Designer portfolios

Designers are such a wonderful group. They have so much emphathy, passion, care, and love for their craft. Often they’ve come to it because they were born with an itch to create, to breathe life into a thing, to see a vision come out of nothing. 

Over the years I’ve struggled with my designer portfolio; and to a person based on my own anecdotal evidence, all designers hate working on their portfolio. We take all the care and craft of what we do and try to apply it inwards; and suddenly everything falls apart. The portfolio is the perfect project, it seems. No constraints, unlimited possibility, a perfect place free from the whiles of others. Therein though, lies the siren call that will pull our ship toward the rocks. 

It’s possible to iterate on a portfolio forever. There’s no end, and it ultimately ends for me in madness every time I’ve tried. So, I stopped trying. I now tell a story as a hodgepodge of things I’ve done, focused entirely on the process of past work. It’s messy, it’s always evolving, and it doesn’t look pretty per say. However, it shows the blood, sweat, and digital ink, involved in creating a thing; and for the kinds of jobs I’m interested in, that’s often enough and leads into the work.

So, what do you do if you’re new, don’t have a ton of case studies to rely on, don’t have years of experience? First, take a deep breath. You’ve got this. You’re amazing. You are here because you care, and you are a creature of empathy for a reason. Be kind to yourself, treat yourself as well as you’d treat your child (or insert cat or dog if you’re such a person). 

My advice to a junior designer is to focus on telling a story. You can do that through a Loom video and walking through a recent project, you can drop in screenshots and text onto a webpage and talk through something, you can even create a PDF and share that. All these methods work, so long as you’re comfortable sharing the process you took to create something. That’s often enough for a junior. If you’re a senior designer things shift a bit, where you need to show results, failures, learnings, and understanding. But at a junior level when I’ve been helping with hiring I often just want to see if the person has a process, and if that process has led to at least two or three helpful projects that are worth sharing.