5 tips for creating your first design portfolio

Nicole Steinberg
Jan 29, 2024

Reaching the end of your design education is a huge accomplishment and one that often comes with a sigh of relief as you celebrate the end of pulling all-nighters and never-ending deadlines. But preparing to graduate and head out into the field comes with its own set of challenges. The task that’s probably at the top of your list is putting together a portfolio that showcases the effort you’ve put into honing your skills and will ultimately land you that first design job you’ve been working toward.

Having gone through the process ourselves of creating, presenting, and re-working our portfolios more than a few times in our careers, we thought we could share some insight into what makes a great first portfolio.

Less is more

When the time to start putting your portfolio together comes around, you’ll probably have wracked up tens of design projects. The urge to include all of your favourites will be a strong one, but I challenge you to resist the temptation and instead spend time properly curating your portfolio. This is a case where quality over quantity holds true and should be the guiding principle when selecting which pieces you include. Choose only the strongest projects that you’re 100% satisfied with and proud of, and that show what skills you bring to the table.

Stick to design

While there are certainly some employers that will appreciate a more art-focused portfolio, in most cases, it’s best to stick to design-centric pieces. Take into consideration the types of jobs you’re applying to, the tasks you’d be performing, and the skills required, and don’t be afraid to tailor your portfolio toward them. If it feels appropriate to include more artful pieces like illustrations and paintings, then go for it, but remember that most design jobs will be primarily digital and less focused on traditional methods of creation.

Balance variety and consistency

The last thing you want to come across as in an interview is a one-trick pony, so be sure to consider variety when selecting which projects to include. Web design, branding, packaging and animation are all categories that employers are typically looking for you to check, but this varies from job to job, so be sure to adjust accordingly. While you want to have contrast between your different pieces, it’s also important to show you know how to maintain consistency. Ways this can be achieved are by applying your personal branding throughout, keeping layouts and thumbnails consistent, and styling images similarly through the use of mockups. Essentially, you want your portfolio to feel like one person’s work while still showing off your skillset and adaptability.

Do some spring cleaning

This tip might not be as relevant to your first portfolio, but it is important to remember as you move around and pivot throughout your career. Nobody wants to hire a designer with work that feels outdated, so it’s important to revisit and update your portfolio regularly. A good rule of thumb is to not include projects that are 5+ years old. With design trends and standards evolving all the time, chances are that both you and the industry will have changed within that period. If you do have older projects that you wish to keep in your portfolio, be sure to revive them through either small updates or an overhaul so that they still feel fresh and relevant.

Tell a story

Storytelling with your portfolio is the best way to keep people engaged and to really demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about. Just like a great book, be sure to start and end strong by bookending your portfolio with your best work. This is a little easier with a physical or PDF-based portfolio, but it can be adjusted for a web-based showcase by having your strongest work at the top of the page, where it’s more likely to be viewed. While much of your work will speak for itself, don’t neglect your project descriptions. Make sure they are clear and concise, and of course, check for spelling and grammar. Also, be sure to showcase your thinking by including process work that communicates how you got from conception to completion with each project. Having all of these storytelling pieces laid out for you will make it much easier for people to understand your work and for you to present it confidently and enthusiastically when interviewing for a job.


Creating an effective portfolio is a crucial step in your career as a designer that takes a lot of careful consideration. Remember that less is more and to only include work relevant to the job you’re applying for. Be sure to show off your diverse set of skills, but do so in a way that feels and looks consistent. Lastly, don’t neglect doing some regular spring cleaning, and be confident in the story you’re telling both on and off the page. With these tips, you’ll be ready to land that first design role. Good luck!

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