Creating a graphic design portfolio seems simple, right? You might think it’s as easy as getting together the designs you’ve already made, putting those images on a website, and letting the world come to you.
But if that’s what you’re expecting, it’s time to change your perspective. You should treat your portfolio with the care and reverence of any client project—perhaps even more—because your portfolio has a continuous impact on your career. Once you complete a client project, it’s done. But to attract new clients, your portfolio should constantly evolve to reflect your latest work.
To create a top-notch portfolio, you have to make strategic decisions to showcase your personal brand and stand out to potential clients and job recruiters. The fast-moving graphic design industry requires that you remain ahead of the curve, so you’ll want to make sure your portfolio acknowledges the latest trends in the modern graphic design market. In this guide, you’ll discover how to do just that. You’ll also learn about how best to exemplify your brand, consider the importance of getting a second opinion, and all the different platforms you can use to showcase your work.
The Graphic Design Job Market
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for graphic designers is predicted to continue to grow over the next several years. But that doesn’t mean you can rest easy: The more demand there is for graphic design work, the more designers may flood the field, and the more you will want to make your work stand out. The jobs themselves will likely continue to shift away from traditional work at print publications and periodicals, migrating more towards computer systems design and other technical services—a field that is expected to grow even more.
By 2026, the graphic design industry is slated to offer about 279,000 jobs for skilled designers, with both full- and part-time opportunities. These positions are competitive, so it’s essential that you do something different from the myriad other graphic designers scrambling to get work in front of clients. Establishing yourself and your work as innovative and exciting can get your name on the radar for in-demand jobs—and your portfolio is the perfect place to start.
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How to Assemble Your Portfolio
Whether you just completed some online graphic design courses or you’re a seasoned pro looking to showcase new work, curation is key. Before you publish a portfolio, it’s essential to choose your best work, show the right amount of material, and think carefully about the layout. A graphic designer with a poorly formatted portfolio isn’t likely to get many inquiries: After all, if a designer can’t even intelligently design their own portfolio, how can they produce great work for clients? That’s why it’s crucial to apply your unique designer’s touch in not just formatting your portfolio, but also picking what pieces to showcase.
Choose Your Portfolio Strategically
The first cut you’ll make to your portfolio is simple: Eliminate your oldest projects. You don’t want to appear stuck in the past, especially when pitching to new clients who want to keep up with cutting edge technology and trends. If you have an older project that really fits your brand and is a great example of your work, you can still include it—just be sure most of your work is from the past year or so to balance it out.
Next, get rid of anything you don’t consider your best designs. Maybe the image definition isn’t high enough, or perhaps you simply don’t like it. (If you have trouble with this part of the process, don’t be so precious! Ask your trusted friends or colleagues for help.)
As you choose your work samples, consider how you plan to present your them. Certain work you’ve done may look best in specific formats. For example, a great print design may not look the best in your online portfolio, even if it really pops in your physical one. Remember to also think about how your designs were made. If you print color photos, make sure your work is in CMYK color mode. Conversely, stick with RGB for digital. Many designers still use traditional, physical portfolios to present print work, but in today’s digital world, having an online portfolio in addition to a physical one is essential.
Now, factor in who you want to work with. If you want your portfolio seen by a specific sector or client, tailor your decisions to fit the target. There’s no point in having black and gray work if you want to grab the attention of bright, bold brands. And speaking of brands, using client work does help establish your professional credentials. If you already have plenty of client work, feature it prominently to show that you have professional experience. But if you are just starting out, non-client work is suitable to include in your portfolio, too. This work shows your dedication to the craft—that you do it for fun, and not just because people are paying you—and allows you to showcase your capabilities without limitation.
Still narrowing it down? Consider which works stand out the most. Ask yourself which pieces are the most creative, unique, and bold, and strive for an original look that will communicate your personal brand. Make sure to show off your range with a variety of imagery, too. Unless you plan to target just one denomination of design, present more than only one style. Show that you can design full websites, establish typography, make logos, or create a dynamic brand campaign by demonstrating that you’ve done that type of work before. If you have a cohesive brand, all of these projects can still flow together in a single portfolio. Represent your general abilities and your specialties with pride in your decisions.
Now, look at your work that made the cut. Ask yourself two questions:
- How many of these pieces do you need to highlight your collection?
- How relevant are these works today?
Don’t overwhelm your audience. Choose only the number of pieces needed to convey your capabilities, your message and your scope. As a general rule, opt for including no more than ten to 20 projects in your portfolio.
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Present Your Collection Smartly
Your selection process is far from over at this point. You may even find yourself second-guessing your choices when you lay them out in your portfolio. This is perfectly normal, and can even be an important part of the process.
