The 4 Things We Look For in Design Portfolios

by Caitlin

Hiring designers has admittedly always been a challenge for us at Lifeblue. We have high standards, and we’re unwilling to compromise on the quality of what we deliver to our clients and their customers.

In regularly reviewing design portfolios, we’ve noticed the chatter happening in communities all over the web on this topic, including on a recent LinkedIn post on the value of context in a portfolio.

We’ve compiled a list of the things we look for in a design portfolio in the hopes of sharing our perspective on the topic -- and what’s valuable to us. 

Talent

First and foremost, we’re looking for digital talent. While this might seem obvious, it bears repeating: We are a digital agency. As much as we love print work -- we often use it as a source of inspiration -- it’s not in our wheelhouse. We are most often helping our clients bring their brands to life in the digital space and navigating what that looks and feels like for them and their customers. So naturally when we look at a portfolio, we want to see samples of what digital work a designer has produced and how they’ve tackled some of these same challenges.

TLDR; Know what type of work your potential employer does and include relevant samples in your portfolio. 

The “Why”

It’s not enough just to post a pretty picture of something and let it “speak for itself.” We’re constantly pushing for the “why” behind a design, and we’re often left wanting more. This is not to say we need a novel, but accompanying a design with an explanation -- why you created this thing, what your constraints and challenges were, why it ended up as it did -- goes a long way to letting us know your thought process and if you’d be a good fit for us. Attribution plays a role here, too -- you should always clarify which part of a project you contributed to and if you collaborated with others to produce it.

TLDR; Don’t just make pretty things, make pretty things and be able to explain why you made them. Don’t take credit for things you didn’t make on your own.

Communication/Language

As a digital agency, we’re always selling our work to clients. Not in a lofty Mad Men kind of way where we hope to end the day with a whiskey and a cigarette, but in a sincere, “We are experts, and you paid us for our expertise, so here is a legitimate reason for why we believe this approach will work for your business” kind of way. The ability to articulate and explain your design decisions is a critical one. Any ability to display this skill on a portfolio is valuable, whether it be through your descriptions or sketches of your process.

TLDR; Be able to walk the walk and talk the talk.

Presentation Is Everything

It should go without saying, but resumes and portfolios should look good. We come across a surprising number of portfolios and resumes from designers that don’t look ... well ... like they were put together by a designer. We don’t expect our designers to be developers, but there are a ton of free templates and resources that make it easy to have things neat and clean for presenting your work online. Take advantage of these and put together something that showcases your abilities.

TLDR; Your resume and portfolio should communicate to someone that you’re a designer.

We understand every agency is different, but we believe that these are best practices for any designer looking to connect with professionals industrywide, including potential employers or clients. If you have thoughts you’d like to share on this topic, join the conversation with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.