12 Graphic Design Portfolio Essentials (Top Tips for Landing Clients)

12 Graphic Design Portfolio Essentials (Top Tips for Landing Clients)

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This article has been contributed by Hanson Cheng.

In graphic design, looks are everything.

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No truer is this mantra than when you want to impress potential clients with your portfolio. Unlike other freelancers who woo prospects with fancy words and lengthy pitches, in design, your visuals must do all the talking.

That’s why you must assemble your graphic design portfolio with utmost care. You can’t just cobble up a portfolio and expect results.

To advance your graphic design career, you must put together a kick-ass graphic design portfolio that impresses prospects and gets you the gig. That means incorporating the latest design trends so potential clients take notice and pick you over your competitors.

What is a Graphic Design Portfolio?

A graphic design portfolio is a carefully curated collection of a graphic designer’s work.

It showcases your capabilities and convinces clients-to-be, creative directors, or hiring managers you are the real deal.

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It’s important to realize a portfolio isn’t exhaustive. You don’t have to show all the work you’ve ever done over the years to persuade people to work with you. Display just enough samples to show you know your game.

If you want to showcase more of your work, you can start a graphic design blog.

Maria Marie graphic design portfolio website

Image source: mariamarie.com

This will help you not only showcase your work but your personality as well. It will help recruiters determine if you will fit in their company culture or not. You can also go a step further and build a funnel that will attract clients or recruiters.

What Should You Include in Your Graphic Design Portfolio?

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A graphic design portfolio isn’t just a bare list of your projects. Solid portfolios add context to sway prospects.

Your portfolio must address the following about each of the projects you choose to include:

a) The Client

State the name of the company you worked with and their industry.

b) The Problem

Explain exactly what the client wanted, the problem they wanted you to solve for them.

c) The Solution

Describe how you approached the project, i.e., your tried and tested professional process that gets results every time.

d) The Reasoning

Clients love to know the reasoning behind your creative process. Explain what made you do the things you did in that project.

Remember, clients decide whether to hire you based on what’s before them. Adding context to your listed projects helps them understand your design approach and process. It inspires confidence.

You need to persuade them to regard you as a pro with a proven philosophy, not a bungling, tentative amateur who approaches each project differently. It also helps them know what to expect should they hire you.

Guiding Principles for a Killer Graphic Design Portfolio

Before we go into the components of a winning graphic design portfolio, here are some tips to make yours stand out (and grab eyeballs):

Nobody wants to associate with an old-fashioned designer who uses archaic design principles. Show off stellar recent designs in your portfolio. You’ll have prospects eating out of your hand.

Be Honest About Your Skill Level

Don’t claim you are a veteran if you started your design career last year. Be truthful about your skill level.

You can use catchy expressions like ‘a talented up-and-comer’ or ‘a hungry beginner’ to encourage clients to give you a chance.

Add a Dash of Personality

Winning portfolios have a dash of personality. People connect with people they like, know, and trust. So charm them with your personality.

With all that said, let’s get into the mechanics of creating a graphic design portfolio.

12 Graphic Design Portfolio Essentials

Graphic design portfolios come in all shapes and sizes. Different types target different people in an organization, and others work better for particular niches.

And they take different forms. You have online portfolios, PDF portfolios, or the classic hard copy. You can even include client testimonial videos.

As you can see, each design portfolio is distinctive. While each successful design portfolio is unique, the best ones have common threads you can learn from.

Let’s get into how to craft a compelling graphic design portfolio that will capture the attention of new clients.

1. Use Multi-Layered Graphic Elements

Multi-layered graphics

Image source: troteclaser.com

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In an age where minimalist and simple designs dominate the design landscape, top-level designers don’t dodge complex multi-layered designs.

They use them to flex their design muscles and impress prospects. A portfolio that doesn’t cover complicated designs is thin. And no, don’t confuse complex with confusing. You can have an intricate design that’s straightforward.

Multi-layered graphics create depth in design.

However, go easy on colorful graphics. It’s easy to get carried away. Don’t just put together a random assortment of unrelated graphics simply because you like them. Tie up your graphics with a theme for easy comprehension.

Also, tighten up your design through the minimalist approach. Is there a graphic or two you can take away and still capture the meaning? Removing unnecessary graphics makes your design tighter, bolder, and more striking.

You can still spark visual interest with a few well-chosen graphics.

Showcase your in-depth knowledge to customers-to-be by throwing in a couple of multi-layered graphics.

2. Focus on Simplicity

Leonardo da Vinci was right.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. If you truly understand a concept, you must be able to present it plainly.

No, simplicity isn’t a synonym for shallowness, as some designers think. You can present deep concepts simply but brilliantly.

