How To Make A Graphic Design Portfolio

Daniel Scott

@dan

Whether you are a seasoned design professional looking for your next career move, just starting your foray into the world of freelancing or somewhere in the middle of your design journey – it is essential to have a graphic design portfolio. A graphic designer’s portfolio showcases not only their best work but also their thought process, their ability to follow a brief and their relationship with clients and collaborators. It is a clear demonstration of experience, ability and style and provides valuable insight to prospective employers or clients. 

With so much riding on a portfolio, it can be pretty daunting to know where to start! In this post I’ll outline some simple steps you can take to get your graphic design portfolio looking sharp. We’ll look at:

  • Choosing a platform

  • Picking a design template / layout

  • Choosing which work to include

  • Describing your work

  • What else to include in your portfolio

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How to choose a platform for your design portfolio

When I first graduated (back in the day) it was the norm to cart around a folio of pages, printed on carefully selected paper stock, to present to an employer or client. Times have changed! As an additional tool, a physical portfolio still has its place. But, in this era of digital connectedness, you may well be looking for work across the globe – so it is a given that you will also need a digital portfolio. Plus, an online design portfolio has the added advantage of exposing your work to a wider audience.

There are a number of website building platforms tailored specifically to portfolio building. In order to choose the one that works best for you, bear the following in mind:

  1. Does it provide a good range of templates?

Using a template is a quick and efficient way to construct your online graphic design portfolio and the ideal solution if you are not a coding specialist. Most website-building platforms will organize their templates by themes so take a look at the portfolio section and see if there is a layout that catches your eye.

  1. Cost?

How much does it cost per month? Is hosting included? Many offer a free plan but this might not include your own custom domain.

  1. Is it optimized for mobile?

The advantage of using most popular website building platforms is that they include responsive design. This means they are optimized to work across different devices and screen sizes. You can guarantee your work will look slick whatever the format.


Still need a little guidance? Here are my top picks for creating an online portfolio:

Adobe Portfolio

Adobe Portfolio is included with a Creative Cloud subscription so this makes it a smart choice if you are already signed up for Creative Cloud. 

To get started simply decide if you want to begin with a Full Portfolio or Welcome Page then go ahead and select a theme. 

Once you have selected the theme you are able to customize the design. A bonus is its integration with other Adobe products such as Behance, Adobe Fonts and Lightroom.

Screenshot of Adobe Portfolio website templates

Adobe Portfolio is a great choice if you already have a Creative Cloud subscription. You can choose from a wide array of portfolio templates.

Squarespace

Squarespace has a slick design and stylish templates that can be edited via an easy drag and drop editor. Although it has a free trial, it is among the more expensive options. It does have many additional features available, such as e-commerce, should you want to add them later. It also integrates Adobe fonts and Google fonts.

Screenshot of Squarespace website

Squarespace has slick design and a stylish range of templates.

Wix

Wix offers plenty of templates for design portfolios with intuitive features. It offers unique design tools such as the ability to add gradient colors to backgrounds and blocks as well as animations and background scroll effects.

Screenshot of Wix portfolio layouts

Wix has a range of unique design tools such as gradient backgrounds.

Wordpress

Wordpress boasts that they have a feature for everything, whatever you are trying to get done. That said there’s plenty of portfolio themes available to get you started without getting too complicated.

Screenshot of Wordpress templates

Wordpress is another popular option for making portfolios.

Picking a design template / layout

Once you have worked out which platform meets your requirements you will be keen to get started! Some sites allow you to change templates once you have loaded content but with others you are locked in. Begin with the template that fits your vision and then do some initial planning. I would recommend following the next two steps before jumping straight into designing your portfolio.

Inspiration

As always, it helps to see what the masters have done. Read on for a variety of graphic design portfolio examples to get you inspired. 

Van Orton Design 

Grid of colourful images

Try a grid layout to maximise a common theme, style or color palette.

Van Orton are twin artists based in Italy. The grid layout of their portfolio site gives an instant overview of their bold graphic style and use of colour. This design can work superbly to showcase your distinctive style and personality.

Spencer Peppiatt 

White text on blue background

Are you great at writing compelling text? Then try this layout that leads with a strong statement.

