Building a portfolio again after being away from design for a while

I’ve only had internships in the past but want to get a paid job in graphic design. I’m currently working in an unrelated field and want to get a job in graphic design. Since I’ve gotten away from design I don’t have anything currently in the form of a portfolio. I want to do new stuff and make case studies of the projects to show my process. I’ve had portfolios in the past but just showed the finished product and no process. Everything was chaotic and had no sense of order on my website. I would go back to old designs but I don’t remember enough for a case study or have any sketches.

I think this hurt me when trying to look for a job. I want to wipe the slate clean and start again from scratch. I’ve looked at some graphic design jobs in my area that I could qualify for but I’m still unsure of what to put in my portfolio as it seems like these jobs are looking for slightly different things.

I want to create a plan of action for building a portfolio. How could I get started again and what are some ideas for what projects to include?



I would look online for some local nonprofits and offer your services on a per-project basis. When I was starting out, I contacted a local animal shelter and recycling company and offered to do free work for them. They gladly accepted and I started with just flyers and a few website things. Since it was project-based, I was able to fit it around hours I was available and did most of the work at home… only going into their offices once or twice to meet the team or hand off deliverables.

I know others will tell you to find a freelance job, but I found that giving the free time to a nonprofit helped me in these ways:

  1. Compared to a freelance gig, these roles were easier to find. Since they were nonprofits, I viewed it as a mutually beneficially donation of my time and services.
  2. For the projects that went well, I asked my contact if I could use it in my portfolio. If the project went REALLY well, I asked for a reference.
  3. The storytelling of each project was much easier. For some print projects, I asked if they could send me photos of the banners once they were hung up. It was great to see these “real life” examples, which I included in my portfolio.

Look up “nonprofit” + your city’s name in a search and see what comes up. I’ve suggested this to recent college graduates too, as it’s the quickest way to get projects and relevant experience for your portfolio.

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I might be in the same boat, I have enough published designs but my “fun” art work is much better.
Hopefully those looking at your portfolio will see the graphic than whether that was published.
as for getting back into the field, location is important, being near a metropolis has more advantages than a city in the middle of farmville.
also Talent cannot be ignored, people still like new designs and concepts.

Hi darry85. You didn’t mention whether or not you have a degree in design. In the U.S., degrees have become very important since there’s a glut of people wanting to be designers. Without either a degree or a portfolio, you would really be starting from scratch and it will be difficult. Even with a degree, it will be tough without some good work to show.

If you’re up to it, I’ll echo what @SurfPark said — look for some good volunteer opportunities at non-profits — places where your work will be published and used. Self-initiated projects just for your portfolio can work to show your skills, but it’s much more impressive to have examples of real work for real clients.

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Quick hit list:

  1. Identify what area of design you want to work in and make your portfolio about that kind of work. If you don’t like the pieces in your book (when complete) you won’t like working in those styles/areas/industries.
  2. Figure out if you want to be in-house, freelance or industrial. In house is most secure but the least rewarding (unless you work for a dream company). Freelance is 50% art and 50% marketing. Industrial is like pre press and other technical areas.
  3. First piece in portfolio should be your 2nd best. Last page, the best, and if possible, a double page spread with your 3rd best piece right in the middle. (Personally, I use photography books not regular portfolios for hard copies. They are classier, take up less space, and easier to transport.)
  4. If you haven’t worked in a while, start by sketching. Don’t go right to the computer. You will lose the creativity if you get bogged down in software. So sketch out ideas, THEN figure out how to make an electronic version.
  5. I also suggest “Adobe Classroom in a Book” for Illustrator and Photoshop. They are cheap (about $25 each) and have a follow-along lesson plan based for each tool. That will get you up to peed with the most basic software changes since you interned.

Good luck! Work hard. Learn every day.

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Hey thanks for the advice guys! I do have a graphic design degree. A 4 year degree and I’m also in a program for UX design.

nothing like getting up to peed.

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