A Conversation About Creative Portfolios

There’s no doubt that portfolios are an important tool for most creative professionals. In many ways, it’s the only centralized, physical manifestation of your creativity. It’s a collection of your work that shows prospective clients not only your technical capabilities and proficiencies, but also your personal creative sensibility.

That’s why the creative portfolio is very important to many professionals, and they take good care to plan out their portfolios to the smallest minutiae.

A Bit of Background

My friend is currently looking for interior design jobs in a new city that’s very different from where she was previously working, which is why she felt the need to compile her work in a new portfolio that would make her more appealing in her new city.

Needless to say, it takes time, a lot of thinking and second-guessing to come up with an appropriate collection of work to put in a portfolio.

Everything from the printing services you use, the paper, which pieces to include, digital vs. traditional, are all in consideration when compiling a portfolio.

As she was telling me about some of her plans, and the little roadblocks that she’s come across, I listed out some suggestions that might be helpful.

Look at Other People’s Portfolios

If you haven’t updated your portfolio in a while, it’s best to see what your peers are doing these days with their own portfolios. A lot of creative professionals are choosing to go digital because of the versatility and the agility it affords them. Therefore, it will not be too difficult to see what "the competition" is presenting to their clients.

Think about what you want your portfolio to be and what you don’t want it to be. Start from there.

What Should You Include?

One of the topics we touched on was how to choose which pieces she should include in her portfolio. This is tricky because choosing the items to place in a portfolio, especially when applying for a new job in a new city, can be largely determined by the trends that exist in that geographic location and what the employers there are looking for.

If you’re not sure what to put in your portfolio, it’s always a good bet to start with your best work. I suggested that she should start looking at her entire body of work and pick out:

  • Favorite projects
  • Projects that got her the most attention
  • Projects that paid the most

Start Networking

I also suggested that she get to know her new environment a little bit.

I would argue that a large portion of getting creative work (or work in general) boils down to personality and likability. Don’t underestimate the power of the phrase: "I like that person."

Start networking with peers and gather information on what the job market is like.

Determine how marketable you are as a creative professional in the current job market, and make sure to showcase it in your portfolio.

Presentation: Digital vs. Traditional Media

Another topic we touched on was how to present her portfolio. So many creatives these days have their own portfolio websites and conduct a lot of work online. There’s no doubt that these digital portfolios are effective, and going digital is definitely a great option for many creative professionals.

Having an online portfolio is great because it allows you to manage the contents of your portfolio instantaneously.

Convenience aside, however, online portfolios do have their limitations, and some types of media will not lend itself well to the digital realm. For instance, as an interior designer, her work deals with different textures — a lot of her work is tactile in nature. At the moment, there’s no technology to digitally represent the sense of touch, so that’s one thing to consider when compiling her portfolio.

Another limitation on online portfolios is scale. It’s hard to convey scale on a computer monitor or on a website.

Just Get It Done

It’s better to show employers an imperfect something than to show them a perfect nothing.

In other words, determine whether you’re just nitpicking the details of your portfolio. Sometimes trying to find the perfect solutions results in nothing more than a vain pursuit towards perfection when, really, the most important thing about a creative portfolio is the body of work that the creative professional is able to show.

Think about it this way: Your portfolio is not the sole determiner of whether or not you get a certain job. It’s merely a presentational tool that displays the kind of work you’ll be able to bring to the table. Just like a traditional one-page resume, your creative portfolio is not the whole story.

Your portfolio might get you in the door, but it’s up to you to make something happen when the time comes for it.

Your Thoughts?

Got any tips on putting together portfolios? What tricks have you used that have proven to be effective? Share your opinions and feel free to discuss anything and everything about portfolios in the comments.