Portfolio tips

Here are some of my guidelines for portfolios to think about when gathering your work. When you are gathering your work, don’t neglect old projects. Sometimes a 2-D class project can be repurposed into a great poster or editorial layout!

– Include 8 to 12 of your very best pieces. Ask people to help you edit ruthlessly.

– Always have a web presence. I’ve had professionals say they will not even considering calling someone for an interview unless they have a website. Consider these sites to get one up quickly.

– Always have a business card at the ready with current information and an email address that is not school related or oddly named. Get a quality card to show that you care. Moo cards Vistaprint

– If you don’t know what industry you are aiming for, craft your portfolio as 1/3, 1/3, 1/3. This could be 1/3 editorial design, 1/3 illustration, 1/3 web, for starters.

– When dividing the work up, a good rule of thumb are the categories for the Addy awards. See here or the separate post. You can start with the student categories.

– If not dividing the work up, make a separate portfolio for each kind of job you want. Using the container/board method outlined below allows you to trade out and reorder work very easily for your physical portfolio.

Shooting your work:
When representing dimensional items like a CD jewel case or a brochure, having an interesting product shot is the way to go for representing the item in your portfolio. Set your items up in good lighting, such as diffused daylight, and shoot high resolution.


The Physical Portfolio

Are you buying a book?

Check here or Michael’s….

Or, these cool engraved books…

Or are you finding a really cool box or other container to use? (Recommended method!)

You can either (1) mount your portfolio pieces as below or (2) create another version of your InDesign document and format it to the size of your boards/pages. See the video for an explanation of this.

Use good quality black-core board or black-core foam board. Cut the edges neatly or have a shop do it. Always format your boards so that they face the same direction, i.e. landscape or vertical. Use spray mount or studio tack so that the mounting is flat with no ripples.

If you are mounting a single image on the front, use this guideline to place your image, making sure you leave space on the lower right or left for a consistent labeling technique.


Make sure everything is spelled correctly!!



My favorite way to mount work is to lay my labels and image out as a single print from InDesign, then print the work, mount it on the board, and THEN trim. That way, you don’t have to center your work or mount work and labels individually.

The PDF Portfolio

In InDesign, make sure the images for your portfolio are 300ppi. You can downsample the PDF in Acrobat to a friendly size, something like under 5mb. I am not a fan of creating an interactive PDF to showcase work; these are usually too large to email. Don’t forget to create (and spellcheck, and proof) a resume page, and include your contact info on every page in an unobtrusive format.



What is an identity standards manual?

An identity manual, or standards manual, governs the look, feel and voice of a logo, which represents a brand. Especially in the case of a large entity like a university or large museum, this manual can help keep the integrity of a brand in one piece. Most of these manuals are now online for a quick and easy reference, This online version may also include high resolution downloads of the logo for use and preferred Pantone colors.


Western Kentucky University’s standards manual


The Smithsonian



An extensive one for University of California Riverside:






Brand identity, Lovemarks, and the successful logo

In college, you learn color theory, gestalt theory, semiotics and other lines of research in order to inform the creation of a logo or a “mark.” But what happens when marketing meets the “mark?” Then, you have the creation of a “lovemark.” Lovemarks are brands to which a consumer has developed an emotional attachment. These attachments can be quite strong, as evidenced by this image.

Here is a collection of links to consider when pondering the difference between logo, brand, and identity, and which logos are connected to a brand who have ascended to the emotional status of “lovemark.”

The difference between brand, identity and logo

What makes a logo successful?

But I LOVE Starbucks!! (Lovemarks)

Here is an exercise to grow your identity acumen: Pick one Paul Rand logo from the above site (or one from your current environment). Answer the question: Why are these logos successful (or are they successful)? You may reference use of elements of design, such as line, shape, direction, size, color, value, or principles of design, such as balance, contrast, scale, unity, repetition, etc. Here are some guiding questions. 

Line: is it horizontal (restful)? vertical (active)? diagonal (unsettling)?

Shape: Is there a dominant shape? Closed or open?

Direction: Is it “pointing” a certain way? Why? Are there emotional connotations to the direction?

Size: Is there a tension happening in scale?

Color/Value: For the single color logo, are there changes in value? What does this do for the logo?

Balance: Is there symmetry? Asymmetry? How?

Contrast/Scale/Unity/Repetition: Is there a change in the scale of items that are repeated?
Does the logo reproduce well at a small size, such as 1″ x 1″ or the size of a postage stamp? Does it drop line width, legibility, or design elements at such a small scale?

Does it work well in a single color, such as black? (I recommend designing a logo in black and white only at the beginning of every project).

You can blend several of the items above into a single statement about the logo. Don’t be afraid to make your observations. There is no right or wrong way of looking…there is only looking until you see. 🙂

Googling, copyright and trademarks

Oh! So I can keep up by researching on Google for my projects, right? Um, not really. One word: plagarism. Sources of inspiration are commonplace in graphic design. We look at magazines, the work of others and Google to get ideas (which is not, in and of itself, a bad idea). However, the designer must know the difference between inspiration and plagiarism Inspiration, as simple as it sounds, inspires. Plagiarism takes the work of others and presents it as your own. Additionally, plagiarism is copyright infringement, especially if the original image came from Google. You must abide by the licensing agreement of an image in order to avoid copyright infringement and plagiarism. When in doubt, remember it’s not plagiarism or copyright infringement if you are stealing from yourself, using your own sketchbooks for inspiration. For more information, see: http://www.gunotardian.co.uk/education/2007/jan/23/highereducation.uk1

Click here for more about the difference between a copyright and a trademark, and more about registering both…

Click here for the United States Copyright Office.