Guide for Early-Career Designers: Building a Winning Portfolio

The early-career designer's guide to portfolios and presentations.

Guide for Early-Career Designers: Building a Winning Portfolio
Last Edited :

(Shoutout to our mentors Vikalp Gupta, Aiswarya Kolisetty, and Shreya Agarwal for their inputs on this list!)

If you’re an early-career designer, know this: a standout portfolio and sharp presentation skills are indispensable if you’re looking to leave a great impression.

They don’t just display your creativity, but also prove your capacity to break down complexity, present ideas in ways that resonate, and showcase your design sensibilities!

If you’re in the process of putting your portfolio together, prepping for interviews, or even giving presentations – these FAQs will help 👇🏼

How should I select projects for my portfolio?

Here’s how you should prioritise what to add to your portfolio:

  • Projects that are live that you’ve had significant contribution to.
  • Projects where you had a significant contribution and was paid for, even if it hasn’t gone live yet
  • Projects that are live and where you had important contributions even if not significant
  • Projects where you had a significant contribution and you spent considerable time on (at least 1 – 3 months at a minimum), whether live or not.

Focus as much as possible on projects that have gone live, and had users engage with. The more contact with reality, the better your experience!

What is the best way to present my work in my portfolio?

Tell a compelling story with each project. Explain the vision, the user challenges, and how your solution made a difference. Provide context without resorting to jargon or listing steps. Use visual aids like infographics or diagrams to reduce text and enhance understanding.

Remember, your portfolio's design reflects your taste and craftsmanship.

Here’s a great example of a strong portfolio:

Should I use the same presentation deck for all purposes?

No, create different decks for live presentations and for sending to viewers for passive consumption. Live presentations should highlight your speaking, with slides as support. Include detailed slides as supplementary material for interested viewers.

How should I document my design process?

Focus on outputs and outcomes rather than just your process inputs. Wondering what this means?

An input is the specific technique used to research users, or to make wireframes.
The output is the high-fidelity prototype worked on with the developer to deploy.
The outcomes is the impact made on the users and the business.

Discuss what you learned, the challenges you faced, and how you overcame them. Showcase your designs, prototypes, and customer feedback, emphasizing the business impact of your work.

How can I articulate my design decisions effectively?

Clearly explain why you chose a particular design direction, the constraints, and the alternatives you considered. If there were disagreements with stakeholders, describe how you navigated these differences. Connect your decisions back to the initial vision and problem.

What are some common mistakes to avoid in my portfolio?

Avoid spelling and grammatical errors by using tools like Grammarly or ChatGPT. Ensure your portfolio is mobile-friendly and accessible. Practice time management to cover all important points within your allotted time.

How can I prepare for a presentation?

Do a test run with a friend, focusing on adherence to this guide and ensuring clarity of communication.

Practice with both designers and non-designers to gauge their understanding and interest. Get the logistics right: clear audio, good lighting, and seamless screen sharing. Start with a strong introduction and maintain high energy and confidence throughout.

How should I follow up after my presentation?

Thank the audience for their time, offer your contact details for further questions, and reflect on your presentation's strengths and areas for improvement.

Tips for staying relaxed and confident during presentations:

Prepare thoroughly, ensure you've had enough rest, and have summary notes handy.

If you get nervous, it's okay to take a brief pause. Familiarize yourself with your narrative in advance to reduce anxiety, and practice telling the story out loud as much as possible.

Remember, building a great portfolio is about showcasing your skills through real-world projects, telling compelling stories, and presenting your work confidently. Use this guide as a roadmap to creating a portfolio that stands out.

Rigorous portfolio prep, including 1:1 reviews with industry-experienced, practicing mentors is a key aspect of our Product Design Fellowship. Small-group classes only – explore here.

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