How to build the ultimate design portfolio

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Creating a killer design portfolio is as much a design task as it is a critical part of the process of showcasing your work to potential clients. But what makes a great design portfolio? How do you ensure that anyone looking at your portfolio isn’t just blown away by how amazing it looks, but gets an insight into who you are and what you’re capable of?

We sat down with two of Andela’s most senior design specialists Ricardo Mota, Head of our Design Practice, and Drew North, our Head of Product and Design to get some tips on how to make your design portfolio shine.

  • Understand your audience

A lot of different people are going to be looking at your portfolio, so you need to make it accessible to everyone from the recruitment consultant to the head of the business unit you’ll be working under, while still showcasing your understanding of the technicalities of creating great designs.

  • Make the platform work for you

There are a lot of great platforms out there that you can use to showcase your design. From Behance and Adobe Portfolio to Dribble and Notion, each of these has its strengths and weaknesses, but whichever you use take the time to learn the platform and any tips and tricks for getting the most out of it.

  • Let them know who you are

The first page of your portfolio should tell potential clients who you are and what you do. Build a Contact page for boring information like email addresses and free the front page to wow your audience. Just like in real life, first impressions count. Without going overboard, use the first page to catch their attention.

  • Making your work the hero

The hero of any portfolio, however, has got to be the work. Link to your case studies, and examples of your work, from the landing page and build out a page to showcase, in brief, the work you’ve done. Chose work that shows the range of your skills, but don’t put too much there. Two to four case studies should be enough and make sure you put your best one first. Use mock-ups with the latest phones or computers (the new iMac is a great example) to frame the work.

We all know that people’s attention spans are limited, their time is too, so make sure you pick the projects that showcase what you want to be famous for.

Remember that the case study page should tell the reader who your client was and what you did for them – in one or two short sentences. You just need enough to get them to click through to read more.

That said there are some key elements you need to focus on in any case study.

  1. The Hero section

Right up front, you need to catch potential clients’ attention. Use high-resolution imagery or even animation to get their attention and make sure you give them enough information to get them to scroll down.

  1. The challenge

Identifying the pain point that the client needed to solve is the first step in every case study. You don’t need to explain every detail, but you need to show that you understood the user and more importantly how success was going to be measured.

Remember that if a business lead is looking at your portfolio they’re going to be looking to see that you understand this kind of detail. So make sure you get it in upfront.

  1. How design saved the world

This is truly the heart of any case study. You need to be able to show how you took the brief that was provided, used the information available, and with your design superpowers turned it into a solution for the problem you’ve outlined above. Here are some pro tips:

Geek out

Here you’re going to be speaking to people who understand the technicalities of what you do so don’t be afraid to geek out a bit (not too much). If you have UX research then show it here, if not show how you built up an understanding of the target user as part of your process.

Headline hierarchy

The importance of headlines is often underestimated. Remember that most people are going to be skimming through your portfolio, so your H1 headlines need to convey the key information in punchy, bite-sized chunks.

Show process improvements

Your process is almost as important as your design so if you can show how you improved the underlying process through your work show that here as well. A couple of key flow charts will get this message across.

Use visuals, but choose them carefully

With great power comes great responsibility. You’re going to have hundreds of images available to you of the different elements of your project. Resist the urge to use all of them. Choose the ones that get your point across. No one has time to scroll through hundreds of images, so make the ones you use count.

Before and after

If you’re working on improving a system or process that exists already show side-by-side images of the UI before and after. If people had to wade through endless Excel documents or SharePoint folders to get to the information they needed then show this. The shared trauma that everyone has from using poorly designed systems (and we all have this) will create a connection between you and the reader.

Show me the money

You’ve shown them how you solved the problem but in the end, you need to show that you solved the business problems stated in the initial brief. Use the success metrics you’re already given them and show how you achieved these. Nothing catches people’s eyes like big % and $ signs. “50% increase in signups,” says more than three paragraphs of analysis ever could.

If you’ve read this far, congratulations! Now you’ve got some quick tips to ace your portfolio remember that your work is an extension of who you are, and your portfolio should be as well. Inject your personality into it so that potential clients come away knowing not just that you’re an awesome designer, but who you are as a person as well.

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If you found this blog useful, check out our other blog posts for more essential insights!

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