Your portfolio should be a cohesive presentation that seamlessly guides viewers from one work to the next. When it comes to branding, you could find yourself questioning whether two images contrast enough, or if they echo the same message too closely. On the other hand, if your portfolio’s images shift abruptly and harshly, you may want to reconsider its organization.
Just as a graphic designer would do on a project, tweak your presentation until it strikes exactly the right chord. That could mean rearranging the images or removing some altogether. You may need to sift through images you cut, and reconsider whether one now fits your presentation better. Maybe you didn’t personally love the logo you made for that dog walking company, but it’s the only logo project you have, and the typography perfectly compliments a design you used for a different client’s website.
This is a trying and necessary part of the process. As frustrating as it may be, culling and arranging your portfolio could inspire additional content, or provoke you much-needed thought about what your brand really means to you (and to clients). Consider filming the selection and creative process behind your portfolio for an inside look into how you conceive your work. Giving clients a glimpse into your process could help them trust you and invest more in you as a designer, not just a collection of projects and campaigns.
Think Before You Publish
Before you publish any of your work online, get a second (or third) opinion. Soliciting insights from colleagues and friends in the graphic design community is invaluable. And asking friends who don’t work in media could provide an interesting, more objective perspective: After all, when it comes to design, customers matter, too. It’s hard to approach your own designs with an impartial eye, especially when you’ve reviewed them countless times during the production process. With an outside opinion, you can catch everything from narrative inconsistencies to simple grammar corrections.
This stage of the process can also help you be less emotional about your work. If you love a project that everyone else is so-so about, you might realize that you liked it because it had sentimental value to you—not because it’s among your best work. Scrap it.
The benefits of outside feedback can go beyond your portfolio. Get outside opinions on your online branding as well. Thoroughly edit social media, resumes, cover letters, ads and any other copy. Practice how you describe yourself to others, formulating the elevator pitch you’ll use at networking events, interviews, and meetings. Double check everything before it goes out into the world.
Once you’ve reviewed your work a few more times with outside feedback in mind, take some time away from the project and come back to it with fresh eyes. Sometimes, all you need is a short break to recollect and see what needs revision.
Graphic Design Websites and Online Branding
Your online brand can include just about anything potential clients might find about you online. But there are three major categories of online branding that graphic designers will want to consider: portfolio networks, personal websites, and social media platforms. Here, we’ll cover each—with tips on how to get started.
Crafting Your Personal Website
Your website is the most customizable portfolio you have on the web.
Register a simple domain that people won’t forget—preferably one that’s easy to remember (and easy to spell). Your name or brand name can be an obvious choice, but feel free to get inventive. Then, build a website that aligns with your overall brand and presentation. If you aren’t skilled at developing a site, you can make a basic portfolio on websites like Squarespace or Wix. Both of these sites offer an array of specific portfolio templates that work well if you’re showcasing poster work or brand campaigns. (Of course, don’t use a website template if you’re trying to show off your website design skills. If you don’t have time to design it yourself, hire a web page designer.)
Don’t harm your web presence with a half-hearted website. Your personal page needs to be the strongest statement of your work, and you can use more creativity than a social media channel or portfolio platform would allow. You may want to add some simple animation to your website. Or you could set up your site with a guided navigation, one that shows users your design process or the evolution of your work. Whatever you choose, don’t let the site get too busy or complicated to follow. What you ultimately want to showcase is your work, not the web designer’s—unless that web designer is you.
Once you build your page, work on search engine optimization (SEO). Specific visuals, keywords, metadata, page layouts, and other elements shape how your page loads and how visitors interact with the site—which is how Google determines who has the best website rankings for competitive keywords in your space. If your site doesn’t make the first page of search results, a client’s chances of discovering you diminish significantly. The world of SEO changes often, so you may want to stay updated with helpful tips from experts like Brian Dean and Neil Patel. For example, don’t forget to label all of the image files you use on your site with relevant keywords—not just “project 1,” or “poster 3”.
Once you’ve finished the initial site design and architecture, the strength of your website comes down to keeping it up to date. If you write, a blog can be an excellent home for new content. Give users a reason to return to your page and become your next customers.
That concept extends to your graphic design work, too. Keep your site fresh by adding new projects as you finish them. That way, people know to check back on your site and see what other cool things you’ve done since they last looked. (Don’t feel pressured to add every little piece of work—go back to the beginning of this guide if you have trouble deciding how to update.)
Turn your work into an exhibition – a show that attracts your fans. You can even incorporate sneak peeks and exclusive content using Patreon to help fund efforts if you’re scaling up. If you have a following outside of your client base, your peers and other brands looking for designers will know you’re a creative force to be reckoned with.
