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Is Your Design Portfolio Heading For The Portfolio Graveyard?


DATE: 15 September, 2022

Want to know how not to let your design portfolio end up in the portfolio graveyard?

As a designer, the number 1 tool you have at your disposal to help you get a job — or get a better job — is your portfolio.

In my experience from looking at portfolios day in and day out, I often find that many portfolios are out of date, contain old work, and quite clearly haven’t been tailored for the role the candidate is applying for.

I know this may sound harsh but I want to ask you:

When was the last time you really updated your portfolio? And when was the last time you gave it a complete refresh or redesign?

Today, I want to send out a friendly reminder about how important it is to keep your portfolio up-to-date and share some practical tips to make sure you have a system to ensure you never fall into the trap of having a portfolio that heads straight to the portfolio graveyard…

Portfolio Tip #1: Save as you go!

When it comes to creating your portfolio, this is not a one-time job that you get to set and forget.

“A portfolio is an evolving tool that you need to use throughout the life of your career to help potential employees understand what you are capable of, and what type of projects you have worked on in the past.”

This may sound so simple but hardly anyone does it. You need to save samples of your work as you go!

It’s important to always keep in the back of your mind when you are working on a project to save samples of the design as you go — this will save you so much time in the long run!

My advice is to keep a folder on your computer and keep samples of different projects in folders along with some simple notes.

Follow this format for keeping notes of your work and you can’t go wrong:

  • Who was the client?
  • What was the brief?
  • How did you solve the problem?
  • What was your involvement in the project?

When it comes to saving your work, think of a simple naming convention that will work for you

Remember this is a lifelong project so you need to think of a naming convention that will help you access the files easily, rather than spending hours digging through file after file to find what you are after.

The simple naming convention that I have always used is:

  1. Main Folder: Portfolio Pieces
  2. Sub Folder: Year
  3. Sub Sub folder: Month – Name of project

When it comes time to present your work in your portfolio, you should have a lot of samples to choose from along with all the information you need to tell the story of your work.

Having this system is really handy if you are having a chat with someone like me and I ask, “hey have you ever worked on a project that involves…

In the back of your mind, you will know that you have samples of the work ready to go and you can easily pull together some extra portfolio pieces at short notice.

If you haven’t been saving as you go, start today. I promise it will save you a lot of time and headaches.

Portfolio Tip #2: Update your portfolio regularly

Make a date with yourself at least once a year to update your portfolio!

You would be surprised at the number of portfolios I see with old work in it, and when I say old I am not just talking about a few years, I am talking 15-20 years old!

I can’t stress this enough, it is so important that you make a date with yourself at least once a year to review your portfolio, remove work you feel is dated, and add in any new projects you are proud of.

If you are showcasing work that does include a date on the design such as an annual report, I feel it is only ok to show this work for no more than 3 years.

“Keep your portfolio relevant and keep in mind you might need a full redesign every few years too. Design themes change so what was relevant 15 years ago is more than likely not going to work now.”

Let me share an example

I recently worked with a lovely candidate who sent through a very dated portfolio. She had work from 2007 in her portfolio and I could see that perhaps no one had told her that her work needed to be updated.

When we first spoke I asked for her permission to be brutally honest.

I explained that I couldn’t represent her with her portfolio the way it was. The work was old, the design was dated, and she had obviously not done any updates in many, many years.

I could see there was lots of potential in there, but with work that dated back to 2007 — it just wasn’t going to cut it.

I asked when the last time she updated her portfolio was, and she admitted it had been years…!

We came up with a plan together for her to do a complete redesign and get rid of any dated work and the result was quite incredible. My candidate now knows how to present her work and is finalising the details of her new and improved portfolio which I would be very proud to send to any relevant clients.

Sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know right? In her case, she just didn’t know her portfolio was way out of date.

My best advice if you aren’t sure about your portfolio

  • Ask a friend who is in the know, or reach out to me or one of my team at Aquent for some advice.
  • Keep your portfolio relevant and always remember that it is important to update at a minimum once a year.
  • Be honest with yourself and remember having an up-to-date portfolio will not only help you land your dream job but working on it as you go is a sign that you are committed to showcasing your own work in its best light.