How do I create a graphic design portfolio?

Applying for a university course or design role and unsure how to create your portfolio? Read tips on where to start from junior designers at Penguin Random House Children's.

Hands pointing at graphic design portfolio

Knowing how to create your portfolio can be difficult. Whether it’s for a university interview or a design or illustration role, it’s hard to know how best to present your work without guidance.

Arabella, Sophia, Rose and Erin - all junior designers at Penguin Random House Children’s - have put together their top tips on how to showcase your work to the best of its ability. 

Firstly, who are you showing your portfolio to?

When deciding how to create your portfolio, the first thing you should think about is what you’re applying for: is it a university course, a publishing job or work with an advertising agency? You should always select work based on what the people interviewing you would like to see. This means your portfolio may change and evolve, so be prepared for that.

Read up on the job description or requirements of the course and use that to make a list of what to include in your portfolio. For example, with a book design role you will want to include work that showcases strong graphic design skills and typographical knowledge. If your background is in illustration, don’t worry – it’s great to include some of this too as it shows you have a range of creative skills.

If you don’t have anything that fits in with the list you’ve made, Erin suggests going the extra mile with your work: 'Create a small project or ask if anyone you know can give you a brief (however small it may be!). This will really resonate in the interview, and is great practice for working with a client.'

hands turning pages in portfolio

Showcase your wide range of skills

As mentioned already, it’s key to show that you’re not a one-trick pony. To work in book design, you should show you can work within a wide skillset.

For her role as Junior Designer in Penguin Random House Children’s, Arabella included examples from many different projects in her portfolio: ‘When I came to my interview I selected seven different projects I thought were most relevant to my role.

To show my illustration skills, I selected a packaging design project aimed at children, and a book project in which I’d illustrated the cover and chapter pages. I printed the book and bound it myself so everyone could look through it in my interview – it was a nice extra for the team to see my work in its finalised form and was something for people to remember!

For typography I shared poster design and some hand lettering, and for graphic design I shared a branding piece I’d done for a website and logo designs. Although these projects do not all involve book design, work will always be relevant if it suitably shows your skills. When your interviewers look through your portfolio, you can link your projects and the skills that were needed to the job role you’re applying for.’ 

Books that our junior designers have been working on

Have both online and print options

When applying for jobs, having an online portfolio is great. This could be your own website, a Behance portfolio or even simply an Instagram account. Try and keep it up to date and add projects you’ve worked on inside and outside of college and university. It should be clear and concise - don’t overload it with too many projects. If it’s a portfolio site, keep your best stuff at the top to entice people to scroll through other work.

Remember that your interviewer may look through your online portfolio before interview. Sophia shares her advice on this: 'It might be best to reserve some projects that can either only be experienced in a physical format, or aren’t online. If your physical portfolio is simply a duplication of what’s online, you’re not really showcasing your ability to work in, or understand different mediums.'

In book design, you may create the work digitally, but the final piece is multi-format – book jackets, ebooks, CD’s, audiobook apps, and apps. 

Evolution of an illustrated book cover in portfolio

Don’t clutter, keep it structured

Don’t be tempted to overcompensate and include filler pieces that will clutter up your portfolio. Your interviewers won’t be impressed by over-the-top chunky projects, they’re more likely to be overwhelmed and unimpressed with your inability to know your best work.

Select the projects you’d like to show and then look back at your all-important list: do you need every part of that project or just the sketchbook - or one illustration instead of five? Do some of your projects portray the same skills? Are you happy to talk through the process of each example? Ask a tutor or fellow designer for a second opinion if you’re unsure. 

Illustration in example portfolio

Show your drafts, not just final pieces

Sketchbooks are a great way of showing your creative process and any work in progress. Rose shares how useful they are when you're being interviewed, too: 'Sketchbooks are good when there is more than one interviewer, as they can take turns to focus on the portfolio. A lot of your interview will be speaking about your process as a designer, and having your sketchbooks to show this is really helpful.'

You could even have an online sketchbook: Instagram is a great way to log your visual diary. Take pictures of things that inspire you: patterns, people, typography, colour and some of your work in progress. Linking this to your online portfolio can showcase your creative mind, and how you’re enthusiastically seeing design and inspiration in everything.

And you’re all set! Start putting together the best portfolio you can to showcase what a great designer you are. Why not get started by entering the 2019 Student Design Award and including the design in your portfolio? 

Student Design Award designs

Enter the Student Design Award 2019

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