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So you’ve decided you want to become a designer. Great! Whether you’re an aspiring Visual Designer, UX Designer, or Product Designer, it’s important to remember that your portfolio is your best chance to showcase your skills, process, and problem solving abilities to employers and clients.
Most employers will only look at an applicant’s portfolio for 10-20 seconds before deciding whether to give someone an interview or not, so it’s crucial to ensure that your portfolio showcases your work beautifully, clearly articulates who you are and what value you bring, and is easy to navigate.
When you’re working on your portfolio, think about your portfolio site the same way you’d think about a normal web design project. The visitors to the site (whether it’s a potential client or employer) is the “client” for this project and you want to design a site that helps them accomplish all of their user goals as effortlessly as possible. In this article, we’re going to explain a few of the common mistakes new designers make on their portfolio sites and tell you how to avoid making those same mistakes. Ready? Let’s go!
First things first -- as you build your portfolio site, it can be tempting to put every single one of your projects up. After all, you spent a ton of time building them so why not showcase them proudly? This is a common mistake many new designers make, and many design hiring managers have told us they’d much rather see a clear and focused portfolio that focuses on the role a person is applying for rather than a scattershot of many types of design work.
Spend some time thinking about what sort of role/company/industry you’ll actually be applying to and curate your portfolio for those sorts of roles. After all, recruiters will be much more likely to hire you if your portfolio is laser-focused on the role or industry you’re applying to. And if you need help coming up with project ideas, there are tons of great resources online to help you build amazing design portfolio projects.
Different recruiters and employers have slightly different opinions on specialization versus generalization, but one opinion is generally consistent: unless you’re truly hoping to be a generalist, you should try to focus on building up deep expertise in one or two areas of design and showcasing those projects most prominently in your portfolio for relevant jobs, while also showing a few projects that demonstrate your breadth of abilities.
If a recruiter lands on your website and sees projects that match the role you applied for, you’ll be much more likely to land an interview than someone who shows one example of ten different types of design work on their homepage.
After spending so many hours designing beautiful high fidelity versions of your initial ideas, it can be tempting to only showcase the polished designs. This is a current trend amongst junior designers, particularly if you visit a social sharing design site like Dribbble.
Many young designers assume that recruiters just want to see their final versions, however, recruiters want to see more than your final designs. They want to see how you think and they want to understand why you made certain decisions. Most companies want to hire problem solvers first and artists second -- if a design doesn’t help a user accomplish their end goal, it can be incredibly beautiful but still fail in its purpose.
A few things to keep in mind when showcasing your projects:
Many young designers might be tempted to create a flashy site design, with complex animations, hover states, and page load-ins. While it’s great to show off your creativity and design/coding chops, be sure to always ensure that simplicity is at the core of your portfolio site. We’ve seen portfolio sites that even forgot about having persistent navigation bars!
Recruiters visiting your page want a few specific pieces of information…
Recruiters look through a lot of portfolios. A. Lot. So it’s absolutely crucial to put your personality into your portfolio site so that you make a lasting and memorable first impression. It’s totally fine to use a template when building your portfolio site (we like Squarespace for beginners)
A lot of junior designers, however, forget that a template is just that -- a template. If you go the route of using a pre-built template from a website platform, be sure to add in your own dose of personality and unique flair. And never keep in any of the default stock photos, since this is a surefire way to get thrown into the Reject pile immediately.
A few ideas for adding personality to your portfolio site:
If you’re able to carefully avoid making the mistakes that many other junior designers make on their portfolios, you’ll be well-positioned to stand out when you start applying to design jobs. Just remember -- focus your work based on the jobs you’re applying to, make your site visually beautiful while also being easy to navigate, and let your personality shine through.
If you need some extra help building your portfolio or want to work with a mentor to get ready for the job market, consider enrolling in a short-term portfolio-building bootcamp or join find local mentorship communities locally, such as ones organized by organizations like AIGA.
Alec McGuffey is the co-founder of RookieUp, a design education platform that offers short-term bootcamps and portfolio-building tools to give aspiring designers everything they need to build an amazing design portfolio and launch their design career.
In- house content editor, specialize in SEO content writing. She is a fruit lover and visionary person.