The Importance of Compelling Design Portfolios

Explore some of the things we look for in portfolios when deciding whether a candidate advances to the next step in the hiring process.

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Nils Hansen
January 5, 2022

Part 1: How to Make Your Work Stand Out in a Crowd

As a soon-to-be or recent graduate of a design course or Bootcamp, your portfolio is essential in communicating your design vision and skills to prospective employers. In my role as a hiring manager and owner of a design agency, I’ve had the opportunity to review and critique hundreds of portfolios over the years. When we’re hiring for designers, we get 30-50 portfolios submitted for review. In this article, we’ll explore some of the things our agency looks for in portfolios when deciding whether a candidate advances to the next step in the hiring process.

What are the first things we look for in a portfolio?

When reviewing portfolios for consideration, our hiring team looks for visual cues and ease of use right away.

  • How is the site laid out?
  • Does the designer have a good aesthetic sense?
  • Does the site itself have a good user experience?

If these things aren’t evident quickly, it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to help enhance the design team.

Differentiation is also key. It can be challenging to tell how the designer contributed to each case study (particularly if they are showing group projects). We want to easily identify skill sets so we can determine how they might be a good fit for the current needs of the agency.

What about the overall presentation of the portfolio? Is that important?

It's very important. We look at each portfolio as a digital product. It's a marketing piece for the student. Don't look at it just as a series of disjointed projects, it should tell a story too.

For example, how do you provide value to a design agency? Is it just the work you do or is it the ideas you bring in? Personality is incredibly important as well. We like seeing case studies that aren't necessarily user experience design to show more range of talent and personality. Or show something artistic you've done, like painting or sculpture or even music. Anything creative. It tells us something about that individual and those things inform the user experience and user interface design. Creating different kinds of art and design is a good way to build skills in digital design.

What can you add to make your portfolio stand out more?

Something that we always suggest is to make up a project. This is particularly important for students from boot camps because they tend to do group projects, which, as previously mentioned,  make it challenging to see individual skill sets. If we’re looking at 15 to 20 portfolios from boot camp students, we tend to see some of the same projects over and over and I have no idea what they contributed to that project.

So if you’re trying to build your portfolio, come up with a problem and solve it. Look at an app that you think is quirky or not quite there, or a website that you don't like, and redo it. Make your own project, spend time on it, care about it like it's an actual client project, and then show that in your portfolio. That's incredibly powerful if it's done properly.

Look, it’s not easy to put together a portfolio that stands out and truly showcases the value you have to offer. Put in the time, do the work, and always be improving it. You got this!

For potential job opportunities, or to check out our agency, explore the rest of

This post was originally published on LinkedIn. Connect and find more posts by Nils Hansen here.