Portfolio, Basics

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The Four P’s (personal, professional, presentation, portfolio) is the result of a long and constantly evolving process that includes the following steps:

  1. Creation of a body of strong, unique, visually dynamic and meaningful art/design
  2. Developing a systematic organizational means that maintains original art/design
  3. Photographing original art/design to accurately document/archive all work digitally
  4. Developing a high personal standard for what you will accept in the final book.
  5. Carefully considering the sequence and order of art/design in the final book.
  6. Realizing what to show to whom.


Portfolio cases

Get your Book through the Door

Preparation—Send a letter and a well-designed résumé in advance. Your résumé is a simple typographic design problem, displaying vital information about who you are, where you’ve been and what you’ve done in an organized and structured fashion. Follow up with a phone call and make an appointment. Call the day before to confirm that you still have an interview or a drop off, who to see and when. Brush up on what the firm (company, gallery, studio, etc.) does or is involved with. What is their specialty? It helps to know something about the studio and what they do and have done before to give you an idea how to show your work to them or perhaps what pieces to leave out in favor of other pieces instead.

What is a Portfolio, or Book?

Portable proof of your design education and a document of your work. It is a display of exercises, talent, thinking and solutions to visual communication problems. The physical form of the portfolio is completely up to you. It should, however, not be too precious or complicated. Nor should it require delivery by freight elevator. It is a communication tool, not a self-centered reflection of your personality.

A portfolio is a design problem. It contains an assortment of given visual and verbal material. As with all publications, what you put next to one element either plays up that individual piece or fights it for attention. An interesting layout of spreads and pages, color, form and/or thematic relationships, dramatic scale changes, humor, elements of surprise, details and whole pieces, sequencing and rhythm, are all tools to entertain the eye. It is a showpiece in the best sense, and I haven’t even talked about the individual work itself.

Organization—A well-structured portfolio has a beginning, a middle and an end. It should be a well-designed book that shows off your work in the best possible light. Samples should be clean and removable. The sequence doesn’t have to be chronological, but I wouldn’t put early school work at the end. Don’t forget that the final image leaves a more lasting impression than the first.

Sketches—Show your sketches separately. This will assist those of us who think of your sketching process as one of the most important and telling parts of your presentation. Similarly, designers should not show fine art/studio art as such. Instead, if you are a good drawer, painter, sculptor and want to show those exemplary skills, place the best examples of that work into a design layout. (For example, take a picture of your sculpture and use that photograph in a magazine layout.) That way you are exhibiting your range of creative talent but not confusing the interviewer about what your professional goals are.

Labels—It helps to label your work with very short descriptions, in case you have to drop off your portfolio and don’t have a chance to narrate in person. Keep in mind that a first portfolio review gives only a first impression of you and your work. If it generates interest, you will be called back and you and your work will be scrutinized in more detail.

These 6 key points are fundamental in having any chance of getting a response or call back from design studios or agencies. I’ve made them brief and straight to the point and will have many other posts that discusses each area deeper. Whether you are a design student, a recent design graduate or simply finding it difficult to get a design job, then go through these points and see if you’ve ticked all the boxes and continue with your pursuit.

Hot Portfolio Tips

  • Keep the pages clutter free
  • Have ALL your work photographed (professionally or by yourself)
  • Photographed pieces show the work in real life and adds depth to your portfolio.
  • Don’t just put the file of a design on a page, or worse, with crop marks or knife lines (you’d be surprised how many times I’ve seen this)

Put Design Work in Context
Caption your designs with short information. This only has to be in 7 or 8 pt type that sits on the corner of the page or wherever is not distracting. The employer looking at you’re portfolio has no history of the job, if it was real or a made-up brief.Labels you should include:

  • The client (their goals)
  • The background on the task (the brief or class assignment)
  • The results achieved from the project
  • When you did it
  • And most importantly, your role on the project, your responsibilities

Constantly self-critique your portfolio

  • What are some effective ways you’ve made your portfolio stronger?
  • Customize it’s contents for who you are presenting to
  • Current work only
  • Impeccably presented

OnLine Portfolio Development Sites

Having a web-based portfolio is crucial for displaying your online and/or offline work. The key to an effective portfolio design is how you to set up the content. The Six Revisions article covers various ways designers and artists set up their portfolio sites. It also looks at some well-designed examples from each style.

Template-based web design has its pros and cons. On the plus side these sites offer quick and fairly easy ways to organize your work, and do it in a consistent manner. On the minus side, template design is just that, a template that many young designers, just like yourself, will be using. Therefore, the overall presentation of your work will not be unique. Your use of the “hanging work by clips” option may look cool for your work but from the viewpoint of the person who will be looking at hundreds of prospective new hires, seeing one more use of this is not very inspiring. So, consider carefully. At least have an online presence. These are good choices where to begin:

Creating an Online Portfolio

Keep it simple. The less clicks the viewer has to make to view your work, the better. Checkout this one at www.ramcastillo.com but there are thousands of portfolio sites out there. Compare yourself with the best and never compare yourself with the worst. Find sites you like and how they are navigated and create your own. There are also many free portfolio sites out there.

WordPress is a good choice for creating an online Documentary Portfolio, but not for your Presentation Portfolio. The reason is that WordPress restricts your design options to specific template choices. Those choices may or may not be appropriate or meaningful to your visual identity or presenting your work. To a certain degree the recommendations found above also have the same weakness. You goal is to minimize the visual effect of the generic/template and also be seen as an extension of the visual identity you established with your logo and résumé. Be sure to choose a style/look template that allow for this to happen.

Your digital portfolio should be designed just like the regular portfolio with the same attributes described above. It should be easy to open, navigate and review.

Email Template Invitation/Announcement of your online presence

Once you have your online portfolio up whether on a third party website or your own domain website, you can email people easier without having to attach a PDF. Craft an email with a brief introduction about who you are and state a positive comment on the work that the company you are emailing has done that got your attention. Then continue into what you are currently doing and what you want. Ask, and you shall receive.

You can then use this email as a template to send to other prospective design studios or agencies that you feel drawn to having experience with. Remember to add the URL link of your online portfolio.The key is to show interest regarding any potential opportunities or openings they may have for Junior Designers and is a way of you raising your hand by letting companies know you are energetic, enthusiastic, someone who takes initiative and is available.

Make Linkedin Your New Best Friend

If have not already, sign up for LinkedIn.com and connect with every professional you know on a regular basis. From your relatives to friends and even you’re parents friends. Think of LinkedIn as FaceBook for professionals. Keep your information up to date as it becomes you’re online resume viewable in an instant. You will also end up using this to email influential people directly for any opportunities as time goes on. Since we are talking about social media here, take a very close look at what you have currently posted online. If the majority of your photos are party pics, you need to remove them. If your website or email address is the same one that was cute or hip when you were 15, they probably need to change also.

PDF Portfolio

You still need a PDF portfolio but it should only be 5-10 examples of your best work. Nothing less and nothing more. If your not happy with most of them, then only show the good ones. Quality outweighs quantity.


It’s probably best to have a CV handy. Do your research on how to structure a strong and clear CV. I did this ages ago and continue to do it. I’ve redone by CV 4 times in 4 years and make it better each time. By better, I make it simpler. You would usually have your CV page(s) then your portfolio pages to follow in the one PDF.


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