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Student and Shore member of staff discussing a portfolio around a table

10 tips to perfect your design portfolio and land that dream job

Published: March 2024

James Glencross
Design Consultant

Jimmy Mower

Jimmy Mower
Design Consultant

When applying for competitive design jobs, standing out from the crowd is essential. Recently, Shore’s James Glencross and Jimmy Mower had the opportunity of conducting portfolio reviews with fourth-year graphic and product design students at Edinburgh Napier University.

They shed light on what employers pay attention to and provided valuable tips for aspiring designers looking to make a lasting impression.

Here are 10 top tips from James and Jimmy for your portfolio.

1. Time is of the essence

One crucial aspect that we mentioned in the reviews is the limited time employers have to review each applicant’s work. With instances where there could be hundreds of applications, designers may have as little as one minute to make an impact. Therefore, it is imperative that your portfolio is not only visually appealing but also succinct and well-organised.

2. Sketching ability

The fast evolution and communication of ideas through sketching remains a fundamental skill in any design process, and employers are keen to assess this ability during portfolio reviews. A strong emphasis on clear, expressive sketches can demonstrate your design thinking and problem-solving skills. This, along with form development, preferably through 3D sketch models will help you stand out. Be sure to showcase a variety of sketches that highlight your creativity and attention to detail.

3. Consistency and attention to detail

Employers notice the little details and one of these is the consistency in how your portfolio is presented. Using more than one typeface, inconsistent formatting, or an incoherent layout can be distracting. Employers appreciate a cohesive and well-thought-out presentation that reflects your attention to detail and professionalism.

4. Basics over perfection

In a world where online platforms showcase flawless and finished designs, our team emphasises the importance of focusing on the basics. We understand that perfection is a journey, not an immediate expectation. Early glimpses into a designer’s work can reveal potential and growth opportunities, even if the execution is not perfect.

5. Design sensibilities

Beyond technical skills, employers are interested in your design sensibilities. This encompasses your ability to understand and respond to user needs, market trends, and aesthetic considerations. Design is about questioning norms and imagining a world where everything can be redesigned. Embracing this mindset is crucial in answering design briefs and delivering solutions that stand out.

6. Show your process

More than just the result, our team is interested in the journey. Presenting your design process, from initial concepts to final executions, demonstrates your problem-solving abilities. Whether it’s showcasing a well-thought-out sketch or a beautifully crafted prototype, the process is a window into your mindset as a designer.

7. Image presentation and page layout

Use the “Rule of Thirds” and the Armature Grid – basic guidelines for the composition of images and all 2D art. Designers who work within and play with these rules often create visually engaging portfolios that guide the viewer through their work in a structured manner. Consider the impact of image presentation and page layout in conveying your design ideas effectively.

8. Showcase your strengths

Emphasise what you excel at. Whether it’s a particular design process, material knowledge, or a unique skill set, make it clear in your portfolio. Employers are looking for designers who can bring something special to the table, so don’t be shy about showcasing your strengths.

9. Continuous learning

If you identify a gap in your skill set, don’t be afraid to address it. Use your portfolio to demonstrate your commitment to learning and growth. Employers appreciate candidates who proactively seek out opportunities to enhance their skills and stay relevant in the ever-evolving field of design.

10. Emphasise what you bring to the job

Beyond your portfolio, when submitting job applications, shift the focus from what you want from the job to what you can bring to the position and the company. Clearly articulate how your skills and experiences align with the employer’s needs. Be specific about the value you can add to the team and the projects you will contribute to.

A successful portfolio is not just a collection of beautiful designs but a narrative that speaks to your skills, thinking process, and unique approach to problem-solving. Remember that every idea, no matter how common, can be reimagined with a fresh perspective. If you’ve got a sketchbook that showcases your skills and shows a logical way of thinking, then it’s going to set you apart.

If you’re a design student seeking a summer placement, or a graduate looking for a full-time role, we have opportunities to join the team here at Shore. Check out our careers page.


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