Every graphic designer needs more than a text-only resume when applying for a new job or pitching for freelance work. No matter your experience level, you need a graphic design portfolio website that shows off your best and most recent work, skills, and talent to a potential employer or client.
A graphic design portfolio website provides a platform to share your story and demonstrate your unique talents in a crowded marketplace.
Thankfully, you need little more than your graphic design skills and previous works to create your own portfolio website.
No coding is required. This guide will show you how to use ready-made tools to customize a site that shows off your personality and creativity.
You’ll learn what you should include in your graphic design portfolio, how to build your brand online, the best methods for showing off your experience and clients, and how often you should update your portfolio website.
What to include in a graphic design portfolio
Your portfolio should highlight your best work, but also showcase your range of skills and experience.
If you are just graduating or an emerging graphic designer who is interested in a variety of work, pick a selection of pieces that show your varied talents, such as typography and logos, web and UI or UX design, photography, illustration, print, or animation.
If you have yet to land your first job or client, it’s perfectly acceptable to pick your best projects from school.
If you have more experience, then you can begin to tailor your graphic design portfolio toward the type of work you’d like to be doing.
Your goals will likely dovetail with the pieces of which you’re most proud, and you can use your portfolio to find similar work.
Try to limit your portfolio’s landing page to four to 10 works. It’s a lot to ask a potential employer or client to sift through everything you’ve ever done.
Your portfolio’s landing page should act as a highlight package of your best and most recent projects—just like a written resume might for a non-visual job.
The landing page of your graphic design portfolio website is critical. Your landing page should have a clean design and a clear purpose.
Stand out by showing your best work and your personality. You’ll want to use a template that features large images, instead of tiny thumbnails that don’t begin to tell your story.
A landing page that doesn’t represent the best you have to offer can prevent potential employers and clients from giving you and your services thorough consideration.
While you’ll be judged primarily on the pieces featured in your graphic design portfolio, you’ll also want to include two specific pages that are about you.
You’ll need an About page with a brief bio that explains your background and your professional goals.
You’ll also need a Contact page that provides a way for prospective clients to get in touch with you.
Branding for graphic design portfolio
A portfolio website can do more than showcase your work. Graphic design portfolios can also give visitors a sense of the designers themselves.
Think of creating your online presence as building a brand for yourself. In addition to the work you display, your portfolio can include other elements that show off your personality, creativity, and sense of style.
After all, a client is looking not only for someone with the experience and talent required for the job, but also someone with whom they’ll enjoy working.
Let your personality shine through and create a brand that helps you stand out from the crowd.
The first decision you’ll need to make in creating your graphic design portfolio website is whether to give it a minimalist or maximalist style. A minimalist approach presents a clean, understated look that highlights your work. It’s important to choose your typography carefully because it will stand out against a stark background.
A maximalist style with lots of graphic design imagery, bold typography, and interactive elements can quickly grab the attention of any visitor to your site, but requires a great deal of skill so as not to overwhelm and confuse visitors.
Done well, a maximalist approach can convey a sense of playfulness and lets the whole of your personality shine through with contrasting elements, striking color combinations, and little to no white space on the page.
Maximalism lets you make a bold first impression if you are willing to take the risk.
Similarly, a strong logo or interactive element can go a long way toward creating a unique brand for yourself.
Even with a minimalist design, you should try to include an interactive element (e.g., an animation that lets visitors zoom in on an example of your work) that shows your personality. Interactive web design turns passive visitors into active participants and keeps them engaged with your content.
The longer someone stays on your website, the more they will learn about you.
How to showcase your experience and past clients
You’ll want to pick your best pieces for your graphic design portfolio, but make sure they are also the type of work that interests and excites you, and the kind of projects you’d like to find in the future.
The type of work you choose to highlight in your graphic design portfolio will likely result in leads for similar work.
If you dabble in a variety of design work, lead with the type of work you want to do. For example, lead with examples of branding and logo designs that you’ve done if that’s the type of work you are looking to continue doing.
If you don’t have enough graphic design examples of the specific type of work that you want to focus on, you might include a completed personal project or a work in progress.
The work you put out is the work you get—and the elements you highlight within that work are subject to the same philosophy.
To achieve your goals, you’ll want to find a graphic design portfolio template that best matches your style.
The site layout should support and highlight your work. Avoid overly busy designs that take the focus away from your work. A simple design with a clear purpose of putting your best work front and center is best.
While the focus needs to be on your work, your work cannot speak for itself. Caption your work to include information about the clients and agencies with whom you’ve worked.
Be sure to include any awards you might have won. To take visitors inside your design process, try to include earlier sketches and notes that informed the final design.
