If you’re a graphic designer then you know that your portfolio is the key to new job opportunities and winning over clients. It’s the place to show off the amazing work you love to do but sometimes it can be overwhelming to know how much work to show. Having too few projects can leave clients and companies wondering what you do or who you are. Having too many projects can be distracting and overwhelming for the people looking for you.
The perfect number of projects to have in your portfolio at any time should be between 4-6 projects. This number of projects allows you to clearly communicate the type of work you enjoy doing and want to continue to create. This also makes it easier for the viewer of your portfolio to remember projects that standout to them by not overwhelming with too much work.
Keeping your portfolio focused with the number of projects is surprisingly important and something that I see too many creatives get wrong. In the rest of this article I’ll go over why more projects can hurt your portfolio, why less is more, and what projects to include. I also include 5 quick tips at the end of the article that everyone should make sure they do with their online portfolio so make sure to read till the end.
Why Too Many Projects Can Hurt You
As you progress as a graphic designer and complete more projects it is easy to want to show everything off. During my time as a professional in the creative industry I have seen how this can hurt other designers. For example, if you are at a company for an extended period of time, there is a very high chance you will have worked on a variety of projects. Including each and every single project on your portfolio can be exhausting for someone to click through not to mention the work you have to put in to keep it updated. Overloading your portfolio with projects can actually keep anyone that views it from remembering you. Some designers feel that just because they completed a project, it automatically has to go in their portfolio. Curating the work you show in your portfolio is just as important as the work that goes in your portfolio.
Why Less Projects Is More
As the saying goes, “less is more”, and this directly applies to the number of projects you should include in your portfolio. While having too many projects can distract viewers, limiting the number of projects will help you clearly communicate the type of work you really love and want to do more of. By limiting and curating the number of projects in your portfolio this will force you to choose the ones that you have a deep connection with. After I started to cut down the number of projects in my portfolio, I noticed more recruiters and companies reaching out and actually referencing specific projects during our initial conversations. It was clear to see what I enjoyed creating which also made it easy for anyone who viewed my portfolio to imagine how we could potentially work together. While it might be scary to think of showing only a few projects in your portfolio, try to also understand that as you grow as a designer, your role and responsibilities will change. To continue to progress in your career, you should be able to demonstrate a level of mastery for the tasks you may have started doing as a ‘junior’ designer.
What Projects Should You Include In Your Portfolio
Now that we understand that limiting the number of projects in our portfolio can actually help us, it is time to choose which projects should go in it. The first thing I like to tell designers is to include work that makes them excited. This type of work doesn’t have to be something you completed at a job, or for a client, or even for money. To simply put it, this can be work that you completed in your free time because it was to learn something new. Including 2-3 of these projects will reinforce the type of work that you want to be doing if a client, recruiter, or job gets in touch with you.
With that said you should also include projects that you have done professionally. These projects help demonstrate that you can work in a professional environment and with others. These projects also demonstrate your technical capabilities so it is always good to include a selection of these projects. It is very likely that you will have a ton of these projects from previous jobs. Instead of including every single project try to focus on one of your favorites, a project that required learning a new way of working, or something that gained notable attention internally amongst the company or externally with the audience.
A good rule that I like to keep in mind is that I usually make sure that 40% of the projects I show are the ones I am really excited about. I also make sure that these projects are at the very top of my portfolio so everyone sees them first. These will be the projects that people will most likely click on first and make the biggest impression. I can’t tell you how many times the first project in my portfolio is the one I talk about the longest with recruiters and jobs. For the remaining 60% of projects in your portfolio, these will be the professional ones. You also want to organize these according to how much you enjoyed working on them. You may not realize it but the projects that excite you also make it a lot easier to talk about. Recruiters, jobs, and creative directors are always listening to how you can articulate a project and it always helps to talk about something you had fun working on.
Tip for Including Company Projects In Your Portfolio
When including work that you have done professionally either for a company or a freelance client. Make sure you clear it with your manager, creative director, or point of contact to include the work in your portfolio. Sometimes there may be parts of a project that should remain confidential to the company or client. Other times you may have signed some kind of paperwork that states you cannot display the work publicly. In any case it is always helpful to ask to make sure you aren’t breaking any agreements or exposing sensitive information.
5 Quick Tips for Online Portfolios
As promised here are some quick tips for graphic designers when they are putting together their portfolio.
1. Be As Descriptive As Possible
The projects you include in your portfolio should contain a lot of imagery but also include descriptive summaries throughout. This description can be about the thought process for developing the project concept, the problem you were trying to solve, or simply the result of the project. In any case I strongly advocate against just including images only in your portfolio.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Make A Project Up
If you are just starting off or having been doing a lot of the same work for a long period of time, your portfolio may look a little thinner than recommended. In this situation I would suggest you come up with a hypothetical project of your own. Rebrand a local business, or redesign a website that needs some refreshing.
3. Less Is More, Less Is More, Less Is More
After covering it above in this article I just want to reiterate that less is more when it comes to portfolios. Do not be afraid to show less projects. At a very minimum I recommend no less than four projects. If you can have four projects in your portfolio that will be plenty of conversation to cover when speaking with a recruiter or company.
4. Use These Website Portfolio Tools To Save Time
A website like Behance is a great place to get your portfolio started immediately. It can be overwhelming to build a website especially if you don’t have any coding experience. Behance takes out all of that extra work for and keeps things simple. If you are a little more advanced than you can check out websites like Squarespace, Wix, and Wordpress. They all offer templates that help you get started quickly but require you to sign up for an account.
5. Get Feedback From Others Often
While it may be clear to yourself what you do, asking others can give you an outside perspective that can improve your messaging or the way you organize your projects. Doing this earlier when developing your portfolio will eliminate having to start from scratch after getting too far. When you first start to ask for feedback, start with 1-2 close individuals that are also designers or work in a similar role. Also you can sign up for a free 1-on-1 creative session with me where we will go over your portfolio here.
If you’ve made it to the end of the article I want to thank you for reading. If you are looking to get feedback on your portfolio but don’t know where to start you can join our creative community on slack here. It is completely free and full of other creatives and designers just like you to help with any questions you might have. If you have any other questions you can always DM me on Instagram or Twitter.