Tips on Presenting Your Portfolio


I have just had the opportunity to review some student portfolios at the Twin Cities AIGA Portfolio One-on-One event. In doing so, I was inspired to come up with a list of tips for anyone presenting their portfolio. As you can well imagine, everyone has their own preferences, but perhaps these can give you some ideas:

Look Sharp
This doesn’t mean go out and buy a suit. It simply means comb your hair, tuck your shirt, shine your shoes, put on a tie – maybe a sports jacket. It never hurts if you do, but it CAN hurt you if you don’t. As designers we tend to want to be “comfortable,” and “screw you if you don’t like it.” Well, with that kind of attitude you’ll probably land a job with people that treat their clients the same way, and you’ll most likely be out looking for a job soon after because the company folded.

Make sure you speak intelligibly about yourself and your work. Be articulate, speak with a loud and clear voice so you don’t find yourself repeating things over and over. Can you hold a conversation without swearing up a storm? You’d be surprised how many people can’t these days – and it only makes them look dumber than a brick.

Be Prepared
Think boy scouts here! Always have several resumes and business cards on hand. You never know when you’ll end up interviewing with more than one person at a time. This happened to me actually. I came in for a first interview and ended up getting hired on the spot after talking to three other people unexpectedly. Fortunately, I did have resumes and business cards to spare.

God is in the details…
And so is the devil. Whichever your preferred cliché is, remember that they both have a lot of truth to them. Having said that, be mindful of the details! Make sure you have proof-read your work and your resume. Have someone check your grammar. Put as much attention to your resume and business card as you would any of your portfolio pieces. Yes, it’s true the portfolio will speak louder than your resume, but that doesn’t mean the resume can’t speak! So make sure it’s saying something good about you.

Keep It Simple Stupid. Art Directors are busy people and they go through hundreds of portfolios. They know what they’re looking for and they know when they see it, and trust me, it doesn’t take long to find it. So don’t drag your life’s work into your portfolio review. Consolidate your work to 12-16 of your very best pieces and make sure they look awesome! There are many schools of thought on how to present your work. My personal belief is to start with your strongest piece (wanna give them the best first impression you can). Then save the second and third strongest pieces for last. You will likely end your interview talking about the last pieces you present – or at very least, they’ll be the ones right in front of the art director at the end of the interview.

Pace Yourself
This applies both to you and your work. First of all, pace yourself. Take a breather and don’t be too nervous. You’re there to interview them as much as they are interviewing you, so relax, and be comfortable. (I know it’s easier said than done, but try your darndest). Also, pace your portfolio. Much like you would if you’re designing a book, you need to “design” your portfolio experience. Put your best piece in front, your second-best last. Determine what order you want to show your work in (i.e. Identities, Packaging, Collateral, Interactive). Whatever it is, be organized. Don’t just drop a big pile of work on the desk and hope the art director “gets” it.

Size Matters
What specific size ultimately up to you – but make sure all your boards are the same size. Don’t show up with 3 boards at 16×20, 5 at 13×19, and the rest at 12×18. That’s as annoying as the loud cellphone talker! Whatever size you pick (and I personally recommend something smaller – 11×14 is nice) be sure you keep it consistent.

Bring Your Own Book – MacBook that is. Or whatever your preferred flavor of laptop is. Obviously, this only applies for those of you showing interactive work. Don’t assume that you’ll have access to the internet when you get there. In fact, don’t assume ANYTHING. Be prepared with working versions of at least some of your sites – running locally on your hard drive. If you’re hoping to go into interactive design and don’t know what that means…perhaps it’s time your start re-evaluating your goals.
Wether you’re doing print or interactive work, do yourself a favor: go to and buy a domain name for yourself. Put up a quick placeholder (or ideally, an online version of your work) and most importantly, set up a custom email for yourself. It’s cheap, fast, and easy (boy, don’t you wish more things in life were like that)? Call me crazy, but getting an email from [email protected] simply doesn’t do it for me. You probably won’t lose the job opportunity over your email, but if you really understand what branding is all about… well, you connect the dots.

Photograph Your Work
This is a great way to show those unruly packaging pieces you worked on. Or that entire identity system you developed for ACME Soap! Instead of having 12 boards presenting that one project, go out and arrange it nicely and shoot it. This does two things for you: 1. It shows your ability to direct and perhaps even shoot photographs. 2. It will save you the hassle of fumbling around with all that stuff during your review. Instead, everything can fit neatly in your box, case, whatever.

Be Concise
Again, art directors are busy people. They’ll often breeze through your work at break-neck speeds with the occasional tilt of the head or a quiet hmmph! Don’t worry. They’re not laughing at your work. They’re trying to get a “feel” for your style. And sometimes, seeing the greater whole gives you a clearer picture. They might stop at one piece and ask something like “what were you thinking here”? Keep your answers clear and concise. Don’t ramble on for 10 minutes on how you picked the typeface because the type-designer’s ethos was congruent with your views on the implementation of the golden ratio blah, blah, blah. Know what I mean? Answer the question succinctly, courteously, and move on.

Be Punctual
This is a big one! If your review is at 10am, show up at 9:45am! Give yourself some time to take it all in. Give yourself a cushion in case your dog ran off with the car keys again and you have to chase him down and bribe him with biscuits again. And above all, be mindful of your reviewer’s time. If they say they can give you 10 minutes, don’t take 11. If you’re in the middle of the review and time runs out, stop and politely remind them that your time is up, but you would love to continue the conversation if they would allow your more time. This will impress the pants off anyone! It’s good manners.

Well, there are a number of other details you can be mindful of as you prepare for a portfolio review. These are some of the key ones for me – but if you have any that you think I may have missed, or perhaps you don’t entirely agree with these, please feel free to share!