If you have yet to land your first professional gig, then use non-client work, such as personal or school projects.
Best practices for a graphic design portfolio
Regardless of your specific field within graphic design, there are common traits to any effective design portfolio. Follow these best practices to give your portfolio the best chance at success.
Your portfolio needs to tell a story. No matter the types of pieces you feature, adding context to each piece will show potential employers how you might help their business.
Describe your creative process and play to your audience. Include information about the objective of the project, your role, and the result it achieved.
Be sure to credit any collaborators. Explaining the scope of each project behind each of your pieces gives potential clients direct evidence of the results you can achieve for them.
Number of examples to include
How many graphic design examples of your work should you include? Generally, you should include at least four and no more than 10.
It depends solely on the confidence you have in your work, and whether you want to showcase a variety of design types. Because you have a limited number of pieces to share, display only your best.
Hero images and graphic design portfolios
Show that you are proud of your past work by using a large, engaging, and high-resolution hero image for each featured work in your graphic design portfolio.
Hero images are the big images or banners at the top of a site that run the width of the page. Fun details that show your skill and personality are lost when an image is small or compressed into a thumbnail.
With a hero image, you can call out interesting details by highlighting specific parts of a project.
Try to use at least one hero image for the first piece featured on the landing page of your portfolio. This will immediately grab the attention of visitors to your site. Take your visitors by the hand and lead them through your gallery of work.
Consistent design portfolio
When designing your graphic design portfolio website, find a template that allows for a consistent approach, even when showing a variety of your work.
A consistent design helps visitors navigate your site more easily and will help keep them on the portfolio pages for longer.
When to update your graphic design portfolio
Graphic design portfolio is an incredibly crowded field, so you need to find a way to draw attention to yourself and stand out.
One way to increase the odds of your design portfolio website getting seen is to keep it fresh, which begs the question: How often do you need to update your portfolio?
A good guideline is to update your design portfolio at least once a year. When you add a new project, you can replace the piece that is your least favorite.
It’s also a good idea to look to replace your older pieces and keep the focus on your most recent works, especially if you are growing and improving as a designer.
When is a piece too old to include in your portfolio? The answer can vary, but in general you should avoid including anything that’s older than five years.
When you have finished a new piece for a big client that you are really excited about, then that is a perfect time to update your design portfolio.
There are ways, however, to update your portfolio when you don’t have any new work to add. Fine-tune the layout, arrangement, color palette, logo, typography, or other elements of your site to maintain a modern look.
If it’s been a while since you’ve completed a project, you could show a work in progress, from the idea behind it and early sketches to its current stage.
And don’t neglect search engine optimization (SEO) tools to increase your odds of having your website discovered by a potential client.
When to Update Your Graphic Design Portfolio
etting seen in the crowded design field can be challenging, but your odds of getting noticed greatly improve if your graphic design portfolio is kept up to date.
When you neglect to update your design portfolio, you could miss getting your best and most recent work in front of the eyes of a prospective client.
An opportunity might pass you by if you are unable to respond by showing someone examples of your strongest work.
Follow these best practices to make sure your portfolio is ready to go any time you want to apply to an open position or freelance gig.
How often do you need to update your graphic design portfolio?
Aim to perform a website refresh at least once every year. For example, when you’ve completed a new project that you’re excited about, that’s a perfect opportunity to update your portfolio. It gives you a chance to replace your least favorite or the oldest of your featured pieces.
To make room for newer projects, look to remove projects that are older than five years. If you are growing and improving as a designer as you experience different projects and work for bigger clients, then the logic is your most recent pieces are more impressive than something you produced earlier in your career. It’s also more likely to be a more accurate representation of your current skills and style.
How to update your portfolio without new work to add
There are ways to refresh your portfolio website, even when you don’t have an exciting new piece to add.
For example, you could totally overhaul your graphic design portfolio site by replacing your current website template with a new template. Like everything else, trends in web design move quickly, and website builders like Squarespace are always developing new website templates that match the look and feel of the modern internet. Keep pace with these ever-changing trends by picking a new portfolio template that showcases your work in a fresh light.
In addition to a more modern look, new templates might also include new interactive elements such as an animation, a call-to-action button, or video player that can make your portfolio more engaging. Images can also be manipulated with cropped shapes, effects, and filters.
If you like your current template, then there are still ways to tweak the look to make it feel fresh. Within your template, you might be able to adjust the color palette or the typography to spruce it up. You might also consider a new or updated logo. A new custom logo might more accurately reflect your current style and the type of work you are doing.
