The Power of Portfolio

Crews Varner
April 2, 2023

I should start by saying that my portfolio is far from perfect. As a young designer, there’s a lot of pressure to keep up with veteran designers that have many years of experience under their belt. The quality of your portfolio and your work almost feels like a status symbol on the internet, and every project is an opportunity to up that status. In this post, I want to explore what professionals and employers alike look for in a fantastic portfolio, and also discuss the importance of portfolios as the designer market has become more and more saturated over the past two decades. After I’m done writing this, I’ll probably be updating my portfolio after hours of introspection. Win-win!

A first step to take for improving any portfolio is understanding exactly what kind of job you’re interested in. If you’re like me, you’ve heard this many many times and it’s starting to bug you. However, being unemployed as a designer or artist is a problem, and the quality of your portfolio is a huge piece of the solution to that problem. Art and Design is a MASSSSSIVE umbrella that covers many different industries, jobs, career paths, etc. After you’ve found your calling, or at least what kind of work you’re interested in doing right now, you’ll have a better understanding of how to shape your portfolio. For example, if you’re a fashion designer, you’re not going to benefit from modeling your website after successful logo designers. You’re playing football in a baseball diamond.

Petrula Vrontikis, professor at ArtCenter College of Design in California, tells us that the problem every employer has when they’re about to visit your website is that they don’t trust you. They have no reason to trust you, yet. Your job as the creator of your portfolio is to instill trust in anyone looking at your portfolio.

The importance of this aspect cannot be understated. You can be the greatest artist in the history of mankind, but if you can’t convey your trustworthiness as an employee and a person through your portfolio, it’s going to be harder than it should be to get hired. Employers take a risk when bringing new faces onto their team, and our job is to minimize that risk as much as possible. Our portfolio exists to bridge the gap between us and them. There are several ways to build trust with people viewing your portfolio, but their general questions need to be answered. Who are you? What kind of job do you want? What do you specialize in? How do you solve problems?

This is definitely an area that I need to work on. (One way I tried to build trust was by putting a giant, smiling picture of myself on the home page. Although, staring into the souls of newcomers with my intensely green eyes may have scared some people off. Oops. 👀)

Alright, so now that that’s done, people know who you are and what you’re about. How does your work support that though? That’s the next step. When putting your work on display, you’re not just uploading png files in a grid format and calling it a day. The people need context! With each project, explain the assignment and the problems you had to solve, and how you went about solving each problem. This context gives viewers a sneak peek into your creative process and shows employers how you would solve problems that might be common at that specific workplace.

Don’t be afraid to over-explain your creative process, either. Not everyone has years of studies and understanding in your respective creative field. You don’t need to come off as pretentious to over-explain your thinking. While explaining your thinking, assume the reader is absolutely brand new to your field and you want to invite them on a journey that will teach them something new. This makes it so virtually anyone can enjoy your content to its full extent, whether it be a hiring manager for your dream job, or your grandparents who just want to support their cute little pixel producer. Aim for clarity!

Lastly, do not be afraid to create. Putting work up onto your portfolio is daunting, especially for newer creatives. Your portfolio should showcase a selection of your best work, but having only a couple of pieces for people to look at hurts you in several ways. Imagine you walk into a museum and there’s only one painting and one sculpture there. How long do you think people are going to want to stick around? Probably not long at all. The same applies to your portfolio. 95% of creatives I’ve interacted with think their work isn’t that great. Your work is (probably) better than you think it is. Don’t be afraid to show it off!

There are always more ways to improve a portfolio, no portfolio is perfect, but these are some basic guidelines that every portfolio needs to be successful. During my research of effective portfolios, I found these as common themes among them. Your portfolio as a creative is your piece of history. When we leave this earth, will our work reflect who we are, and will others understand the vision we had? Food for thought.