Graphic Design 101 Starter Kit: Portfolio

Graphic Design 101 Starter Kit: Portfolio

We’ll begin with this: If you want to be taken seriously as a designer and even considered for a job you apply for, you must have a really good portfolio

A well-crafted portfolio helps you showcase your work and your brand, and it allows you to advertise yourself. It shows your experience in a visually appealing way, and it catches the eye of your potential clients, much better than any CV can. But more importantly, it lets you take control over your own brand. Just in case that’s not motivational enough, here are a few extra reasons to create a portfolio.

Online Portfolio or a PDF version?

This really should not be a question at all, but let’s see why you ought to make an online portfolio and not even bother with the PDF version. Here are three things you should keep in mind:

  1. Let’s be honest, we are living in a digital world, where the chances are (if you’ve done a good job) someone will stumble upon your online profile through Google search. Or let’s say you’ve done some contest on a freelance design platform, and the contest holder finds your work good but would like to see more. So they go to your profile, there’s the link to your online portfolio, and just like that, they get to see some of your best work, and hire you. These two scenarios cannot happen if you have a PDF version of your portfolio. Having an online portfolio gives you an opportunity to find work even when you are not actively searching.
  2. With a PDF portfolio, you are somewhat limited to what you can show. No animations, UX solutions, special effects and so on, can make the cut. But more importantly, a person who you wish to impress cannot experience the full effect of your work, as they can when they click on your website.
  3. At last, we don’t mean to sound like a bummer, but online portfolios have become somewhat of a standard. And it’s understandable why. If you are a web designer, your clients would much rather see the live version of what you can do, than to stare at a static image of your website. The same holds true for UX UI designers, animators etc. 
Who’s Your Audience

Who’s Your Audience

As a designer, you need to think about who exactly would you want to reach, who’s your desired audience. Make an ideal representative of your audience. Think about who you want to attract to your website – is it a client, potential employee or to gather a larger following. Evaluate what type of content would be the most appealing for your chosen representative and create your portfolio having that person in mind

A well-crafted portfolio helps you showcase your work and your brand, and it allows you to advertise yourself.

A good thing about an online portfolio is that you can update it whenever you want. If you are in a search for a job, what kind of job would it be? Is it a product designer? A logo designer? Or maybe an advertising designer? For example, recruiters who want to hire a logo designer will want to see your competence in this particular field. Therefore you would want to emphasize all the logo-related work, and maybe add typography related work. 

In case you would like to sell your work, add a purchase option. Make sure that the funnel is smooth and reliable, so your visitors can buy your creations without having to leave your website.

Platforms To Build Your Portfolio On

Platforms To Build Your Portfolio On

We’ve heard all the excuses under the sun, but honestly, an online portfolio is really not hard to make, especially if you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here’s a list of some tools that can help you create your personal website. A bonus trick? For some of these tools and platforms, you don’t even need to know a single line of code. 

Dribbble and Behance

In the foundations part of the started kit, we discussed Dribbble and Behance as sources of inspiration. But, a lesser-known fact is that these designer platforms can also help you create a portfolio. Creating a portfolio with any of these two is simple and relatively fast.

The downside of both is that you can’t really control how it will look since they both have their own preset layouts.

Website Builders

If you’d rather have a website on your own terms, but are not well versed in code languages, do not fret. There are ample website builders on the market like Squarespace, Wix or WebWave, that give you the liberty to create your own website using a drag and drop principle. But while these platforms allow you multiple creative liberties, you are bound to their subscription model, which is paid either monthly or annually. If at any time, you’d want to stop paying the subscription, your website will be cancelled too.

Having an online portfolio gives you an opportunity to find work even when you are not actively searching.

If you need further guidance on website builders, make sure to check each one individually. 

Building Your Own Website

All of these options are fast and easy, but none of them give you full liberty, either style or subscription wise. Most of all, you are not in control of your own content and if so happens that the platform changes or even shuts down (not likely but there is a possibility) you will lose all on what you have worked on. This is why it might be a good idea to invest time and effort into building your own website and have full control over your content, visual identity and design of the platform

What Should You Include in Your Online Portfolio?

What Should You Include in Your Online Portfolio?

Feature only the best of work. As a rule of thumb focus on up to 5 pieces, and tread carefully, you don’t want to lose the focus of your prospective client/employer. Remember: Your work should do all the talking. You can always send more information if a client requests it. 

The old trick is to start and finish with your best work. It is important you finish off on the high note in order to leave a positive impression.

Also, when you feature projects, consider describing and showing the process behind the featured work. What sparked the idea? Why precisely those colors, do they have any relevant meaning maybe? How did your work fulfill the client’s needs, and what did they achieve with your help? It’s much easier for your visitors to understand your work when they have some story behind it.

What Projects to Include

What Projects to Include

Here’s a little paradox for you: You need examples of jobs done to get the job but you need a job to have a collection of examples. 

In order to break this recursion and make a big difference between you and all other beginner designers, here are some steps you should start with:

Personal Brand 

It’s granted that as a beginner you won’t have many projects to show for. But this is nothing to worry about. For starters focus on building your own brand. A great advantage of having your own website is the ability to show your logo design, UX solutions, web design and so on. You’ll be able to present that you have mastered UX and UI design, and show the potential you have for this kind of design. It is the opportunity to show to a prospective client/employer what you can do. 

Contests and Personal Projects

In order to practice and create work that you can show on your online portfolio, you can do two things: 

  1. Enter contests on platforms such as 99 designs and Upwork
  2. Look for a design solution that would facilitate some part of everyday life and create it.
When you feature projects, consider describing and showing the process behind the featured work.

Projects like these, whether born through the contests or your own imagination, can show your creativity, skill level and delivery.

Do the design work for a small enterprise from the block 

Design the newsletter for a school. Take care of the graphics for a local fitness center you go to. Make a logo for your friend’s company. Or better yet, just walk in your favorite local shop and offer to help them out with a shop branding, swag, and product branding, advertising efforts, update their logo – basically whatever they need. Free of charge. 

Give yourself some time to do these kinds of projects. Select the ones that seem particularly interesting, and feature them in your portfolio. Make sure not to omit the process of creation. 

Regularly Update Your Online Portfolio

Remember that when your website goes live, your work does not end there. Make a habit of coming back to your portfolio. Much like anything else, your work will get better over time so make sure to feature all the best work you’ve done.  

Find Your Inspiration

Find Your Inspiration

Since this is probably going to be the first time you are creating a portfolio, it would be wise to do a little research and see how others did it. You might have some general idea of what you want to include and how but it doesn’t hurt to see some more experienced fellows and pay attention to some of the details they have included in their portfolio

By checking out what others have come up with, you’ll learn a great deal. You could learn things like:

  • How to adjust the colour palette to the brand colour palette. 
  • How to properly mockup your work. 
  • Important elements to include on a landing page.
  • Functional and properly done UX
  • Inspiration for About Me page (we all need it).
  • To do testimonials, or not to?
  • A contact form or simple contact info.

Before You Go

Like with any other vocation, continuity is the key for success. That means a lot of hours spent practicing in order to reach your goals. Besides practicing, explore, experiment and absorb everything that surrounds you. Use it to refine your approach to art and design. We wish you great success. You can do it! 🙂

Note: This post is part of our series dedicated to graphic design. We are going to walk you through the basics of graphic design and give you pointers on how to thrive and have a successful career. Stay tuned for the release of our eBook on Graphic Design!


Danica Celebic

Activist, content creator, and social media specialist by day; an illustrator and tango dancer by night. In constant pursuit of unique life experiences.

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