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Allow illustrator Mimi Chao to guide you through building a website for your portfolio (even if you don’t have web design experience).
Using Portfolio Websites
Establishing a presence on major sites like Behance and Adobe is just one component to a successful portfolio. Study your favorite graphic designers and analyze how their work stands out on each platform. Go beyond what makes their art exquisite, and look into their marketing. Consider keywords, how they tagged work, what works they chose, and other elements that go into the visual and SEO elements of their profiles. You can even use your exploration of other designers’ work as an opportunity to forge relationships and network.
Consider the following sites as a starting point.
Behance is one of the top platforms for visual designers and artists to follow and learn from their peers. Artists on Behance often show the process behind their designs, so consider using this platform to open up to viewers (and possible clients) by featuring the sketches and rough drafts that led to your final projects. When you can, comment and give genuine feedback about other users’ work, too—you could make quality connections with just a few clicks of the mouse.
Coroflot is best known as a destination for job hunters, but the community is an excellent source for inspiration and connecting with fellow artists. If you want to learn more about your career prospects, Coroflot’s salary section keeps tabs on work by field and location.
Dribbble is a top social networking platform for designers, offering job-hunting tools, portfolio sharing, and feedback mechanisms that let you interact with peers about a project in real time. You can sign up for a free account to follow artists, see what’s trending, and get a feel for the network, but you’ll need an invitation to upload your own portfolio. Current Dribbble members can invite you to join, and you can show that you’re interested by selecting the “prospect” box in your account settings.
As you choose which portfolio sites to use, try to understand the features and get a feel for the community on each platform. Consider each platform’s user experience. The best site is one that keeps you engaged, sharing, and offering feedback, so experiment with what’s out there and find what works best for you.
Building a Social Media Presence
Once your portfolio and website are in place, leverage them on social media. Register and maintain work-specific accounts across the top channels for graphic designers. While Facebook is excellent for high-traffic outreach, you may pay a higher cost to acquire an audience. Instead, start by gaining a following with little to no overhead on more visual platforms, such as Instagram, Pinterest, or Tumblr. With a bit of video editing, you may even find success on YouTube or Vimeo, where artists often show their process or create tutorials on how to execute specific types of projects.
From there, present yourself consistently online. You may want to post only a certain kind of work on one channel at a time so you give users a variety of content, or you may want to stylize your visual social pages. This Instagram account by RoAndCo studio is carefully curated so that, together, its various posts form a rainbow. Scroll through to see how the color scheme shifts from reds to pinks to oranges.
You can also take another angle, positioning yourself as an informed presence in the graphic design space by answering questions on Twitter, Quora and Reddit about your work and the design field in general. Doing so will only increase your reach and heighten your status with other designers and potential clients.
Try to gain some understanding of social media advertising and sales funnels, too. Your portfolio and other web content showcase your work, but social accounts help get your name and work in front of more users across the world.
Combine all these platforms into one cohesive online presence that tells potential customers who you are and what you can make. Getting started can feel overwhelming, but a robust social media presence will pay off—both literally and figuratively—if you put your best work forward.
Mastering the art of the graphic design portfolio is an ongoing process, just like mastering graphic design itself. It often takes multiple rounds of editing, examining the details that make up every project. But when done well, a portfolio pays off. Looking at your completed graphic design portfolio should give you the same pride you feel when looking at a completed design.
Your portfolio is just one significant component of your overall online brand. Your lookbook catalogs what you want the world to know about your art, whether you put it together digitally or physically. Choose the works that best convey your brand’s message (who you are and what your work looks like) and your scope (what types of projects you can do). Don’t overload your portfolio—that could overwhelm potential clients who, realistically, only click on a few projects before moving on to the next graphic designer. Remember that you can create multiple portfolios to cover numerous project types if your work spans several creative venues.
Showcase your work in a way you’d want to see someone else’s. What types of images grab you? What makes you click, or scroll endlessly through an Instagram account? How can you use social and digital platforms to control your personal narrative and tell a story that no one else has told before?
Make sure you ask these questions not just when you create your portfolio, but also when you update it, post to Instagram, or even present clients with a finished product. Everything you create as a graphic designer should showcase your brand and take advantage of new opportunities in the space, whether you’re using updated animation technology or crafting an eclectic new typeface. Most importantly, make sure your graphic design work makes you proud. If it doesn’t, you’re not doing it right.
As you advance your career, keeping your portfolio on the cutting edge will start to come naturally. The more heart and ingenuity you put into your work, and the more you develop your personal brand, the less effort you’ll need to put into your portfolio as time goes on. It will simply expand and move forward, just as you do in your career. If you take pride in your work and the way you present it, it speaks for itself—and clients will listen.