Whether you are a graphic designer or illustrator looking to build your portfolio, you've come to the right place. One of the biggest challenges many talented creatives face is failing to stand out. Today we're sharing tips to help you improve your portfolio, stand out and get that dream client or job.

Our CEO and Founder Martin Perhiniak shares 5 top mistakes designers make in their portfolio along with a downlaoble PDF guideline to help you get more eyes on your work.

Despite having awesome artwork, many designers' portfolios don't stand out for these five reasons:

❌ Poor presentation skills

❌ Showcasing too much work 

❌ Lack of variety in their work

❌ Not showing enough work

❌ Trying to land a job that is not in line with their portfolio

Ready to get started?
Let's dive straight into it

1. Poor presentation skills

With over 15+ years of experience as a designer and hiring creatives, Martin has found that poor presentation is the number one reason your portfolio doesn't stand out

For best practice

  • Avoid boring screenshots, use mockups, flat-lays and lifestyle shots. 
  • Instead include close-ups of interesting details.  Show the outcome in a few different ways so viewers can get an idea of how it will look in different contexts. You can download mockup PSDs to display brands, editorial work, posters, business cards etc. Or you can also use Adobe Firefly to generate mockups based on specific prompts that match your designs theme and style
  • Start and finish with your best projects - Recruiters don’t have time to go through portfolios, they quickly skim through them, so starting with your strongest pieces will most likely get you noticed
  • Pay extra attention to the copy - absolutely no typos allowed, no one wants to work with someone who constantly needs their spelling corrected
  • Make sure everything is set to a good resolution so it does not appear pixelated on the web. You can use Nightshade or Glaze to make sure your designs are safe from scraping by AI bots.  You can learn more on these AI here
  • Showcase your process, not just the final result. Don't be afraid to show initial sketches or the first few rounds of the design process.Include Information about the brief, even if you made it up yourself. Viewers/recruiters need to get an idea of the challenges you faced

Here is an example of our Pro Member student Ephraim Shapiro on how he presents his work Click here to See Ephraim's full portfolio

2. Showcasing too much work 

Portfolios aren't collections of all the work you've done. Imagine it as a curated collection of your best works.  Please stop sharing all your work, it can become overwhelming for recruiters and makes your portfolio look outdated. 

For best practice

  • Showcase 12 -15 of your strongest and most recent projects on your site. it's okay to display more projects online since it's easier to jump between them. It is still essential that everything is neatly organized and easy to navigate!  You can learn on where to display your work from this post
  • When you email your CV to recruiters, be sure to include a short 5-6 page PDF attachment and include the strongest pieces relevant to the job.  Large-size PDFs are difficult to open as emails too
  • Do a Portfolio spring clean each year - This is especially important for freelance designers who are actively looking for clients.  Let them find you by keeping your portfolio / website up to date
  • Set reminders to add new projects to your portfolio ( every 3 or 6 months)
  • Sometimes it is enough to update the imagery and visuals of an older project to make it look more fresh and updated

Here is an example of our Pro Member student Neha Chavan on how she presents her design process, from Sketch to final design Click here to See Neha's full portfolio

3. Lack of variety in their work

A Graphic Designer essentially is responsible for creating visuals to either sell a product, service or promote a message. These visuals can be vary from Posters, Magazine to Web Banners. 

You should include a variety of different projects in your portfolio, showing variety of work makes your skills more valuable and importantly you will become more employable.  The same principle applies if you want to focus on illustration portfolios, show variety of different illustration projects.

For best practice

  • Work on as many practice design briefs as possible, including branding, posters, packaging, etc.
  • The more you work as a creative, the more recognizable your style will get and naturally you will develop your passion for certain projects too.

4. Not showing enough work

Designers often apply for jobs they have no experience in, and it's not only a waste of time, but it can also be mentally draining when you get rejected.

A portfolio with less than 8 pieces of designs indicates that you simply don't have a skillset yet.  Rather, we recommend that you practice as much as possible and build a strong portfolio of at least 12-15 designs which allows you to improve both your creative thinking skills and your use of design tools.   In addition, working on practice briefs will help naturally get better at nailing any creative projects for your future clients.

For best practice

  • Try our practice briefs, we offer them on our Build Your Portfolio Mini-course

  • Use fake clients or ask a friend or family member if they need any design work

  • Remember your portfolio doesn't need to showcase big clients to get you hired

5. Trying to land a job that is not in line with their portfolio

We have seen many designers reach out to us over the years with generic templates and little thought process behind them.  Generally, we recommend reading the job descriptions and applying if you are interested, and of course tailoring your portfolio for the job.

For best practice

  • Customize your portfolio and CV for each job application.  This is time-consuming however tailoring your CV/Portfolio for each job gives you more chance of being hired as it reflects you are capable of doing the job recruiters are seeking

  • For example, if you are applying for a role focusing on Brand Design, showcase more Logo and Branding work on your portfolio

  • Another example is, if you are applying for a company looking for Web designers, then showcase more more UX/UI design rather than a greeting card design

  • To apply for design jobs with a stationery company, show more designs for greeting cards, patterns, packaging, etc

I hope you enjoyed this post and found our tips helpful. If you've read this far, you're seriously considering improving your portfolio.  

Download the full guide and find everything you need to to help you build your design portfolio like a pro!


Need help fixing your portfolio?

Become a Pro Member and receive 1-2-1 Portfolio consultations and access to 70+ creative briefs as well as feedback on your designs. Learn more about Pro Membership here.

About the author 

Shumi Perhiniak

Shumi is a self-taught graphic designer and illustrator who has worked for Toni&Guy, Renaissance Learning, Baker Ross, and many others.

Additionally, she owned a brick-and-mortar stationery shop selling her art prints and now sells wholesale to retailers and online shops under the brand name www.herdesignworld.com.

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