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6 Unique Portfolio Tips To Make Creative Directors Stop and Notice You

6 Unique Portfolio Tips To Make Creative Directors Stop and Notice You

Traditionally, portfolios “back in the day” were print-based, inserted in thick clear sleeves contained in beautiful large hard leather cases. Now publishing online is the most common way of showcasing one’s work.It’s important to know that we all need to adapt to the digital age if we haven’t already. The simple reason is that the rate of communication is so fast that being heard is becoming increasingly difficult.
Showcasing your work online not only removes the geographical barriers that traditional portfolios impose on you, it also allows your work to be seen by millions of people, simultaneously and almost instantly. However, this can also be a problem.
With the amount of overflowing portfolios online, how does one stand out from the ocean of competition out there?
Below are 6 unique portfolio tips to capture attention and provide an engaging experience for Creative Directors that are looking to hire you.

1. Let your portfolio do all the talking

Your online portfolio in its entirety is a design piece in itself, but try not to over do it. Think of it as a container. You want what is inside to shine. Keep it clean and uncluttered. Too often I see personal portfolios “overly-themed” and “gimmicky”. Sometimes in the attempt to stand out, the interaction is over-powering, confusing or worse, it takes too long to load the work.

You can’t go wrong if you keep things simple and organised. Less really is more. The more you try to do in your portfolio, the more the attention is detracted from your work. One quote that sums this up perfectly is by Antoine De Saint-Exupery who said “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”.

Question the role of any design element you add to your portfolio. Do they add value, contribute to your goals and complement your style of work? If not, leave them out. Negative space will always give a timeless level of professionalism that is refreshing and pleasing to look at.


2. Can a 10 year old use it?

This simple question alone will assess the quality of your online portfolio’s functionality. Better yet, get a 10 year old to actually use it. Your work should no doubt be in a grid system to make it easy to navigate. Implement visual hierarchy to guide viewers through the website. Only put the most crucial navigation pages on your menu bar.

Don’t let the viewer work hard to see your portfolio pieces either. As soon as they land on your page, have your key portfolio thumbnails (quite large, not tiny and hard to decipher) ready and waiting. When they click one, make sure those project images are big enough on screen to create impact and be appreciated.

Embrace the downward scroll too. It’s a natural and intuitive user behaviour that the viewer is already programmed to do. The point is, the less clicks the better. You’ll get more views this way.

On the blog Astheria in the post ‘My Last Portfolio Sucked, Yours Might Too‘ the author points out some excellent examples of navigation choices to avoid. In this article Kyle Meyer reviews 200 portfolios and points out the problems with using them. Navigation problems made up over 32 percent of the issues encountered.

Meyer states: “Quite a few people decided that their portfolio was a great place to try out the newest navigation trick they could come up with, even though it impedes the whole reason a user would visit the site: to see the work quickly, note down some contact information, and move on”.

As for thumbnails:

Meyer goes on to say: “if a user can not interpret what the design is by the thumbnail it fails. The problem with thumbnails is that it forces your portfolio’s design and initial impact to make me feel compelled to wade through clicking individual pieces of your work. Often I didn’t even have a clue what the thumbnail was of”.

So have those thumbnails nice and big, because the other alternative is to start with one large image. The problem I see with that is, if that image is your first impression and it doesn’t represent your strengths and potential, then that has failed too.
Kyreena Hay PortfolioImage credit: Kyreena Hay

3. Keep your work relevant to the design discipline that interests you most

There’s no point having only packaging designs and corporate identity work if you’re applying for (or looking to move into) a digital design role. The very first thing that a Creative Director responds with in the first second of your website appearing, is a judgement call on what type of designer you are. They’re thinking “Okay, James seems to love packaging design” or “Right, Jane likes designing websites and Apps” before even looking through all your work.

By considering this, it’s important to design to what you’re passionate about as it’s where your natural strengths lie. Plus, it usually breeds your best work. If you don’t have the type of work in the discipline you’d like to move into, then design to a made up brief. Perhaps re-design something that you feel you could improve.

The other issue is showing too much. If you’re trying to showcase 20 areas of design that you’re capable of, you’ll have less success than showcasing a few of your abilities prominently. If you show too many types of work, you’re likely to drown the viewer.

Remember the idea is simply to give them an impression of your abilities and potential. It’s far better that you put 5 great projects than 20 average ones.


4. Consider showing your creative process

One or two of your image slides within your project can show some sketches too. Many designers don’t show any of their work in progress designs and/or sketches. I tend to show them during interviews. Consider it as an option (depending on the project) as you’ll get brownie points for revealing another dimension; your creative thinking.


5. Make a short video of your project

As part of your documentation, you might have a colleague or friend take photos and videos of you working. Some video footage and impromptu photographs of you designing ideas on the fly, sketching out thoughts, experimenting and researching. When you put this together with footage and/or photos of your work in progress stage and your finished designs, it takes the viewer on the same journey you went on.

It’s very easy for the viewer to dismiss hundreds of hours of work, in one photo. Great designers make the finished piece look easy. They make you think “why didn’t I think of that? That’s so simple, so clever”. By making a short 1-2 minute video of your project, you can engage the audience by telling the story behind the design. It could be as simple as a time lapse with music to match. A huge benefit is, that videos are easy to share. As you know, once on YouTube you can also embed that link and easily show it on your social networks.


6. Include side projects

Actions speak louder than words. Side projects tell Creative Directors that you are passionate about something. It’s amazing how many people don’t have side projects. Are you designing your own type/font on the side? Are you a budding portrait photographer and have an active tumblr blog? Are you currently making an App or have a website that sells products that interest you?

If so, include them. It’s important for Creative Directors to see more about you. That you’re hungry for learning, creating and exploring. It will help set you apart for the right reasons.

In summary, the main objective for your creative portfolio is to impress a potential employer enough for them to have no choice but to contact you. So have your email and phone number available and clear when that happens.

Here’s a snippet of my interview with Matt Eastwood (Recently appointed as Worldwide Chief Creative Officer at JWT) to end this post:

When hiring a designer, what are the mandatories and also outstanding qualities you look for when viewing their portfolio?

I have a very simple hiring philosophy. You must be talented and nice. You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you’re an asshole, you’re not getting in the door. In terms of the talent part, though, I get inspired when I see a portfolio that shows me something new. I don’t want to see someone who just does a good job at reproducing the design vernacular du jour. I’m also interested in your influences; that tells me a lot about your taste level.


By: Ram Castillo

If you’d like to know more about being a designer, Ram has recently launched his internationally and industry acclaimed book: ‘How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed’ and is available here:

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