9 Simple Rules for Building a Design Portfolio

9 Simple Rules for Building a Design Portfolio

After working in the freelance design industry for couple years, I’ve picked up a few tips along the way that have really help my work stand out in the field.  Many of them I still use today, and I’d like to share with you these that I find to be extremely useful.  Keep in mind that it takes time to build a portfolio – and a lot of patience – but with a little perseverance and my 9 Simple Rules for Building a Portfolio, you too can refine your portfolio to make it appealing and professional so that you’re sure to land that next freelance gig.


1. Cover

Your portfolio is a book, and like every other book your portfolio book cover is what potential clients see first.  Obviously you want it to be unique, so for hard copies, try using special materials or a combination of materials that bring out a “wow” affect.  For example, if you are a designer specializing in environmental design try using recycled materials that really attest to who you are and what you’re passionate about.


2. Introduction

You absolutely must have a table of contents.  Regardless of how awesome your work is, you want to guide the client through your portfolio and give them a reference for what they are looking at.  In doing this you are providing the viewer with an easy layout and pathway to projects that may interest them or be relevant to their industry.  Which leads me to my next rule…


3. Layout 

Keep it simple!  A simple layout is the key for a healthy rhythm and flow of each page throughout your portfolio.  Don’t flood the page!  However passionate you may be about your work, and want to exhibit as much of it as possible – too many images and descriptions can be a headache to follow.  Negative and empty space is a powerful tool and with a good use.  Try using the Rule of Thirds, it is incredibly useful and it will speak volumes to the layout and organization of your portfolio.


4. Alignment

I use a grid alignment.  It’s easy on the eye for on page scanning.  Align texts and images together and make sure they flow from left to right.  Like I mentioned before, this makes the flow and organization of each page much better and more appealing to your client.


5. Font

Use a consistent and appropriate font.  Creativity is important, but using a font that is hard to read can be an instant turn off to a client.  Test out a font you like and that compliments your work, but keep in mind that the viewer should understand what you have written.  Test out the size and font to see which font works best for the title, header, text, and callouts.  Have fun and be unique in your font selection, but remember to keep it legible.


6. Colors

I recommend sticking to a three-color mix in your layout.  Too many colors will make it look like a Kindergarten coloring book.  I use dark and bright grey and a third color that makes my layout really pop.


7. Images

If you’re any good at what you do, your work should speak for itself.  Have one big, what I like to call, “money shot” and three smaller images around it.  Put your best foot forward so that clients can see the true quality of your work!


8. Inspiration and Research

Every designer has a story, so does the work they do.  Your portfolio should tell a story – here’s how you can do that:

  1. Introduce your project and the objective you were aiming for.
  2. Briefly explain your research on the project and what inspired you to originally take on the project. You can include original images, shape, colors, materials or photos in order to show your inspiration for your project. This Styleboard provide a frame of reference, so the viewer can see how your product evolved from another existing idea.
  3. Show some creativity through sketches. Show the veracity and the progress in how you came to the final result through a compilation of sketches and drafts.  I like to tell myself “sketch, sketch, and sketch some more!”
  4. Lastly, when you’ve captured the viewer’s attention with your sketches, finish with an image of the completed project that will leave them stunned.

 1.8-story1 2.8-story23.8-story34.8-story4

9. Be proud of your work!

This I can’t stress enough.  If you don’t take your work seriously, and you are not methodical in your approach, it will certainly be apparent in your portfolio.  A lack of professionalism throughout your portfolio can be the make-or-break point in locking down a future gig.  Take pride in what you do, and let it shine through the organization, layout, and flow when you present your portfolio to potential clients.


I am absolutely certain these rules have really influenced my work opportunities for the better, and I still use them today!  Stick to these 9 Simple Rules for Building a Portfolio, like I have, and your work is sure to shine on top of that stack of a hundred average portfolios.


Much love,

Yotam Monjack