First, simplicity demands that you don’t present all your work. No creative director wants to wade through tens of design pieces. They don’t have time for that. Your portfolio must showcase your best work, not all your work. Only include a few stellar pieces—just enough to show your talent.

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Next, categorize your pieces into a handful of groups. This makes it easy for people to navigate it and find what they are looking for quickly.

Finally, the design itself must be simple. Simple designs are aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly.


Because they remove all the clutter and keep only the essential elements. So people get them easily.

3. Attractive About Page

Graphic design portfolio website about me page

Image source: andrewreifman.com

Yes, as a designer, visuals dominate your portfolio.

But your about me page needs words. While your portfolio pieces show people what you can do as a professional designer, your about me page tells them who you are as a person. That’s what establishes a personal connection with prospects.

No one wants to work with a distant, impersonal person, no matter how polished their designs look. Naturally, after prospects have seen you have the professional chops to do the job, they want to know more about you.

On your about me page, share interesting personal tidbits while still showing your expertise.

  • Tell them when and how your design journey started.
  • Share who or what inspires your designs.
  • Explain what makes you or your design approach unique.
  • Present your design qualifications.
  • State how long you’ve been in the industry.
  • Talk about any prominent clients you have worked with.
  • Display any awards you have won.

Present all this info in the backdrop of an attractive page style.

4. A Touch of Interactivity

Interactive design takes standard design a step further.

Rather than simply build design elements, you create fascinating experiences for users. Done well, experiential design boosts conversions because users aren’t passive, they are active participants.

At its core, interactive design is creating a conversation between a product or system with its users. It’s close to a natural human conversation. That’s why it’s so powerful.

Interactive graphic design portfolio website

Image source: thecoolclub.co

The Cool Club has an interactive design. When users click the box, cards pop out with each click so they play a personalized game.

Interactive designs are more helpful to users than regular designs.

Other advantages of interactive design are:

  • Marries user experience (UX) design with user interface (UI) design.
  • Elicits emotional responses from users.
  • Visually attractive than motionless design.
  • Creates a more memorable impression on users.
  • Convenient for non-techie users.
  • Brings enjoyment and a personalized user experience.
  • Prompts shares and word-of-mouth advertising.
  • Dynamic designs have a competitive advantage.
  • Increased task completion because users are highly engaged.

5. Modern Design Patterns

Savvy designers keep abreast of fast-moving developments in the industry.

Experimentation, stretching of boundaries, and combining tactics are part of their workflow.

They refuse to fossilize.

Such designers impress creative directors with their relevance and sharp innovation in their projects. They use current design patterns like:

  • 3D design.
  • Monochrome and duotone.
  • Muted color palettes.
  • Cartoon illustrations.
  • Text-heavy videos.
  • Geometric shapes.
  • Social slide decks.
  • Classic serif fonts.
  • Simple data visualizations.
  • Flat icons and illustrations.
  • 3D typography.
  • Illusion design.
  • Voxel art.
  • Emoji design.
  • Nature-inspired design.
  • Gold design.
  • Typography chaos.

Following trends shows:

  1. You aren’t a dinosaur designer who’s out of touch with current trends.
  2. You are a passionate student of your craft who wants to keep learning and growing.
  3. You are a bold, insatiable designer who’s not afraid to push the envelope.
  4. You want your clients to look cool through modern creations.

No wonder hirers pick graphic designers who have modern design projects in their portfolios.

6. Make It Personalized

A portfolio is a portfolio, right?


Using a one-size-fits-all portfolio reduces your chances of getting picked. To make your portfolio stand out, tailor it to specific contexts.

Here’s how.

  • Niche-specific

Your portfolio must match the industry you are targeting. There’s no use dumping a fat portfolio with several categories covering various industries on the lap of a SaaS prospect. She won’t go through it. To improve your chances, whittle down your samples to SaaS designs.

  • Ad-specific

Every job advertisement has specific requirements. Follow them down to the tee if you want potential clients to take you seriously. Give them exactly what they ask for—no more, no less.

A personalized portfolio will be more appealing to clients as it will show them that you’re able to deliver on projects specific to their industry.

7. Name Drop

Want to inspire confidence in your capabilities?

After all, the main purpose of a graphic design portfolio is to impress prospective clients. It’s to show that you have what it takes to successfully complete their projects.

Sure, you can do that by showing your best samples.

But one thing prospective clients value more than samples is seeing real brands you’ve worked with. That’s why you must take every opportunity to name drop or mention clients you’ve worked with in the past. Doing so will not only show that you’re in demand, but it will also cause prospects to value your design skills more.

