What do you put in your portfolio?

When I used to go for interviews for graphic design jobs I used to always wonder, what shall I put in portfolio? It was the dilema of what is too much and what is not enough. Do I put in concept work and sketches or just finished designs. After many interviews (quite a few succesful ones) I came to the following conclusion -

First page of your portfolio put in a really strong piece (one of your favourite bits) of work, not your very best as you don’t want to disappoint further on but good enough to create a good first impression. People are always saying people make up there minds about someone in minutes/seconds – so I am guessing this is the same with work?

Another strong piece of work at the end of your portfolio – this is the last bit of work they see so you want it to be a good one. This page may also be left open while you continue your interview.

Tailor the portfolio to who you are going to see. If you are going to see a company that does a lot of a certain type of work (check out their website to see) make sure you have a few pieces or work in that area if possible.

So how many pieces of work – try this – open your portfolio and time yourself while you are talking through a piece of work – use this to estimate how long it would take you to talk through your entire portfolio, not forgetting that they may ask you questions on the way too.

Make sure you can talk through your portfolio – have something to say about each piece however simple.

Concept work – I always show my concepts (computer concepts) as sometime these are far better than the one the client chooses. I also think it shows you can look at things in different ways. be aware they may ask you how long it took you to do each (I have been asked on several occasions how long to put together a set of concepts)

Rough sketches and scribbles – I used to keep some of these tucked in the back of my portfolio, I would get together A3 roughs for a job and put a black card cover on them. Generally I would only show these if asked.

I use an A3 portfolio. I save my work as eps or pdf and arrange it on A3 sheets which I then print out on an inkjet and put in A3 sleeves. I usually include a few printed full size pieces of work at the back along with my rough sketches.

Does anybody else have any tips based on their experience?

This entry was posted in Careers and Employment, For Design Students, Freelance Graphic Design, General Graphic Design. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted May 30, 2007 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    When I first started freelancing, I made the common mistake of treating my portfolio as a static ‘beast’. Yes, I would add new pieces of work every now and then, but overall I kept my portfolio fairly fixed (don’t get me wrong though, I still managed to pick up a healthy amount of work with my portfolio like this).

    I also used to think that including a few projects from larger, more ‘famous’, clients was a good thing. In some instances though this actually frightened some clients as they thought I’d be too expensive.

    However, many years experience has shown me that deciding what to put in your portfolio mostly depends on who you are going to see…

    If you are touting for work from another design agency, they usually want to see creative concepts as well as the ability to complete entire projects.

    If you are going to see a potential new client, creative concept sheets will usually be of no interest, and they usually want to see finished items which are similar to their requirements.

    In either instance, I awlays do a little homework on who I’m going to meet, and try to rearrange my portfolio accordingly.

    I always throw in a few extra ‘added vale’ items for potential clients too – these are usually other projects I’ve worked on that I think they might be interested in – its surprising how much additional work I’ve picked up in this way.

    Treating my portfolio in this way means that I can connect with whoever I’m meeting, on a more immediate and direct level.

    I hope this helps!?

  2. Posted May 30, 2007 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Hi Dave

    Thanks for your input, some good advice there.

  3. Posted June 5, 2007 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Hi Tara. It’s good article. Much inspiration for me. Thanks.

  4. Posted June 5, 2007 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Yoppi,

    I’m glad it was of help.

  5. Posted August 12, 2007 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I live in Thailand. This is my first time for here. thank you for very good article.

  6. Posted September 5, 2007 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I can’t comment on portfolios, because I don’t have one, but your CV should be tailored to each potential employer, and I’m assuming the same theory can be applied to your theory… It’s important to be as versatile as possible to increase the amount of people you can show yourself to, but when it comes to the invidual, they only need to see what’s relevant.

  7. Posted November 20, 2007 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    how do you guys include/display web work in your print portfolio

  8. Posted September 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

    You have put in some of the wonderful tips that mostly we miss while working on portfolio, this was really worth a read.

  9. Posted October 9, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m a freelance graphic designer working in Cornwall. I have been in the business for over 20 years. I don’t think I can remember ever having to actually go out and look for work, I’ve been really lucky, I have always been recommended by my clients and some pr companies that I have worked with in the past, and that’s given me enough work. Every now and then I do get a quiet couple of days and I begin to worry, should I be doing more. In my experience you can’t afford to sit on your bum. New designers are always popping up all over the place, it’s a constant battle for your slice of the pie.
    The moment you have any spare time you should always try and do something positive. Update your web site, make some phone calls just to let clients know your still there. Do some blogs etc.

    With regards your portfolio, I’ve been both an employer and an employee so I understand what it feels like on both sides. I think it depends a great deal on your personality. If you are confident and carry yourself well without coming across as arrogant then your halfway there. Remember, your only as good as your last job. I’ve seen people with really outstanding portfolios, but they’ve been complete twats. You wouldn’t want to spend one day with them let alone offer them a job. So what I’m trying to say is yes, your work is important, otherwise you won’t get a job and make any money. But you really need to get your social skills right as well. Confidence, the ability to communicate with all social types. And learn to manage your time, otherwise you’ll keel over.

  10. RC
    Posted March 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Don’t include concepts – if the finished designs differ vastly from the original concepts, it only points out your failings at communicating your ideas. We all have concepts which are better than the printed versions, but they are nothing to be proud of.

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