5 Tips to Create a Professional Graphic Designer Portfolio

August 3, 2020

The importance of having a professional graphic design portfolio is hard to overestimate. Is there any better way to show your unique design vision and style?

If you’re looking for a job, a portfolio website will let you prove your expertise as a designer. Including work samples and case studies from your previous projects into a professional portfolio is a must. Still, you have to think about other things that make you stand apart from competition.

Many freelance designers aspire to establish their personal brand online. If that’s the case with you, an online design portfolio will help you increase visibility and create a community.

As you see, the benefits of having a portfolio are endless. So, what’s the secret to creating an online portfolio that attracts maximum attention?

In this article, we’re going to provide you with 5 bulletproof tips for making a one-of-a-kind graphic designer portfolio.

How to Create a Portfolio?

Before you dive into the essentials of graphic design portfolios, there’s one thing you need to sort out. Where can you host your portfolio to make people see it? There are several options a designer can use:

Portfolio hosting platforms (Dribbble, Behance, etc.)

Portfolio hosting websites like Dribbble or Behance are quite popular among both design professionals and beginners. Over the years, these two platforms have grown into social networks that united designers from all over the world into a solid community. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of hosting a designer portfolio on Dribbble or Behance:

Pros: 

  • The integration of social features will let you exchange ideas and build a community of fellow professionals.
  • Multiple design portfolio examples can serve as references and inspiration for creating  an entry-level portfolio.
  • Relatively affordable pricing policies for individual designers and design teams.
  • Job boards available to look for creative work.

Cons:

  • Competition is huge on both Dribbble and Behance, this can be a real challenge for entry-level designers.
  • Posting is somewhat limited. For instance, Dribbble has a 4:3 limit to the resolution of uploads. 
  • Some important features on Dribbble are available only for Pro users (e.g. video posts, multi-image posts)
  • These platforms primarily host image-based design portfolios. Meaning, you can put up only high-quality static images, GIFs and videos. This may pose a problem for UX/UI designers seeking to showcase more comprehensive pieces of work in the form of case studies and interactive prototypes.
  • Over many years, the feedback on these platforms comes down to meaningless comments, such as “wow”, “awesome” etc.

All in all, creating a design portfolio on sites like Dribbble, Behance or both is a good idea. However, as the competition is getting higher, it’s wise to explore new portfolio hosting platforms.  

UIGiants 

UIGiants caters to different types of creative professionals – graphic designers, UX and UI designers, web design agencies etc. What are the pros of creating an online portfolio on UIGiants?

Pros:

  • Multiple post types

– Single-image, multi-image, or video posts – that’s a must have for any portfolio

– A/B testing posts with the voting feature. Feel free to test different versions of a design and have a poll among fellow professionals to learn their opinions. 

– Interactive prototypes. Create them from scratch on UIGiants or embed ready ones from Adobe XD, Figma, or Marvel and let users play them right in your portfolio. No need to convert them to GIFs any more.

– Case studies. A thorough project description and rich behind-the-scenes details is something you can use to back up for your expertise. (Note: This feature is coming soon) 

  • No posting limits. Feel free to upload high-quality images into your UIGiants online portfolio, dimensions are not limited. Thanks to vertical scrolling, different post types will look flawless on any screen. 
  • Advanced comment mode with annotations allows for exchanging contextual feedback tied to the specific area or element of your design
  • Job board lets you look for new projects in an effortless way. Full-time or part-time, remote or on-site – just pitch your portfolio to potential customers and get hired via the platform.
  • Most features are free. Unlike Dribbble, users have access to nearly all features on UIGiants. 

Cons:

  • Some standard Behance and Dribbble features (e.g. team profiles) are currently unavailable as the service is in the works. You can subscribe for a newsletter to get Free Early Access to the $168-worth Premium plan.

Designers with years of experience as well as beginners will definitely appreciate the selection of features. Still, in terms of graphic designer portfolio creation, there’s one more option to look into. 

Personal portfolio website

Portfolio websites are perfect for experienced designers aiming to show the full spectrum of their graphic design skills.

Pros:

  • Once your potential customers land on your website, they have minimum distractions and are less likely to leave.
  • A personal portfolio website serves as a prime example of your creative thinking. It’s the perfect chance to build a unique portfolio layout and show your professional range. 
  • You can include your contact details, links to social profiles, resume, case studies, and even have a personal blog.
  • It’s possible to monetize your personal portfolio website by including online store functionality. You can sell prints and merchandise.
  • Overall, a portfolio website looks more professional and creates a favorable first impression.  

