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What makes a good digital design portfolio?

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Dear Doctor, I’m redesigning my digital design portfolio, and I’m not sure what the best practice is right now. I’d like to start using it to apply for roles – do you have any tips on putting one together so it’s appealing to employers?

Rob Wood says...

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Digital design is very subjective, and everyone’s tastes are different, but as someone who’s lucky enough to see design portfolios every day in my job, here’s a few things that strike me about the best work samples:

A good portfolio gives context

To me, giving design work some context is arguably the most important part of a portfolio.

A paragraph or two describing the project you worked on, what the brief was and how you went about tackling it gives the viewer a much better hold on your work.

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You’re doing yourself an injustice if you don’t mention how tricky the brief was or discuss your full input.

Showcase more than just the end product

This ties in with the point about context; a design portfolio is a great place to take viewers on a journey through your work, and half of that process is to provide some explanatory text.

The other half is to show how the project progressed towards the final product; some photos of low-fidelity sketches and the planning stages you went through make for a really comprehensive portfolio to look at, and they also make it easier for the viewer to understand your design decisions and appreciate all the work that was put in.

Allow for filtering by platform and type

Strong portfolios often contain a diverse range of cross-platform work, but often when I visit a portfolio I’m doing it with regards to a specific area of design.

An option to sort work into web and mobile amongst other categories can have a big impact on how ‘tidy’ the portfolio feels – having an ‘all’ category as a default still allows you to show the breadth of your work.

Make it easy to contact you

For me, a portfolio without clear contact details is like a supermarket without checkouts – they show what’s on display, but don’t capitalise on it at all.

As a recruiter, the first thing I want to do when I see a great portfolio is get in touch with the owner, and doing that can never be made too simple.

It’s also worth remembering that most employers tend to look at a portfolio before a CV – but it’s still important to have a well-designed CV which shows your career trajectory and complements the work on your portfolio.

Curate your work – only showcase the best projects

A portfolio is a great selling tool, and as such, it’s important to put your best products on display.

It can be tempting to put all of your digital design work in, but you shouldn’t be afraid of just showcasing the projects which you’re most proud of; 5-10 really strong projects will look better to employers than 20+ projects of varying quality.

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