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Leapfrog your design career with one thing
I have denied entry to almost every designer applying to be a part of my team.
Not because people had poor English speaking skills.
Not because they hadn't worked on similar projects to the job at hand.
And certainly not because they weren't smart...
It’s because their portfolios sucked.
Most people we've interviewed have crappy attention to detail, they forget vital information, and their project presentation is week. The list is nearly infinite, and believe me, Pascal and I have seen it all.
Most designers simply do not understand the components behind a great portfolio and how it affects their careers.
But there's good news!
After reviewing hundreds of portfolios, we can tell you exactly what you need. Pascal and I have forged a framework that is easy to follow so you can create a fantastic portfolio that stands out.
There's only 3 things required to create that winning portfolio:
Because you're reading this from our Substack, we’re going to give away specifics of how you can achieve a high-quality portfolio for free:
Think of this as the medium and format of your portfolio.
Is it a website? A Notion link? A PDF?
Anybody can create an online portfolio via various web builder tools or digital publishing platforms. The important thing is to choose something and stick to it. Having a website is recommended as it improves your chances of being found online, and gaining interest from various recruiters. We highly recommend you create a PDF version of your portfolio as a backup which also makes it easy to send via email.
Is it clean-cut with lots of focus on visuals, or dense and informative?
Decide how you want to present your work. Think of your portfolio as space in a museum. Make it clean, easy to navigate and fully focused on the work itself. This is a reflection of how others will perceive how will produce work for that potential employer or client. You really need to have this polished.
The devil is in the details and these small details can make the difference between okay-ness and greatness. Make sure that if you’re doing something simple, it’s tidy. You need to nail every single detail if you have less chrome to hide behind. Make sure you show professionalism because, ultimately, this gets you in the door.
What design principles can make your presentation successful?
Visuals (color, shapes, icons, illustration, photography)
Typography (size, weight)
Motion (animations, interactions)
Composition (grid, layout, spacing)
This can actually improve usability and conversion of link clicks if done right! Use this to help guide your audiences’ eyes to the thing you’re promoting and make what is on screen comfortable to digest.
We aren't asking you to do any singing, although you're probably amazing at it. Stories, written and combined with media, are a strong tool to make a lasting impression.
Use this tool to position yourself as a great communicator. Tell the story of you and how you overcame the challenges thrown your way. Make it exciting! Make it simple! But more importantly, make it yours.
Stories wire our brains
Fun fact, Harvard Business Review claims that when we read stories, our brain puts ourselves in the shoes of the characters as an emulation—to better understand.
Using this fact, you can formulate ways to draw readers in and captivate them to invest further in your work, making you a more likely pick they move to the next round of interviews.
And here’s the biggest component of the framework—personality. Think of your portfolio as a pair of pants. Would you wear them? If they don't match your vibe, get a new pair of pants!
Your personality has everything to do with who you are. So let yourself shine. You can use the following tools to do so:
As discussed in the first piece of this framework, there are basic principles you can use to route viewers to the right focus in a given project. The size of a word matters because well, smaller sounds quiet and larger sounds louder, visually of course.
Don’t be affraid ot use large and bold statistics if you want to scream them at your audience for example.
The way you write and what you say actually lets people get to know you.
Style (the way you use words)
Tone (the attitude your words make readers feel)
This is how you sound when your work is being read. Depending on who your audience is, you can tailor your writing a bit.
A few extras
Project choice: What you choose to keep in your portfolio is as important as what you choose to leave out. Employers are forgiving to early-stage folks, but advanced designers get no mercy. Don’t put a type of work in your portfolio if you do not want to ever work on something similar.
Remember your audience: if you forget your audience, you won’t have a high conversion of your portfolio—AKA people won’t reach out to you. Focus on the audience you are targeting (what you write about, how you write, what you show and don’t) by thinking of what you want out of your career (i.e enterprise, startup, agency, freelance work, etc)
Keep it scannable: nobody wants to dig through your work to find the golden nuggets. Highlight your achievements and show the end result. Outcomes & impacts.
Be uniquely you: most will ignore this, so I’ve iterated it several times!
Failure: don’t be afraid of sharing failures. This shows how you humbly improve over time and is endearing. It’s honest. It’s something everyone faces. And to be honest, this is usually the most interesting part of any piece of work to me.
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