Graphic design portfolio checklist PDF!

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Great design does not speak for itself

3 min read

I want every designer to get promoted, be paid more, and be better partners to their design clients and teams. I believe having a good portfolio is part of an overall strategy that can put you in position to grow your career the right way, and I want to help you be the best designer you can be. 

If you are making your online portfolio, trying to get a new design job, or impress potential clients, the list below are the critical things you need to be thinking about when you are building your portfolio site.

1. Show the process behind your design

Too often portfolios don’t show enough design process. A potential employer wants to see not just the results of your process, but how you got there. Whether you are showing web design or logo design, what details can you work in that showcase not just the end product, but how you got there? 

Details like…

  • What informed you design decisions? 

  • What went wrong on the projects? What went right?

  • What would you do differently?

  • Do you have more sketches or messy white board pics that show how you came to a decision? We want to see it! 

Go through your portfolio and make sure you are either showcasing this detail or have a link to it so you can bring it up quickly.

2. Business drivers/impact 

One of the biggest challenges for designers is learning the business side of design. Doing the work to understand how the business objectives (from your client) are part of your design decisions and how the final design impacted their business (more revenue, higher customer engagement, etc.) makes any designer look more credible and should be part of your portfolio’s case studies.

If you don’t have this a part of your projects, see if there is a way to get more information and add it into your projects. Designers that can speak to this look like ROCKSTARS because you are tying together multiple disciplines when it comes to explaining your design decisions.


3. A strategy for use before, during, and after an interview  

I cover this more in depth in my Free Portfolio Prep e-course, but the gist is this: understand that your portfolio serves different purposes at different times and therefore needs to be strategically put together. Your portfolio must serve different purposes during these different phases and answer different questions in the employers mind:

  • Before: Should we be talking to you at all? Are you a good fit? Can you do the work?

  • During: Show me how you did the work and how you work with others.

  • After: Can you continue to show me more in depth things about how you think or who you are based on the conversation we had with you while you were here?

4. Emphasis on soft skills

Your portfolio needs to have an emphasis on your soft skills. A lot of designers have award winning work they can showcase, so soft skills are going to be one of your key differentiators. People want to know what it is like to work with you and what you can bring to the team. 

  • Go through a few job descriptions online and look at the soft skills they list. For the ones that you have, how can you highlight that and make them a visible part of your portfolio?

Think about how to tackle these and if your portfolio can answer them as it is today. If you want more in depth explanations to these as well as other critical steps to make you look more professional, consider my Free Portfolio Prep Course that will get you thinking about some of these “bigger picture” situations and how your portfolio works in them, or check out my Portfolio Builder Course for a step by step guide.

chris hannon

I’m Chris Hannon. I help digital product designers become more valuable by teaching them how to change their design mindset. By day I am a Creative Director at a digital product development agency. For 15 years I have been lucky enough to work with fortune 500 companies to help guide their creative vision to create amazing digital products and experiences.