Daniel Nisbet

Episode 43  |  June 1, 2018

What makes a good portfolio?

Ask any designer and they'll probably tell you that they are their own worst client. It'y one of the longest running jokes that most of us have.

But when it comes to doing work for ourselves, this is painfully, painfully true. It really shines when it comes to building our portfolio. For most of us, we want it to be something that is absolutely perfect, almost to an inhuman level. And it's really easy to start tripping up over all of the minute details that go into a portfolio.

It's worth stepping back and reminding ourselves of what actually makes a good portfolio,

There are some main details that really matter. By focusing most of your energy on what matters, you won't be driving yourself mad and spinning your wheels elsewhere.

Write case studies

If you have a larger portfolio, you don't need to go through and do this for every single project. But for some of your keystone projects, make sure that you're actually talking about your work, and not just showing pretty pictures. Bonus points if you can actually show the process as well through sketches or mock ups.

We get carried away with making sure everything always looks finalized and pristine. But often, people actually enjoy seeing what kind of went in behind the scenes for some of these projects.

While you're at it, make sure you're showing what problems you're solving. Or even better if you can share some of the results that your work delivered.

I like to use social proof and testimonials for this part. At the end of the day, designers are problem solvers. And a lot of people get a little bit tripped up on this. And they they get obsessed with the final project. But they don't take that extra step of saying this converted more leads, or this sold more products.

If you're doing freelance design, this is gold for people who might be looking to hire you. When they can see that you were actually doing something that affected their bottom line in a positive way, it resonates with them.

Find balance

It's easy to go on the light side and not have enough detail, projects or work in our portfolio. On the flip side, there's those of us who are excited about everything we do. And we have a portfolio of almost everything that's ever been created.

It can be overwhelming if you have somebody who's just simply trying to go through and get a feeler for what kind of work you do, or how you work.

Make sure you're finding a good balance between those two things. Enough that it covers the subject. Enough that it covers the details. But brief enough that somebody doesn't have to spend half a day digging through your work.

Always keep it updated

There's a good chance year over year, that you're learning new things. You're learning new skills, and your work is naturally going to get better as you keep working at it.

It's okay, if you have a favorite project from 10 years ago, that always needs to be in there. But there's a good chance that you've been improving.

So your portfolio should be keeping up with you. You've likely done some amazing work over the past year that it was easy to shuffle to the side and not pay attention to it anymore.

But there's also that work that needs to find its way out. It might be work that isn't relevant to you anymore, or isn't commensurate to your skill level these days. It's fine if it needs to leave—it served its purpose once upon a time.

At the end of the day, your portfolio should be something you're regularly working on. You never know who might be watching it!