We all have that dream client we really want to work with. Maybe it’s a particular company, or maybe it’s a more general industry. Regardless, your design portfolio is a key component of your strategy to actually get those clients—whether you want to land more freelance design jobs or get your dream job at your dream company.
Learning how to create a design portfolio that speaks to your ideal client and makes them want to work with you is easier than you might think. Let’s jump straight into it.
What do you want to communicate?
What do you want to communicate to your ideal client? What do they need to know about you and your work?
This is the first thing you need to determine when creating a new portfolio design. The first impression of you a client gets will most likely be through your portfolio. If you don’t know what your portfolio needs to say, how will your ideal clients figure out what you want them to know?
Art by mattcolewilson
Study the competition
It’s always a good idea to do a little recon on your competition when designing your portfolio. See how they’ve conveyed the information clients are looking for and figure out how you can do it better.
You don’t want to steal another designer’s ideas, but knowing how they’ve addressed key aspects of client communication.
"See how they’ve conveyed the information clients are looking for and figure out how you can do it better."
Make a list of your key competition, those designers who are landing the same kinds of clients you want to land. Then spend some time studying how each of their portfolios presents their designs, the information they choose to include, and any other information they make available. Figure out where their portfolios exist, too. Is it just on their own website or do they have portfolios elsewhere, too? That may provide key insight into where their clients are finding them.
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Show your personality
Yes, clients hire designers based on their work. But they also want to work with designers who have personalities they find interesting or compatible with the image they feel their project should have.
Making your portfolio uniquely you makes you stand out from other designers. You’ll want to make sure that the personality you’re projecting is compatible with the type of client you’re after (i.e., if you’re aiming for financial sector clients, a portfolio that’s more punk rock than Wall Street might not be the smartest idea).
Think about the aspects of your personality that your clients would relate to. Emphasize those aspects in your portfolio. Don’t change who you are, but consider the elements that support your expertise and your understanding of client needs.
Art by Aycan Doganlar
Choose the right design projects
Now let’s get down to the business of what to actually include in your portfolio. If you’ve been designing for any length of time, you likely have a broad range of client projects you could pull from. And it can be tempting to just include it all, thinking you’ll improve your chances that something will resonate with the clients you want.
That’s the wrong approach though. You’re curating a specific experience with your portfolio to target particular people.
If you have projects you’re proud of within the industry you’re targeting, it’s obvious to include those. But maybe you only have one or two projects in that category. That’s okay. Think about other projects you’ve worked on that targeted industries with a similar client base. For example, if you wanted to target women’s clothing retailers, what other projects have you worked on that were also geared toward female end users?
"Think about other projects you’ve worked on that targeted industries with a similar client base."
You can also look at client projects that are in loosely related industries. Taking the women’s clothing retailers from the last example, you might include any other e-commerce sites you’ve designed.
As already mentioned, you don’t have to include every project you’ve ever worked on in your portfolio. You’re better off to include 5–10 really stellar projects rather than 20 that you feel so-so about.
Be sure to include a description of the work you did on each project. Talk about what the client’s goals were and how you achieved them. If you have any statistics about how your work benefited the client, include those, too. Be careful not to use designer jargon in these descriptions. You want them to be relatable to the clients reading them.
Art by Lauren Griffin
Use the right language
Every industry and consumer group has its own particular language patterns. Finance and legal are generally formal. Sports and entertainment are usually much more casual. Companies targeting Gen Z are going to use more slang, while those targeting Baby Boomers will likely use a lot less (or at least, very different slang).
Study the language used on the sites of companies in your target market. Pay attention to how formal or informal they are, if they use a conversational tone, or if they use particular words, phrases, or jargon. Make note of repeating patterns between them. Those are the industry standards and you’ll want to mimic them in your own copy.
Art by Aristide Benoist
Create a strategy behind your design portfolio
Targeting your design portfolio to the clients you want to attract isn’t complicated. It just takes deliberate choices that show your expertise for handling their projects. Work through the steps, do your research, and don’t be afraid to curate your design portfolio to entice them to work with you.
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