Spencer’s website leads with a clear statement about his process followed by representative examples and statements about each project – the viewer can click through to see the full project detail. If you are a bit of a wordsmith, confident with crafting copy that will sum up your creative direction, then try this approach.

Colin Moy

Black text on yellow background

Animation adds interest to this simple welcome page.

If type and animation are your thing, then take a leaf from Colin Moy’s book (or website I guess!). A simple play on his name with animation to add interest immediately catches your eye and, on scrolling down, a custom menu carries on the theme.

Matt Jablonkski

Pastel coloured photos

If you have some great photographic elements, placing them with plenty of white space gives them more impact.

Matt Jablonski’s portfolio displays a strong use of white space. The pastel coloured overlay gives the projects a cohesive look, even though they are for vastly different clients. Consider a technique like this if your work has some strong photographic elements to draw the viewer in.

How I choose what to put in my design portfolio

This is the hardest part! It helps to think of yourself as a gallery curator rather than a wallpaper hanger. Your job is to carefully choose only a selection of work for your design portfolio, not cover the whole wall! Showcase 10-20 pieces of your very best work rather than everything you have ever done. Make your choices based on style/personality, quality and variety of work.

What do you want to be known for and what work would you like to do in future? Choose work that represents this. Don’t focus on logos if you would rather be doing UI design. Although it is important to include a variety of projects to highlight the breadth of your ability, make sure that you only include projects you are proud of. 

It is also essential that all of your images are high quality so your masterpieces can be truly appreciated. Check the help section on the platform you are using for best practice guidelines.

If you have a personal style that you’d like to be known for, keep this in mind as you make your selection.

Clients and employers can find it interesting to see your full process so consider doing a deep dive on one of your pieces. Include examples of research, sketches, feedback and refinements.

Man sketching logos with swatches of colour on desk.

A case study is a fantastic opportunity to give an insight into your design process.

What if I am just starting out? If you are a student, it is fine to include projects that you have worked on as part of your study. You might feel like you need more examples in certain aspects of design so create some self-directed projects. Make up your own brief or enter design competitions. We have our very own challenges here on Bring Your Own Laptop which are the perfect opportunity to practice your skills and build up examples for your portfolio. Many established designers also like to include a section in their portfolio for personal projects, as it gives a glimpse of their interests and passions.

Screenshots of challenges.

Stuck for ideas for your personal project? BYOL members can access a range of challenges to practice their skills.

Describing your work

Your graphic design portfolio is a sales tool so bear in mind your target audience. Keep the language clear and free of jargon. Describe who the project was for, the brief or client’s goal, your role (being sure to credit any collaborators), your design process and most importantly the outcome or results. If you find writing difficult there are various AI tools that can help. On the Squarespace platform Squarespace AI can ‘act as your personal creative agency and provide on-brand copy’,  handy right!?

Be sure to proof-read and spell check everything. It is always worth getting a friend or colleague to double check your writing before going live.

Other things to include in your graphic design portfolio

Of course your work is the key point of focus but, in addition, consider including the following items in your design portfolio:

CTA (call to action)

A call to action – usually in the form of a ‘contact me’ button or contact form. This one is essential. There’s no point having your work out there if there isn’t a way for someone to hire you! This should be clearly visible on each page of your portfolio. On Lauren Hom’s site, she has a clear CTA right after her introduction. 

Screenshot from a website page with image of a woman sitting on the floor and text and button on the right.

A call to action is an essential item - this page by Lauren Hom is an excellent example.

Bio

It can be nice to have a bio page which includes some background information. This could be in the form of practical details such as where you studied or previous workplaces. Or it could be more of a personal statement including your values or vision. 

Testimonials

This is particularly relevant if you are a freelancer using your portfolio to gain new clients. Including any testimonials from clients you have worked with in the past will help build trust.

Get Started!

Now that you have a few simple steps to follow, you are ready to start creating your graphic design portfolio. Even if you are still learning, the great thing about a digital portfolio is that it can be constantly evolving. Keep coming back and refreshing it with up-to-date work.

As you look to grow your portfolio and your skills, be sure to become a a BYOL member and gain access to my 30+ additional courses on Photoshop, Illustrator, LightroomPremiere ProWebflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challengesGet started here

Ready for more? Become a BYOL member!

Explore 30+ Essentials and Advanced courses in Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. Enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, connect with other creators and tackle exciting community challenges.

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