By: Craig Harshman 

In today’s world a designer’s portfolio will most likely be in the digital format but that doesn’t mean that there is no use for a printed book of your work. Actually, I would argue that a good print portfolio can make a designer sink or swim in the field. Your portfolio shows the breadth of your work, your skills and experiences and how you generate and execute ideas; so basically, it is a view of your entire creative process. The goal of the print portfolio is to impress and surprise the viewer, showing how you and your work are a valuable asset. There is no right or wrong way to build a portfolio, making it a challenging task for a designer. There are a few unspoken guidelines that can help you when putting yours together.

The Format – Does Size Really Matter?

There are a number of varying opinions on the format of a design portfolio but no particular size or layout is better than another. Size is a debate that has gone on for years. The goal is to showcase your work so pick a size that can do so successfully. An 8.5 by 11-inch booklet may be too small to present an entire project on one spread, filling it with images, layouts, a description and even a display of the process you went through. The size that you land on is not the important part, it can be small and cute or large and in charge but what’s important is what it communicates. You want to show off the work that you have done and don’t want the book you created to distract from that. Leave ample space around your art to keep the focus on the work and not on the actual portfolio. Think of the page as an art gallery wall and your work is the art being showcased.

The Fill – What to Include?

Filling a portfolio brings up two common questions: how many pieces do you include, and how to choose what makes it in. The answers may vary depending on the type of job you are applying for. An 8- to 12-piece portfolio is pretty standard but you can’t be afraid to go over that number if you think something is a must see or vice versa.

If you are not 100% happy with the outcome of a project then 86 it, only include your best work. It can be difficult to self-edit so be hard on yourself and focus on getting the right work in there. Have someone you trust look over your portfolio and provide you with honest and constructive feedback. While you’re at it, don’t forget to time them—good portfolio won’t take too long to get through.

Shoot for about 10 to 20 minutes on the whole thing and if it takes any longer, consider revising the number of projects. Like I said before, if a piece is a must see then don’t be afraid to add it and don’t worry about the time for it because if the piece is that good the viewer’s focus will shift from how long they have been flipping through the book to a heightened interest in your work.

Another important thing to think about when filling your book is the order items are presented ­in. There are differing opinions here, but I believe portfolios should start with two of the strongest pieces and end the same way, while the middle should be ordered to create an interesting mix of work through color, style, form and scheme. Filling a portfolio is difficult for designers because we have to strip ourselves down to a handful of our best work that shows who we are and what we can do.

When working on your portfolio, remember that it needs to show the breadth of your work, your skills, how you concept and execute ideas and your creative process. The goal of the print portfolio is to showcase your work to the viewer, hoping to demonstrate your value as a designer. There is no right or wrong way to build a portfolio, just make it unique to you. Accept that your book may never feel finished to you because it never really is. You will always want to tweak it and make it better but you need to find a point of confidence in it and know that you have something to be proud of. Accept it for what it is but always be dreaming of what it will be.

What are some tips that you have discovered when building a portfolio?