A designer's desk

Kill Your Darlings: How to Make Ruthless Edits to Your Design Portfolio

A portfolio is a designer’s secret weapon when it comes to job applications. It’s your opportunity to shout from the roof, “Check it out, I’m your perfect candidate!” without actually saying anything.

This makes it extremely tempting to overload it with examples of your past work, but there’s value in narrowing it down to the most impactful samples. Here are five strategies for creating a design portfolio that makes potential employers get back to you in no time.

1. Create a list of goals in advance

When creating a portfolio for your design work, it’s common to start by going through your past work and pulling your favorites. This can vary from projects you loved, projects you learned from, and projects you feel are relevant to the job you’re applying to.

But try this instead: before opening up any past work, sit down and create a list of things you want to showcase. The list might include some pieces for pure aesthetics, some pieces that let you discuss your creative process, and some pieces from relevant industries or projects.

Revisit your list as you go to stay on track. Make sure you don’t have too many samples serving the same purpose or pieces of work you’re holding onto without a strategic reason.

2. Evaluate yourself as an employer would

Once you’ve curated a portfolio based on the goals, take a step back and review it as if you’re an employer looking to hire. Remove your name from your portfolio and any sentimentalism, and evaluate it as if it’s not your own.

Ask yourself if you would honestly be impressed by the work and if you would be their candidate of choice. Were any sections too lengthy? Did you feel something was lacking or repetitive?

Think of the critical questions on an employer’s mind when they’re looking for the perfect candidate. 99designs does a great job of explaining how companies should evaluate graphic design portfolios, while June UX explained how hiring managers rank UX ones.

3. Ask a third-party to weigh in

Once you’ve evaluated your own portfolio, have someone else step in to critique. No matter how critical you are of yourself, having someone else review it will give you a different perspective and bring new questions to light.

This person can be another designer, someone working in a hiring position, or even family and friends. If possible, try to have two to three people review it from different categories of your life. A peer will point out small details, while a family member may notice something off with a vibe or a specific piece included.

4. “Would you put it on your first billboard?”

Not every project will be a masterpiece, but your portfolio should only capture your proudest moments whether it’s because of the final result or the process behind it. Look at each individual aspect of your portfolio and ask yourself if you would want to see it on a billboard in New York’s Time Square.

Realistically, not all work in your portfolio has been designed for a billboard, but if you wouldn’t want millions of people to see your name next to it, it doesn’t deserve a place in your portfolio.

5. Know when to walk away

It can be exciting to sit down and build your portfolio after a few morning coffees, but take the time to space it out. Once you’re happy with it, walk away and let it settle. Come back to it and see if anything stands out as unusual or if you see opportunities for improvement popping out. Try to do this twice before submitting your final portfolio with your application.

Once you start using your portfolio to apply for new work, remember it is not set in stone and should be considered a work in progress. Make sure you’re putting out something you’re happy with, but continue to re-evaluate it as your experience grows and your roles shift.


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