Cons:

  • Not the best option for interns or junior designers as they may not have enough projects to showcase in their portfolios.
  • Expenses on domain name, hosting services and marketing. 
  • Experience in marketing and SEO would be an asset in terms of portfolio promotion. However, this is seen as an extra effort that is not directly related to a designer’s field of work.

As you see, there’s no perfect way to approach a design portfolio hosting. Many designers combine both options to increase exposure and reap all possible benefits. Choose the best option that fits your purpose and take the pros and cons into account.

5 Tips for Making a Professional Design Portfolio

Now, when you’ve made up your mind on where to host your design portfolio, it’s time to think about the portfolio layout and contents. In case you don’t know where to start, this questionnaire will help you out:

  • How many sections will your portfolio have?
  • How much of your personal info do you want to include? 
  • Which items would work best for your portfolio? 
  • How to describe each piece of work? 
  • How to highlight the case studies?
  • How will you promote your portfolio online?

By the time you finish reading this post, you’ll have a solid vision of what your graphic design portfolio should look like. Now, let’s delve deeper into the tips and tricks of design portfolio creation.  

#1 Choose a portfolio layout that plays to your advantage 

Portfolio hosting platforms typically have a set of standard layouts, while custom websites allow for unconventional solutions. A portfolio template can be an option, if you’re using a CMS or a website builder. For instance, WordPress based portfolio websites offer Lightbox gallery plugins perfect for graphic designers, illustrators, and photographers. 

  • Portfolio structure

Jason Yuan Portfolio

For instance, a gallery-style page with vertical scrolling works best for smaller designs (ad banners, logos, icons, etc.). Meanwhile, fullscreen layouts would work for posters, book illustrations, web design templates and photography. In case you wish to present different types of projects, use mini-portfolios. Split your projects into groups to make your portfolio website easy to navigate. 

Vladimir Gruev portfolio

  • Trends

Dominic Berzins Portfolio

Should you follow the latest design trends when it comes to portfolio creation? In 2020, you can come across personal portfolio websites which look over the top. Bold typography, animation effects, risky colors are now trending. However, if you aren’t sure you can pull off a brutalist-style portfolio, just keep it simple. At least, this option is risk-free. 

#2 Think quality, not quantity

A portfolio is not meant to store each project you’ve ever had in your career. The most important thing is to show your skills and work range. Select your best work. Your future client doesn’t want to flip through your misses, so give them your best hits! 

  • Choose in favor of diversity 

Try showing how diverse of a designer you can be – pick different types of projects. If you’ve done a business card design, a podcast cover, or a book illustration – do include all of those to show your range of work. Pick the same number of top projects from each category to sustain diversity in your portfolio.  

  • Should you include commercial projects only? 

Not at all! The projects you do in your free time speak volumes about your interests and creative potential. Including charity projects, if you’ve had any, will also be an asset. Just make sure to indicate those were self-initiated, and not commercial. 

#3 Tell a story behind your design

Your portfolio isn’t only about designs, but also about the unique story behind each of them. This is why you need to come up with a description for every item. There’s no need to make a case study out of a single design. It’s a good idea to tell about the goal you wanted to achieve and whether your client is satisfied with the outcome. 

Ling K Portfolio

Here’s what the description should reflect:

  • Your personal impact on the project. Indicate, if you worked alone or as a team member. Tell how you have contributed to the idea or execution.
  • Behind the scenes. Unveil how you ended up with this result. Tell what the client’s vision was and how you addressed the client’s goals.
  • Success story. Tell, if your project was a success. Provide a few metrics to support your statement.
  • Create a narrative

Also, you can try approaching every description using the traditional structure of the story:

  1. Introduction (tell about the problem a client approached you with);
  2. Rising action (tell about the research you did while working on the project);
  3. Climax (tell if you’ve encountered any problems and if you managed to solve them);
  4. Resolution (tell if the project was a success and what was in it for you).

#4 Include a case study

A case study is an in-depth research of a specific project meant to show your expertise and build trust. If you’re eager to include a case study into a portfolio, don’t overload it with facts and figures. Make sure it’s interesting to read. 

