What to include in your design portfolio

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March 11, 2021
5 minute read

When you’re trying to grow your freelance design business, a top-notch portfolio can make you stand out against the competition. Whether it's time to create your first design portfolio or give your old one an update, these five practical tips will help.

1. Curate your content

Your portfolio should include your best pieces, not a link to everything you’ve ever created. You can use a resume to list our all your graphic design achievements, but your portfolio should only contain the best of the best. While there’s no perfect number of projects to include, you should aim for between five and ten items. This way, potential clients can see a variety of your work without having to dig through too many.

If you’ve been in business for a while, take some time to sort through your past samples. Review your designs and select the ones that best show your skills. You may want to remove some of your early examples, as your work has likely improved since then.

If you’re just starting your business, you may not have that many pieces yet. To round out your portfolio, you may need to create some conceptual projects. Then, as you gain experience, go back to your portfolio and update it.

2. Showcase your range of skills

Potential clients use your portfolio to get a better idea of what you can do. It helps them see if you’d be a good fit for their design needs (and if your design rates match your skills). Including a diverse set of projects in your portfolio gives them a broader sense of your abilities.

You don’t want your prospects to see multiple pieces that are all visually similar, so don't be afraid to mix it up a bit. Show projects at different stages of the design process to provide insight into how you work. Include images of your designs in use, if possible. This adds unique elements to your portfolio. It'll also help your clients visualize the potential for their own business.

3. Let your personality shine

You want your portfolio to catch your client's attention when they're viewing it. Your personality is key to making this happen, so let it shine in your design portfolio.

Here are a few ideas to help you insert a bit of your personality into your portfolio:

  • Include a write-up about each project, sharing how you approached the task.
  • Weave in personal facts and history to help your clients learn more about you.
  • Include a headshot that’s professional but still has personality.
  • Create your portfolio in a unique way:
  • Customize a PDF version of your portfolio for each opportunity, featuring the projects most applicable to that client.
  • Show off your UX and web design skills by customizing your portfolio.
  • Work your story into your portfolio, so it becomes much more than a collection of good designs.

No matter what form your portfolio takes, make sure it’s user-friendly. Don't give busy hiring managers a reason to dismiss your work before seeing what you can do.

4. Share the type of work you want to do again

Your portfolio helps shape the way your business grows. You're more likely to land the type of work that you showcase. With this in mind, make sure each piece aligns with your current business goals. For example, if you want to specialize in logo design and branding, include your best work in these areas. Alternatively, if you decide to find a niche in something like packaging designs, your portfolio must reflect that.

Take time to review each piece in your design portfolio. Ask yourself if it represents where you want your business to go. If it doesn’t, remove it and create new pieces to feature instead.

5. Show the results

Your designs may be beautiful, but do they produce results? Potential customers want to see that you are worth the investment. Your portfolio can show them that you are.

Along with your designs, include additional information about the scope of each piece. Share a write-up that explains why the design was successful. If possible, include real numbers from campaigns and projects. You want to position yourself as someone who can help your clients meet their goals.

If you’re just starting out, don’t make up numbers for this. Always represent yourself honestly. You can always go back and update your portfolio as you gain more experience.

Position your design portfolio to attract new clients

With a solid design portfolio, you can land new clients and take your business to the next level. The steps above can help you get your portfolio ready for sharing. But, a portfolio isn’t something you can create once and then forget about. Instead, revisit your portfolio regularly. That way, it’s always ready to share when new opportunities arise.