How to Pick a Designer Based on the Graphic Design Portfolio

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How to Pick a Designer Based on the Graphic Design Portfolio

What to Look for in a Graphic Design Portfolio: Flexibility or Style?

Graphic design
October 6, 2022
8 minutes

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What is a graphic design portfolio? Where to look for one? And once you have it, how can a graphic design portfolio help you choose the most suitable collaborator for your project? We’re here to help every confused design client!

Guess what: graphic design is subjective, just like most creative work. Still, that doesn’t mean you can’t make informed decisions when choosing to hire a graphic designer. Or, for that matter, that you should be guided exclusively by your personal taste and style.

The answer to all your doubts and questions lies in a graphic design portfolio. If you’ve found yourself skimming over one to “get a general impression”, this guide is for you.

Learn how to assess a graphic designer portfolio like a pro!

What is a graphic design portfolio?

Ok, so I’ve already repeated the term several times: so what is a graphic design portfolio, anyway?

Simply put, it’s a curated collection of a designer’s past work, presented in digital or physical format.Nowadays, most graphic design portfolios will be in digital format on some of the most well-known portfolio websites such as:

Bear in mind that although a portfolio is supposed to be a collection of the designer’s best work, it’s by no means the definitive collection. As mentioned, portfolios need to be curated, which means that designers select work that best showcases their style and skills (more on that later).

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If you can’t find a particular type of design project in their portfolio, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the designer has no experience in that area. So, if a portfolio tickles you fancy but there’s something missing, it’s always advisable to approach the designer directly and ask if they can provide further portfolio examples.

So, what to include in a graphic design portfolio to make it as conclusive and informative as possible? We’ll deal with that in the following section.

What to include in a graphic design portfolio?

Whether you have little or a lot of experience - creating a design portfolio is never easy. In the first instance, you may feel you’re lacking high-quality work to showcase. In the second, it can be challenging to pick and choose the designs that showcase the full extent of your skills and capabilities.

About me section

Previous work and style are important, but don’t forget that hiring always involves a degree of interpersonal relationships. Give potential employees an idea of who you are, by including a few of the most relevant facts about yourself, as well as a couple of interesting details. This can help you match with the best employers and create better work connections.

about me portfolio.png By Gloria Shugleva

Contact information

While a lot of people may find your graphic designer portfolio through a portfolio website, not all of them will want to contact you on there. We’re all creatures of habit and for many employers, easy access to an email address or contact number is a must for vetting prospective candidates.

Education & employment history

The amount of details you go into will of course vary, depending on whether you’re sending a graphic design portfolio to a potential employer or creating a digital portfolio that anyone can view.

However, some basic information can be helpful to show that you’re a professional with previous experience. Many design portfolios consist of passion projects, which is perfectly fine. That’s why including brief information about what type of professional training you have (including things like online courses), and notable work experience can help set you apart from the others.

Highlights

Depending on what platform you use to showcase your design portfolio, consider creating a highlights section with just a few graphic design examples that you’re most proud of.

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If you’re using Instagram to showcase your work, definitely make use of the Highlights feature to give prospective employers an easy access to your finest work. For example, the graphic designer portfolio below clearly shows that this designer is particularly versed in brand and logo design.

dribbble featured.png By Eddie Lobanovskiy

Show off your style

It takes considerable time and effort for a designer to crystallize their unique sense of style. If you’ve managed to do that, don’t shy away from showing off…

A portfolio can never include everything you’ve ever done (and it shouldn’t). But the examples of previous work that you chose, should tell prospective employers about the style you’re most comfortable with. Choosing a coherent color palette will help your portfolio seem professional and pleasing to the eye.

Haven’t quite figured your style out yet? That’s ok. Your graphic design portfolio should feature different types of work (although curating a color scheme is always a good idea). Another thing you could do is to separate work according to types of projects, to allow easier navigation through your portfolio.

portfolio color.png By Denis Freitas

What to look for in a graphic design portfolio?

Now that we’ve established what elements should be a part of any good graphic design portfolio, let’s examine what qualities you should specifically look out for as a design client.

