Two types of design portfolios

Often, designers have a completely wrong image of how the portfolio should look like. What's even worth - most think that they can create one portfolio to get all the clients or companies they need.

If you ever felt difficulties finding new clients or applying to the job - let's move on.

Every designer (junior or senior) want's to grow their freelance business or find a job that will satisfy their needs. They follow an established pattern over and over again:

  1. Build a skill
  2. Create a portfolio
  3. Apply for jobs or bid projects to win clients

But the problem with this approach is that it's not scalable enough. I was in the same situation in my experience, but then I tried a different approach.

Tim Ferriss wrote in his post "17 questions that changed my life" one question that I started asking myself more and more:

What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?

The answer wasn’t easy to find out. It requires a different mental approach - a mindset shift from looking for clients to make clients find you, effortlessly.

To make clients find you, you need to know the two types of design portfolios you should have.

By the way, even though I'm often giving examples from design (since I'm a designer myself), these portfolio tips were used by my students in various industries: from financial markets and insurance to advertising and content writing.

Having both of the portfolios is critical to grab clients' attention and keep the conversation going. The first one is focused on bringing attention to you and the work you do. The second one is a more extended version of the first that uncovers details to help you actually land the job or project.

The results portfolio. Quick look.

In the very beginning - winning the first impression is crucial. It doesn't matter how many years of experience you have or how many users your decision has impacted. If your work doesn't look good - people will ignore it, in most cases.

You can win the first impression with the well-designed outputs and results of the work you've done.

It can be a Dribbble profile, your website, or a short PDF file. This type of portfolio should grab people's attention while being clear on the project deliverables.

Here are a few points to check while making such a portfolio:

  • Eye-catching. Clients like pretty things. They fall in love with the look&feel of the product before diving into the functionality and experience. Make sure that your work looks good. Or it is presented well to the audience.
  • Hi-fidelity. It should be the highest possible fidelity: in a mock-up or prototype (if you're a designer), simply styled document or a spreadsheet (to present content/writing work). Create simple-looking results of the work that you've done and show that in the context of the app, website, or printed material.
  • Interaction and motion. A great way to present the results of your work is thought an interactive prototype or a motion design. It helps bring more life to the presentation - showcasing not only the static screens but the way it works in real life.

The process portfolio. In-depth.

The next step after making a good first impression is making sure you can present your design's functionality in the right manner.

To do so, you'll need another portfolio. A portfolio with more in-depth explanations of what was the project about, the goals, your role, and contribution (if the project was done with a team effort). A portfolio that presents your process, the outcomes for the client or company, and the deliverables.

This portfolio can be a Behance presentation, your website, or a larger PDF.

Some points to check while making this type of portfolio:

  • Project overview. Explain what was this project about - who was the client, what was the initial scope, goals, and expectations. This is the What behind the project.
  • Your role. What was your contribution to the project? Was it teamwork? Or you did it by yourself? How did you communicate with the client? This is the Who behind the project.
  • Your process. "There's no point in making $1,000,000 if you can't repeat that process". The process is the key here: explaining the phases and the steps you've taken to achieve certain results. Clients and hiring persons will look at this closely as it represents your ability to deliver results that you promise to deliver. This is the How behind the project.
  • Timeline. Clients are looking for a timeline to be sure you are effective in your process. Give them a sense of time how long each step of the project took. This also helps to adjust the timing and budget for the client. This is the When behind the project. This also helps to get an estimated time for typical work that you've done.
  • Bonus step: make a video presentation of your work. Yes, you've read it right - making a video of you presenting the work increases the chances of getting the project or getting hired. The simple 5-minute screen share with your voiceover makes you stand out from the rest of the applicants.

A lot of my students got their first client projects right in the middle of the courses, some of them got hired right before graduating just using that one video-portfolio tip.

I could go on and on about the various details of each portfolio type. The possibilities for presenting your work are endless. But this post shouldn't be. So I'll end here.

A final note before you leave: I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole idea. How would you structure our portfolio to get more results? Let me know what you think in this Twitter thread.