To turn a case study into an immersive and memorable experience, think of it as a magazine feature:

  • insert images when it’s necessary to illustrate a particular point;
  • use pull quotes to point out numbers, facts, or conclusions;
  • balance paragraphs with visuals, but don’t let it distract the reader from the main thing.

Rachel Schmitz Portfolio

RaiseMe onboarding animation case study

Take note, a case study is a form of storytelling, but a more evidential one and based on data. When putting together a case study, keep to the “problem-solution” approach: 

  1. Use an elevator pitch to briefly tell about the project and describe the challenges you faced.
  2. Tell how you contributed to the project. If applicable, list the resources you worked with.
  3. Use the best possible way to present the solution. Include a video showreel, an interactive prototype – whatever works best for this project.
  4. Explain how you dealt with the challenge based on your expertise and the processes you were involved in.
  5. Include the key takeaways to analyse what went well and what didn’t. You may also mention the feedback about your work.

#5 Personal details

If you’re interested in finding new clients with the help of your design portfolio, they must know the person behind it. 

  • Include a personal summary

Austin Knight Portfolio

A summary is a brief paragraph meant to provide your unique selling points as a design professional. Feel free to include your field of interests, the types of projects you’d love to do, achievements from your past projects. A summary is the perfect way of telling future clients about yourself without distracting them from your portfolio. If you don’t know what to write, look for inspiration and examples from fellow designers’ portfolios. 

  • Contact information

Mads Egmose portfolio

Providing relevant contact information is a must. No need to make your personal phone number public if you don’t want to. An active work email, a contact form, or a link to your social profile will do. Your primary goal is to help your potential clients easily make contact with you. 

  • Social media handles

Kyson Dana Portfolio

Make your social media handles a part of your personal information. Apart from presence on the portfolio hosting platforms, many designers have Instagram, Facebook or Twitter accounts. You may not revise or update your portfolio as often as you wish to. Meanwhile, social media updates are faster to make on the go. 

How to Promote a Graphic Designer Portfolio? 

Design portfolio promotion is probably the last thing any creative thinks about. Still, building a website and putting it up online is only the beginning of the journey. Soon enough you’ll need to take a few steps to promote your personal portfolio. So, what can you do to increase your visibility online? 

  • Join design challenges and prompts

Entry-level designers who badly need to expand their portfolios, can do that by engaging in daily design challenges or doing design prompts. Websites like The Daily Logo Challenge, Daily UI or WTFShouldILetter present you with endless ideas to practice different aspects of design. 

Using websites with design prompts is also a good idea, as they put your problem-solving skills to the test. Also, they help you deal with creative blocks and find inspiration. Check out websites like Sharpen Design, Behance Software Challenges or Dribbble Weekly Warmups. 

Apart from pushing your creativity, design challenges and prompts get supported by hashtags on social media. So, it’s a great way to promote yourself and meet other designers.

  • Grow your social media presence 

The biggest benefit you can reap of social media presence is creating a community around your personal brand. Social platforms like Instagram and YouTube provide you with a number of instruments to integrate personal and professional information. Here’s what you could try: 

  1. Behind-the-scenes timelapse of making a design project
  2. Livestreams and Q&A sessions 
  3. Frequently posting stories
  4. Collaborations with other designers
  • Create a design blog

An expert blog is the best addition your design portfolio website can have. Share industry news and project updates, talk about trends, express your opinions. Show your expertise. Create the type of content your potential clients can be interested in. 

If you have a case study you want to share, feel free to do that in a blog.

An expert blog on Medium could also work in your favor. This platform is known as a hosting for professional blogs. Explore the range of topics and think what you can add up to the conversation. 

  • Become a contributor to a professional blog

In case there’s an exceptional design experience or case you want to share, try submitting articles to authority design blogs like SmashingMagazine, Webdesigner Depot, 99designs, etc.

Read the submission guidelines carefully to make sure your article corresponds with the rules and conditions of the chosen resource. If you do manage to get the editors interested, it will pay off in terms of your professional visibility.

  • Join freelance platforms

Freelance platforms like UpWork, Fiverr, SolidGigs can not only help you find new projects, but also promote you as a design professional. Most of these websites have a portfolio functionality, so you can demonstrate your skills right there. Also, your clients can rate your work and leave feedback on the completed projects.  

In conclusion

Reflect your growth as a professional by showing the types of projects you love to work on. Don’t be afraid to exclude irrelevant projects. Always keep your online portfolio concise and up-to-date!

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