Showing off

Kyle Fiedler

Over the last few months we have been looking for another designer to join our team. We’ve seen a bunch of portfolios ranging in experience and style. I’ve found it intriguing to see how other designers present themselves and their work through their portfolio.

When it comes down to it you want your portfolio to show your work in the best light possible. You want to make the person hiring to be looking for more and eager to talk to you. Here are a few things that I am always looking for in portfolios.

Master the basics

I can’t put enough emphasis on design basics in both your portfolio and the work that you decide to put into it. There are in particular two things that I am really looking for: a proper grid and outstanding typography. You should have a solid understanding of both and be able to show it in your portfolio.

A grid is something no design should be without and there is no excuse not to use one for your portfolio. Its benefits are well documented and accepted; it adds form structure and flow. If you think you need help in this area pick up Grid Systems: Principles of Organizing Type by Kimberly Elam.

Choose a solid typeface and set it perfectly. Pay close attention to line-height, letter-spacing and the hierarchy in your type. I feel like every designer should have a copy of Robert Bringhurst’s book Elements of Typographic Style, and have read it at least twice.

Best work and only the best

Don’t show anything less than your very best work. If that means that you can only have one portfolio piece then you only have one. Don’t just put in a bunch of work that doesn’t show your full capabilities. The work in your portfolio site should be shown well. It seems obvious but don’t have lots of distractions and useless ornaments around it unless it serves to better show your work.

Client work proves that you’ve done it before. It indicates that you can handle clients, handle project timelines and everything that comes with being a designer on a team.

If you don’t have this kind of work look for projects that you have done that might fill that gap. They can range from a goofy tumblr account, to contributing to open source, to maintaining a blog. They show that you have a passion for this thing you want to do, that you are eager to learn and that you eat, drink and breathe this stuff. Even if you have a bunch of great client work it’s still great to see projects that you have started or contributed to showing your passion for your work.

Play to your strengths

All in all, you want to play to your strengths. If you are right out of school you won’t have much client/in-house experience so play up those projects you take on in your free time. If you have a bunch of solid work select the few you consider the very best and switch out pieces depending on the job you are looking to get.  Make sure that who you are and your core design principles are reflected in the design of your portfolio and the pieces that you have chosen for the portfolio.