Three Tips for A Stronger Portfolio

It’s never too early to start thinking about your design portfolio. A solid portfolio embodies your skills and experience, and makes a memorable first impression. At AIGA DC’s Creative Review, designers of every level met with professionals who critique their work and offer guidance on crafting effective portfolios. Here’s some of their advice.

1. Curate your portfolio carefully

Your work should show your strengths, your interests, and your understanding of who you’re presenting to. What you show might change depending on the employer or project, so be willing to adapt your collection to your audience.

“Think specifically about the type of work you find satisfying, and determine how it will provide value to the product that your potential employer produces. Be it an agency, in-house gig or freelance job, everyone is making something that is valuable to someone else.”
— Mike O’Brien, associate creative director, iStrategyLabs

“Think of your story, strength and audience. Your work should speak to all three.”
— Robert Generette III, independent illustrator

“Know what you want to talk about first instead of just going in chronological order with your work. Make sure your most comprehensive and best work is up front.”
— Kelly Sharon, Capital One

2. Prove you’re a problem-solver by showing process

Your pretty portfolio piece didn’t just appear out of thin air. Talk about how your design solution effectively solved a problem. Show your process from start to finish to demonstrate thoughtful decision-making along the way.

“Be prepared to speak about your work, and discuss your process and reasoning!”
— Angel Rybak, senior designer, Polygraph

“Your portfolio should show your attention to your craft, but also how you think.”
— Chris Montwill, design director, Threespot

“Present process. What did you do, and why did you do it, and why is the result something that’s good for the client?”
— Ross Nover, founding partner, Friendly Design Co

“Develop your personal narrative, and practice talking about the thinking behind your work. Speak intelligently about your creative process, and show you have a valid creative point of view.”
— Billy Candela, creative director, NPR

3. Bring a laptop and a print portfolio

It’s best to show work on its native platform — whether digital or print — but sometimes technology fails. Supplement your materials with a print portfolio, showing projects at proper scale. Plus, a print portfolio exhibits your attention to the craft of a tactile experience.

“If you’re showing your work as printed pieces, know that craft still matters. Don’t use plastic sleeves. Ever.”
— Greg Spraker, senior art director, Grafik

“Present in multiple formats. Presenters with the most impact have a [digital] portfolio and physical pieces from their portfolio with them.”
— Sam Braden, creative director, Bluetext

“Print-based work should be shown printed at 100% scale and presented in a professional manner. Showing print work online does not give the reviewers the opportunity to critique scale and other critical design decisions.”
— Robert McVerry, co-founder and executive creative director, O2 Lab

Want to improve your portfolio? Get real feedback from creative professionals on your portfolio at our next Creative Review in Spring 2018. We also have events throughout the year where you can connect with talented individuals across the DC metro area.


The EMERGE initiative is a series of experiences tailored to help the emerging designer hone their skills, discover their talents, and grow their career. Emerge offers content in the areas of employment, growth, leadership, entrepreneurship, and life skills to designers who are just launching their careers or have up to five years experience in the field.

Published October 1, 2017