Tips for a new graphic designer's portfolio

I am looking for advice on what I should do for a portfolio as someone who has very little professional experience. Is it acceptable to do “passion” projects? If so what would you recommend I make? What the correct steps to take.

I am currently working on building my own branding as well, logo, website social media… Etc. Any advice is welcome :grin:

Hi Dustin,

It’s great to hear that you are taking the efforts to start and design your portfolio as this is your very first step to step into the industry as a professional. Here, you stated that you have minimal professional experiences. Does this mean you are currently a student who’s looking to apply for a design agency? Or are you looking to design your portfolio to start your freelance service? I’m asking these questions because, depending on the goal of your portfolio, you will have to design it somewhat differently.

To be more exact: If you are planning to apply for a design agency, you will have to tailor your portfolio to suit the position you are applying to as well as to suit the style, the vision of the agency you are applying to. This will help people in the HR department to evaluate if you are a suitable candidate correctly. On the other hand, if you are designing a portfolio for your freelance service, you will have to focus on demonstrating your experience on the service you are planning to provide to your potential clients (yes, we use the word “client,” not “customer” in the industry).

So, the first step you need to do right now is to determine the goal of and direction of your portfolio.

Now, for the second step, you will have to determine whether you are going to create an online portfolio or a hard-copy portfolio. Again, it depends on your direction for the future. I would recommend designing an online portfolio because most of the agencies now accept online portfolios (some will still ask for a hard-copy version) first and work on a hard-copy if the situation calls for it. Note that the way you design your portfolio will greatly vary depending on the media of your portfolio.

The third step is choosing or designing projects for your portfolio. Before beginning this step, you’ll have to have a solid understanding of the purposes of your portfolio. A portfolio is a mini-showcase of your skills, professional understanding, and potential growth. Be it a portfolio for an agency or for your freelance service; if it fails to entice the attention of your employers or clients, then your portfolio is a “failure.” Therefore, what you should prioritize is to express all of your capabilities and understanding using the projects embed into your portfolio.

As for which projects you should put in: It’s okay to include a mix of clientele projects (professional work), conceptual projects (projects done to deepen your understanding about your field), and your college works (if they are acceptable, in terms of quality). However, remember to clarify which projects belong to which categories. No matter which categories, you should clearly explain a few following points: First, what were the purposes of your project? What were the challenges? How did you tackle the challenges? How did you arrive at your solution? Did your solution solve the mentioned challenges? And etc. This will create a window to help others catch a clearer glimpse of your thinking and potentials, not just your current abilities.

As for the number of projects you could put in your portfolio, there are no defined limits. However, “Quality is more important than Quantity.” It would be best if you only chose the projects which describe the best of your abilities (and are relevant to the position/service you are offering. It would be almost useless if you put up an Illustration project when you are applying for a UI/UX Designer position. Focus on what you are offering, not what you want to show off) or are creative and exciting enough to catch the attention of even the strictest designer out there.

That’s it! I wish you the best of luck out there!

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Please note the OP says they do not have any experience and are asking about passion pieces, and that they don’t have anything to show yet.

Be very careful what you present as “passion projects.”
You will be judged by your content.
Do you not have any school work you can present as representative of your thought processes and how you overcame challenges? Did your school not require a portfolio for graduation?

Designers with no experience, while aiming high, should also be practical. Sure apply to agencies where there might be 1 chance in 1000 of landing something, bearing in mind that in the US, there is a catch-22 of an entry level position requiring a 4-year degree and at least 2 years of real world experience.

But also keep in mind production work. Even if you aren’t designing, you will be learning, the hard way no doubt, but still worth it. And even there you will be competing with a heck of a lot of people already out of work right now. It is really really bad in the print industry, as well as the design industry. The entire tradeshow, corporate show market has fallen off the map. If this goes on much longer it is gonna hurt. Badly.
I’d seriously consider a different career focus.

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