The portfolio is one of the greatest tools in a graphic designer’s arsenal. It’s probably the most challenging piece of work you own – above your initial online branding, social media, and website content – and provides solid proof of your work to date, insight into your processes, and personal perspective.

Your design portfolio tells your prospects what value you can add to their brand and why they should work with you above your competitors.

Having said that, it can be easy for designers to overlook the importance of their portfolio and end up with a bland and generic document that falls flat and puts the hard work of prospecting back on us. If you spend the whole meeting explaining your portfolio, then it definitely needs work. Your portfolio should speak for itself and do the hard work for you.

So, what should be in your portfolio, and what should you do to make sure that it’s as functional and tailored as it needs to be? I’ve gathered some information from advice I’ve been given and personal insights I’ve learned over my career.

Treat your portfolio as a project.

How many of us have been guilty of this – completing a project and ‘bunging it in’ to our portfolio? We end up with a mash-up of past projects, not particularly in any order, shoehorned in, and with no proper narrative or context.

So many designers end up frustrated because their portfolio simply isn’t working for them. After all, they haven’t put the time and effort into making it good.

We should spend a decent amount of time curating a working portfolio that can be updated with our best work and easily tailored to each prospect. Our portfolio is (and should be) an ongoing, evolving project that needs time and effort to make it work hard for us.

As with all of our marketing efforts, our portfolio should be an actual project; treat your design business as you would a client and put care and time into it.

Present your best work – leave the rest.

A great piece of advice I was given recently is this: your portfolio is not a slideshow. It is a narrative.

I love that. Sure, you can absolutely show your story through your portfolio – but you don’t need to show every piece of work, and in my experience, you shouldn’t. Only showcase the projects that stand out to you and highlight the work you want to be known for. Many of us have the ‘bread and butter’ stuff that, while it is more than worthy of note, is rather generic. Some of that stuff can be left out to make space for the real show-stoppers, which will absolutely wow the prospects we are targeting.

Choose pieces with a reason to be there and show your perspective and what value you brought to the project. Let people see your thought process and what went into making it. If the piece is too hard to write about or doesn’t inspire you, then it won’t inspire your prospects, either, and it’s likely that it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.

If you haven’t done the work you love, create it.

How often do we actually assess our design careers and think seriously about how we want to progress? Often, we get swallowed up in the day-to-day busyness, and we become stagnant. That can be a hard place to be.

Sometimes, our portfolio no longer reflects our ambition, and we find that the projects we are doing no longer inspire. So, what happens if we discover that the path we are on isn’t making us happy? What if we want to work on different types of projects from those we are doing, but we can’t show that through our portfolio because we haven’t done those projects yet?

If you’re at the start of your career or are looking to move in a different direction, this could be the best way to do it.

What about you? Is your portfolio up to scratch? Does it work in bringing you new projects? Let me know.