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Simplicity

Imagine if somebody told you that a single piece of design has to reflect a brand’s mission, vision, values and appeal to a specific target audience. Chances are that you’d come up with something rather busy-looking.

The make of a fantastic designer is the ability to present complex ideas in a visually striking and simple way.

Versatility

A good graphic designer portfolio should showcase a wide range of skills. This might mean skills in different design software as well as areas of graphic design, such as brand design, publication, web design, etc.

Of course, versatility doesn’t mean a designer has to have experience in every type of project. But, knowing they have the ability to adapt and design is useful.

Relevance

Jack of all trades and master of none? That’s probably not what you want in a designer. Therefore, while versatility of design experience and skills is vital, you should also focus on the aspects that matter to you.

Nedd web design? A skillful illustrator might be a tempting hire, but if they have no experience designing websites, chances are the process will drag on, and the end result won’t be very good.

Flexibility vs. sense of style: which is more useful?

Versatility and relevance? Simplicity and creativity? So, should you actually hire a graphic designer that sticks to the rules and ticks all of your boxes? Or should you be adventurous and hire somebody that’s wildly creative and ready to take you out of your comfort zone.

Well, as you might expect, there are benefits to both. Let’s go over the main pros and cons to establish what type of graphic designer would be a better fit for your business.

Pros of hiring a designer who’s flexible

Say you looked at a graphic designer portfolio and saw a range of styles and projects. What benefits could this professional bring to your project? Here are a few:

  • They will adapt to your style easily: If you’re a small business, struggling with establishing a brand image, this is the way to go. You want someone who will follow your guidelines to a tee, and help you build brand recognition.
  • They can take on a multitude of projects: Again, if you’re a small business owner with a limited budget, this is the way to go. Hire someone who can deliver most of your projects, and eliminate the need of hiring additional design team members.

Cons of hiring a designer who’s flexible

It’s not all that rosy, either. Here’s why you should avoid hiring professionals with graphic design portfolios that paint an eclectic picture.

  • They can be unpredictable: A designer that doesn’t have a particularly well-defined style can go both ways: deliver groundbreaking work and completely miss the mark.
  • They don’t make great art directors: Guidance from professionals can be hugely beneficial for non-designers. If you’ve hired a graphic designer eager and capable to follow instructions, they might struggle with giving you guidance and input when you’re lost. Don’t rely on them to break new ground either: have a clear design brief ready for them to follow.

Pros of hiring graphic designer with a well-defined style

So, you took time to examine numerous portfolio examples and settled on one with a striking and consistent style. What’s great about working with a designer like that?

  • They’re fantastic at what they do: A designer who knows their strengths will be able to produce groundbreaking work. If you don’t want run-of-the-mill designs, but something extraordinary, finding someone with a superb sense of style is a good idea.
  • They can provide creative guidance: It takes a lot of work and experience for a designer to form and establish their own personal style. These professionals make terrific art directors and brand designers, since they value the importance of stylistic consistency.

Cons of hiring a designer with a well-defined style

  • They might make a poor match: If you’re lucky to find someone whose style is aligned with your needs and preferences, it feels like you’ve hit the jackpot. On the other hand, you may spend a lot of time trying to make things work with someone who’s simply not the right match. Designers that are set in their ways will have a harder time adapting to your needs and wants.
  • They might have limited skills: Graphic designers that are truly proficient in one design area, or one particular style, might be lacking in others. If you want a single designer to work on multiple projects, a high-profile design expert may not be the best solution.

Conclusion

If you want to choose a designer that’s a good fit for your business, you need to spend a lot of time with their graphic design portfolio. Some portfolios will be versatile and eclectic. Others are consistent with a strong sense of style and aesthetic. As you can see, both types of graphic design portfolios have their strengths and weaknesses.

A graphic designer with diverse skills and experience is a good match for small businesses. They can create diverse projects for a variety of purposes. That way, they might eliminate the need to hire more people subsequently and keep you within your budget.

On the other hand, a graphic designer with a refined style and expert skills in one area will thrive in an agency setting. Working with other designers on different client projects they will be able to offer their expertise and input.

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Danica Popovic

October 6, 2022

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.