Portfolio contents

What you need in your portfolio and why

By Erin Harris from erinmharris.com


It’s fantastic if you can do logos, but if that’s all you can do, you limit your employability. You want to be able to show your range, because as a recent graduate, you’re not going to be an expert yet. You want potential employers to see that you can be useful on a number of accounts, not just a small percentage of the firm’s projects.


Every designer gets projects involving type. From magazine layouts to CD inserts to advertisements, you will need to be able to work with type in varying degrees. A portfolio full of logos and visual-only or visual-and-headline-only ads don’t show that. Make sure you’ve got a few pieces in your book that do.


Logos take a good amount of research and revision. Showing a logo allows you to talk about your design process, whether it’s your own logo or one for a client. Extending the logo to a letterhead system shows your ability to carry an identity over to other pieces, a skill you will definitely need to possess, whether or not you designed the original logo.

A Campaign

For the same reasons as a letterhead system, a campaign shows your ability to extend an idea across multiple pieces. Consistency is key here. Show how you can carry the identity through a letterhead system, a brochure, a website, or a series of ads. What you’re carrying the identity to isn’t as important as the fact that you can make it work on different collateral materials.

Team Work

In the real world, it’s rare you’re going to be working by yourself all of the time. Get used to working with others early. If you’re a designer, find a friend who writes great copy, a photographer or illustrator, and someone who is skilled in concepting. Come up with a project idea, and work together to make it happen. Learning to listen to your co-creatives as well as your clients/employers, is crucial to being a successful designer. If you can’t get along with the existing creative team in a firm, your work, no matter how fantastic, isn’t going to get you in.


Your ideas are what will sell you to employers and clients, not your software skills. Anyone can dress up a weak concept with a computer, but it’s much harder to come up with a good idea. Concepts are king — once you’ve got it down, then worry about making it look great. A book with great ideas is worth more than a book showing off your extensive knowledge of Photoshop filters.

Printed Work

Most student projects don’t get as far as the production stage. This often keeps students from having to learn how to prepare files for printers. Big mistake. Not everything in your book needs to be in use by a client, but potential employers want to see that you know how to get a piece through from concept to production. Internships are a good way to get work produced, as are freelance projects. Even if the piece didn’t turn out exactly how you wanted it to, or someone else played backseat art director, but the purpose of having something printed in your book isn’t necessarily to show your artistic skills (that’s what the rest of your book is for), but to show that you understand the technical side of getting a piece produced. If it’s also great work, then so much the better.

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