Graphic design portfolio website

Image source: heathershaw.com

The more well-known the client, the more you must give them center stage — even if the work you did for them wasn’t your best. If your best work was a pro bono project for an unknown community group, it won’t have as much impact on your prospective clients as an average job done for a popular brand.

So, by all means, name drop and show off the clients you’ve worked for.

8. Focus on Your Speciality

Pitching for jobs is all about promoting your skills better than anyone else.

A simple way to leave your contenders trailing in the dust is to market your services as a specialist designer, not a generalist.

Graphic design portfolio specialization

Image source: oddone.co

Point out that you are a specialized designer who has rare skills. Mainly include pieces in your portfolio that are related to your specialty.

Examples are:

  • Brand Identity
  • 3D Animation
  • SaaS Designs
  • Apps
  • Bars and Restaurants
  • Charities and Education
  • Corporate Brochures

People would rather hire a specialist designer because they have a higher skill level and are likely to produce high-quality work.

The best part?

Specialists get paid more.

9. Use Space to Great Effect

In graphic design, white space can be your worst enemy or best friend.

How you exploit space in your work is an acid test of your level of expertise. Sharp recruiters use white space usage as a sieve to sift the A-level designers from the so-so ones.

Website white space

Image source: hellomagda.com

Inexperienced designers cram every inch of the page with content, colors, and graphics. In other words, they are scared of space. But grizzled designers who are at the top of their game embrace space. They allow their designs to breathe and be more striking through adept use of space.

You can use space to:

  • Bring elements closer to each other through narrow spaces to show the connection between them.
  • Separate two or more elements from each other so that each element communicates a distinct message through wider spaces.
  • Remove spaces altogether, so different elements overlap to show the strong bond between them.

Clients want designers who can navigate the balance between positive and negative space in their work.

Be that classy designer.

10. Visitor Focused UI

The design doesn’t exist for itself. Its goal is to serve users otherwise it has failed.

Whether you are designing a website, app, or digital product, you want to give users a smooth and positive experience with it. That’s what user interface (UI) design is all about—giving users an intuitive experience that allows them to do what they want to do easily.

As prospects peruse your portfolio, they want to see solid evidence of good UI.

The reason?

They know that once users have pleasant experiences with their products, they will eventually become loyal buyers.

Here are a few pointers about the power of positive UI.

  • It doesn’t just blow away users with breath-taking aesthetics, but it also enhances usability.
  • It improves the efficiency and accessibility of an app or website.
  • It leads to an economy of effort for users, as they don’t waste their actions since each exertion brings about the desired result.

Your design pieces must show that you build with the visitor at heart, not just to catch the eye.

11. Wow Prospects with Split-Screen Designs

Split-screen design is popular these days.

Any designer who doesn’t include it in their portfolio isn’t trendy. Potential customers will gloss over your portfolio and focus on those that have split-screen design samples.

Graphic design portfolio split screen design

Image source: pinterest.com

Savvy designers use split-screen design because it:

  1. Makes it easy to organize information and allows users to make quick choices about what they want to do.
  2. Stands out from the countless full-screen designs everyone is using.
  3. Allows a vertical image to pop out of a page so users notice its bold elements more.
  4. Creates responsive designs that provide a smooth delightful experience for users both on desktops and mobile devices.
  5. Fashions a visual flow that guides users towards a call-to-action.
  6. Works well with other modern design techniques, thus allowing you to create complex designs.

Split-screen design means more than splitting a screen in half. Uneven splits can give weight and emphasis to one side over another.

Want to show prospects you are a contemporary designer?

Throw in split-design into your portfolio.

12. Showcase Modular Grid Patterns

The secret to a sexy design that turns heads is structure.

A grid layout is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to organize your design elements. The top-to-bottom parallel rectangles help you place elements in their perfect positions. Not only do grids group related elements, but they also guide readers’ eyes to special elements you want to draw attention to.

Modules form the building blocks of your design.

You can even separate the grids so many designers work on different aspects of the design. Then you put it all together again when everyone is done. How cool is that!

For users, the orderly placement of info makes it easy for them to find what they are looking for. Navigation is a breeze.

Time To Get Started on Your Graphic Design Portfolio

Creating a strong portfolio is an essential part of growing your graphic design career.

So you must assemble your portfolio with strategic precision.

Don’t rush it because the size of your earnings depends on it. At the end of the day, it’s all about relevance and being different. Strut your best stuff with an unforgettable flair. Then you will brush away the competition, get the gig, and bring the bacon home.


About the author: Hanson Cheng is the founder of Freedom to Ascend. He empowers online entrepreneurs and business owners to 10x their businesses and become financially independent.

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