There are other effective updates you can make to a portfolio. You could update your site by adding a non-client project such as side work or a school project. You could also add a work in progress if it’s something you think reflects a side of you as a designer that the other works in your portfolio do not. This type of addition lets you show your most recent work and your current skills and style.
Optimize your portfolio for search engines
Not all worthwhile changes are front-facing. There are ways you can make your portfolio more visible online by increasing its ranking in search results. One of the most powerful ways to become more visible to search algorithms is with search engine optimization (SEO). Squarespace has built-in SEO tools that can help you tweak items like site titles and descriptions, page titles and descriptions, and alt text for images.
By paying attention to SEO, you might get your work in front of prospective clients without even having to take the first step of seeking them out: They might find you before you find them.
How to Showcase Your Experience
Perhaps your career has given you the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. In this case, it makes sense to steer your portfolio toward the types of work you are hoping to attract. Lead with your typography and logo design projects, for example, if you are looking to land corporate and branding jobs, while omitting or de-emphasizing earlier projects where you worked on user experience (UX) or web design.
If you’ve recently graduated school or you’re early in your career and light on graphic design experience, then you may not have many options from which to choose. Your graphic design portfolio will simply feature the best work you’ve done. Regardless of your experience, your portfolio will need to provide context around the works you feature that show the roles you’ve had, the graphic design clients for whom you’ve worked, and the results you have achieved for them.
The work you put out is the work you get
In addition to leading with your best pieces, your portfolio should highlight the type of projects you are looking to do more of in the future.
You are more likely to get an interview for a job or contract if you provide ample evidence that you have the right mix of skills and experience required for it. The work you choose to feature on your landing page will likely lead to similar projects. If you have had a variety of experiences but want to focus your career toward a particular area of expertise, then you may want to focus on a niche area to show the depth of your experience.
There are options for how to establish your niche. You can specialize around a specific area of design, a particular industry, or a certain style. And not all niches are the same size. Establishing a narrow niche could mean that you will find a match with fewer clients, but that may also mean you have less competition when applying for jobs. The opposite also holds true that a broader niche could lead to opportunities with more clients, but greater competition from other designers angling for the same job.
For designers short on experience, it’s to your advantage to display a wide array of projects to prove you have a diverse range of skills. Plus, at this stage of your career, you are likely open to any type of graphic design work to begin to build or expand upon your experience.
Find a graphic design portfolio template that best matches your style and provides a consistent design that highlights each work you include. For most, a clean design that communicates the clear purpose of showcasing your best work is most effective.
Each designer has a distinctive style with a unique set of past clients. Take a look at the clients that you’ve worked with and those that have approached you recently. Are they from similar fields? If so, you may want to gear your portfolio toward that field and those types of companies to attract similar work.
Add context to the works you include in your portfolio
The landing page of your graphic design portfolio website should emphasize your work by featuring large images and little text. After grabbing the attention of prospective clients with your dazzling designs and creative projects, you need to add context to each of the pieces you choose to highlight. Turn each piece into a case study that explains the client or agency you worked with, the objective of the project, your role, and the result it achieved. You can also include any awards you won along the way.
Each hero image on your landing page can lead to a dedicated project page where you have the space to provide these details. In addition to outlining the parameters of a project, you could call out specific details of a piece. You can also include sketches to show how the design process unfolded from early concept to the final product. Taking potential clients inside the design process and what your design accomplished gives you an opportunity to prove your value as a collaborator.
Best Practices for a Graphic Design Portfolio
Your graphic design portfolio needs to do more than display your work: It needs to tell a story. Knowing your audience is key to telling an effective story. You know the questions your past clients asked and what their thought process was like. Use this knowledge to inform prospective clients of your skills and experience and build a graphic design portfolio that uniquely expresses your brand and what you offer to your target audience. The following portfolio tips will help you decide how many pieces to feature in your portfolio and why you need a consistent portfolio design even when displaying a variety of work.
Describe the creative process and play to your audience
The landing page of your graphic design portfolio websiteis the most important page, but it can’t be the only one. For each project on your landing page, you need it to link to a new page where you describe the creative process and the role you played in bringing it to life.
Ask yourself these questions as you decide how to tell each project’s story:
- Who was the client?
- What was the objective of the project?
- What role did you play?
- Who were your collaborators?
- What did your initial sketches look like?
- How did you refine your approach to achieve the final result?
- What result did it accomplish?
Answer these questions and you’ll tell a story to prospective clients about who you are and how you work. It shows the types of companies you’ve worked with in the past and the roles you’ve played in the design process. It gives direct examples of the results you’ve accomplished, so prospective clients can begin to imagine how you might achieve similar results for them.