First of all, let me ask you a question: “Have you created a portfolio that truly stands out? If so, who is it really for?” As someone who has reviewed countless portfolios from designers, I’ve discovered fascinating insights. Who is your portfolio really aimed for? Is it a showcase for your own satisfaction? A ticket to impress future recruiters? A chance to dazzle your next creative leader? Or someone else entirely? Let’s dive into this intriguing question and break it down.

From my personal experience, a portfolio is typically viewed by three types of people, each with their own background, taste, needs, and approach when evaluating a design portfolio.

1. Recruiters

“Recruiters usually want a clear and to-the-point portfolio.”

Imagine you’re a recruiter, typically in the HR division of a company. Your day involves sifting through dozens of portfolios for various positions—not just designers, but also project managers, developers, and more. Since recruiters often lack a creative background, they need a straightforward portfolio that showcases your work history and capabilities clearly. An overly “artsy” portfolio can make it difficult for them to find the information they need.

2. Creative Leaders

“Creative Leaders usually look for something unique from a portfolio.”

A creative leader, who could be your future boss, is searching for a unique and standout design aesthetic. They won’t be impressed by a standard, poorly designed portfolio, even if your experience and projects are significant. Additionally, they will consider whether your design style aligns with the company’s aesthetic and brand identity.

3. Potential Clients

“Potential clients will assess whether you fit into their budget.”

When your portfolio is too fancy, too festive, or overly artsy many prospective clients may feel intimidated and hesitate to approach you. Some might end up choosing free platforms or low-cost freelancers instead. However, if you can present high-quality work in a non-intimidating portfolio that still catches the eye of your prospective clients, it creates a win-win situation. The client receives a well-crafted design that can be used long-term, and you gain a new portfolio piece and, of course, income.

“Well, okay, I understand. So how can I create a portfolio that pleases all three types of people?”

Unfortunately, you can’t. Yup, we can’t please everyone, but there are ways to create a portfolio that appeals to most of these three groups.

1. Make Your Portfolio Visually Appealing

Yes, covers matter. As someone who values visuals, I’m not a “don’t judge a book by its cover” person. The first impression matters. Do you think a plain white cover with Portfolio in the middle is more attractive than a well-designed cover featuring a mix of illustrations, typography, and layout? You can answer that yourself. Similarly, if your portfolio is a video or website, the first few seconds someone views it greatly influences their assessment.

2. Curate Your Best Work: Quality Over Quantity

We’ve all done great work, but not everything is our best. Start curating your portfolio with your top pieces. It is even better if you can tailor your portfolio to specific needs. For example, if you’re meeting a potential client looking to brand their new restaurant, don’t show them 100+ pages of wedding photography. Your portfolio should be focused and relevant.

3. Be Honest

If you are a Graphic Designer, simply state that. Don’t inflate your title to something like Creative Digitalpreneur Visual Designer–you get the point? Many people exaggerate their achievements, titles, education, and projects to gain respect. While it can be tempting, it should be done in moderation. You don’t want to set overly high expectations that you can’t meet.

4. Neatness is Essential

Neatness is a must–it’s a non-negotiable in the design industry. When collaborating with a team, neatness holds significant value. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “This looks fine to me. No one will realize it’s shifted by 2 pixels.”

Build this habit of neatness when crafting your portfolio. Whether your portfolio will be in the form of a PDF book, website, social media, or video, make sure you assemble it neatly!

5. Clear Hierarchy of Information

Continuing the point about neatness, maintaining a clear hierarchy of information is very important in a portfolio. Make sure not to just put mockup photos of your work without context. Include details such as the title of the work/project, year of completion, type of work (e.g., branding, video direction, user interface design) and client’s brand. The clearer the information hierarchy in our portfolio, the easier it will be for recruiters and potential clients to assess whether we are a suitable fit for collaboration.

6. Utilize Multiple Platforms

If you think that one platform is enough for your portfolio, think again. As we all know, the portfolio is an integral part of our personal branding. If we already have a PDF book containing a collection of our works, why not also create a website or dedicated social media account to showcase our work?

The more channels we utilize for our portfolio, the greater the chances of being discovered by potential recruiters or clients. Plus, we will have numerous playgrounds to express our creativity, not confined to just one medium or platform.

7. Tell A Compelling Story

Communication is a crucial aspect of “visual communication design,” so designers must also excel in communication. When we only provide visuals without a story about the project in a portfolio, it leaves viewers guessing, leading to various interpretations of our work. It’s like seeing a beautiful beach photo on Instagram without a caption.

Don’t forget to share the process behind your work or provide a brief background explaining why each project is interesting. This way, you can make your portfolio more interesting to recruiters or potential clients.

8. Update Your Portfolio Regularly

Imagine a highly skilled and experienced chef who hasn’t set a foot in the kitchen for years. Eventually, their skills and taste would diminish, much like what can happen to designers. When we first complete our portfolio, we might feel it’s the best one ever created, but it’s essential to continue exploring new visuals and storytelling techniques to keep it fresh.

Get into the habit of constantly feeling “hungry” for new things. When we make a portfolio and a year later we look at it and say “This portfolio still looks good,” perhaps you should ask yourself, have you explored enough new visuals this year?

Lastly, there’s one person who must be satisfied when we build a portfolio. It is none other than yourself.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? You’ve put in all the effort to create a portfolio that appeals to potential recruiters, creative leaders, or future clients. But the question is, are you satisfied with your portfolio? Don’t forget that this is your work, and you are the final judge of its quality. Your portfolio is a living document that will keep changing as you evolve in the creative industries, so treat it well.