What creative directors are really looking for in an online portfolio
Your online portfolio is a showcase of your current design ability, packaged and presented in the best light possible. You’ve worked hard on it, shown it to friends and mentors for feedback, and polished it some more. Problem is, so has every one else. Creative Directors receive around 200+ emails per day and are sent a tsunami of links to portfolios and resumes. How can you stand out in a world full of noise and an overwhelming amount of competition? Here are three key things to keep in mind as you develop the web presence that will get you the job you want.
1. Your Online Portfolio (a.k.a Your Website)
First impressions count and your website is the very first thing you're going to be judged on. How you present your work (i.e. the design and user experience of your website) is as important as the work itself, if not more.
Take Justin Gignac from nycgarbage.com, a New York City artist and entrepreneur who began selling garbage in 2001 after co-workers challenged the importance of packaging design. To prove them wrong, he set out to find something that no one in their right mind would ever buy, and package it to sell. He took inspiration from the dirty streets of Times Square, and decided that garbage was the perfect answer. Thirteen years later, over 1,400 NYC Garbage Cubes have been sold to 30 countries around the world.
I’m not saying you should focus all your energy on the presentation without thinking about the content. But the way your portfolio comes across to a potential client or employer will either make your work shine or be its downfall. Creative directors are no different than anyone else online. They want a clean, uncluttered and easy-to-navigate user experience, too.
Questions to ask as you build your website:
• Is it mobile-responsive?
• Does it have a user-friendly curating system?
• Is your name and/or logo clearly visible in the top header?
• Do you have (well-taken) photos or renderings of your work?
• Are you making the most out of your real estate to show off big images?
• Can visitors easily share your work on social media?
If you don’t have the time to build a permanent site right now, create some kind of professional online presence at the very least on sites like theloop.com.au, behance.net, cargocollective.com or coroflot.com.
2. Your Design Ability
Once your website has convinced a creative director to take you seriously, your work should speak for itself. Only put your most impressive work in your portfolio. Work that you feel represents your design ability and depth of thinking. It's also important to showcase work that ties in with the type of role you are applying for. Here are two key things to keep in mind:
Use a grid system
Whether you stay in the grid or break out of it, you must have one. Why? Because you need to organize the information in a hierarchy that’s easily digestible, alluring and pleasant to look at. It can be four columns, six columns, or 12 columns–see what works best for the brief or task.
At the risk of stating the obvious: typography can make or break your design and your site. If kerning and leading text aren’t second nature just make sure everything is legible and consistent.
Pro-Tip: If you need to flesh out a fledgling portfolio with more work, go beyond the college briefs creative directors have seen time and time again. Invent your own brief. Or better yet, do pro-bono work for a charity. This way your work is “live” and the employer can see the tangible outcome of your efforts. It will show passion, and the ability to go above and beyond.
3. Your Concept
No matter how extraordinary your design work is, if it’s not put into context by an overarching concept or strategy then it will fall flat. In order for your design direction to be on target, don’t be led astray by aesthetics. Be led by relevance. I cannot emphasize this point enough. This requires you to do adequate research before beginning any design brief. The more you know about your communication objectives (for a project proposal or personal portfolio), the target audience demographic, the culture of the brand, the perceptions of the market and the environment the design will be seen in, the clearer your mind will be when making design decisions.
The goal of your portfolio is to ultimately create enough interest and intrigue for an employer to contact you for an interview. If they at least get a snapshot of your abilities and see a spark of brilliance, whether it’s in your design execution or your clever ideas, then your portfolio has done its job.
For more, pick up a copy of Castillo's internationally and industry-acclaimed book How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed.