps to support your finished piece, why not include them. As great as it is to see a show-stopping finished piece, the real value of design lies in the process you used to get there. (Graphic designers are problem solvers afterall.) If you altered your colour palette or choice of font mid way through, that’s absolutely fine – just be sure to tell us why. It shows us that you put thought into what you do and when it comes to commercial graphic design, that’s an absolute must.

(We’ll be talking about commercial thinking more in Part four of the Good Graduate Guide, so be sure to check back!)

Diversity

As a designer, you’ll often find that no two days are the same. One day you could be designing packaging for a DIY brand and the next mapping out a website for a wedding venue. As your career develops, no doubt you’ll find your niche, but when you’re getting started, it’s important that you’re versatile, adaptable and willing to explore new ways of working. If you’re able to showcase this ability in your portfolio you’re off to a great start!

When selecting the work to include in your portfolio, try to show a cross section that demonstrates a broad skill set and variety of styles. This helps paint a picture of your creative strengths and provides a great talking point should you be invited for an interview. (We always like to know which project is your favourite and why).

And don’t forget, we live in a connected world, so it’s also a good idea to demonstrate how your creative work can translate across media too. If you can show how you joined the dots between digital and print media, all the better.

Ideas

It’ll come as no surprise to hear that to be a successful designer, first and foremost, you need to have great ideas. Lots of them. All of the time.

Sounds simple doesn’t it, but rest assured, for every good idea you have as a designer, you’ll probably have ten bad ones too. The trick is knowing which ones are worth following through and which ones should be confined forever into the ‘what was I thinking’ file. Being able to tell the difference is vital and your portfolio is a good indication as to whether you have that instinct.

So how do you decide?

As well as the obvious (it looks amazing) factor, there are other things to consider when deciding whether something is a portfolio-worthy idea…

  1. First of all, has it been done before?
    (if the answer is yes, then it’s not an idea at all).

  2. Secondly, who is it intended for?
    When it comes to design, you should ALWAYS keep your target audience in mind. The best ideas will hit the mark with them.

There is a fine line between having great ideas and thinking commercially. When it comes to working in industry, striking up the balance is vital. If you can show that you’re already thinking along those lines, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Enjoying the Good Graduate Guide so far?

In Part Four, we’ll be helping you see things from an employer’s perspective and exploring commercial thinking in more detail. Be sure to check back!