Working on your portfolio as a new graphic designer

Graphic design is a really saturated freelancing area but new artists and designers still find success on a regular basis. There’s a simple reasoning behind all of this: art is ever-changing, it’s highly subjective and different people love different things.

When I talk about graphic design I mean the term in a broader sense, including digital illustrations, digital art, logo designing, just designing your university club’s banner for an upcoming event. It’s important to keep all these designs saved up – if for no other reason than to just keep them on your portfolio.

A Graphic Designer’s Portfolio

Having a portfolio is important because it lets your potential clients take a look at the kind of art you’re capable of providing them with. Some artists are amazing with pixel art while others prefer drawing more photo-realistic content. That’s just two categories out of many.

Digital portfolios generally follow a few basic guidelines.

Keep everything simple

Categorize your artwork so that it’s easier to browse through for your clients. This is primarily why it’s not a good idea to use something like Instagram as a portfolio. Simply because you might have hundreds of designs and Instagram doesn’t really let you organize them into different categories.

There’s still plenty of reasons to use it though! Social networks like Instagram allow you to reach an audience you might have otherwise ignored, it’s just very hard to monetize it.

Keep everything updated

There’s two primary reasons for this, the first of which is pretty straight-forward. You want your best work to be in front and that’s what you want your clients to look at. Simply take a look at your older work every time you update your portfolio. If there’s anything that doesn’t seem up to your standard – get rid of it.

The other reason for keeping your portfolio up to date is that art evolves, what seemed like an amazing looking logo ten years ago might not be “modern” enough today. One would think this isn’t really a big deal but even Google changed their logo multiple times, go take a look at their older logos!

Make it easy to contact you

This only applies to people who use third-party websites to host their portfolio, I’m talking websites like ArtStation and Behance. If you make an account on those websites, make sure you fill out your profile bio, social media links and contact information. Keep it updated as well!

Some artists do prefer to stay anonymous and while it does make it a little hard to get clients while staying anonymous, there’s definitely ways around that.

Be unique

This is perhaps one of the hardest advice to follow but doing so successfully makes you stand out. Your description, your tagline, your landing page, everything that can be customized, should be. Being unique isn’t hard when you’re being yourself, there’s only one of you on this planet so if you just follow your heart, it shouldn’t be hard to be unique.

Yea that got a little bit too motivational for my taste, moving on!

Keep everything professional

Yes it might seem like a good idea to be a little bit edgy or funny but remember, you’ll be sending your portfolio to potential clients and employers.

The reason it’s a good idea to keep everything professional is actually quite simple: it’s the least amount of risk. No one’s ever going to get mad at you or disapprove of you for “being too professional” – that’s never going to happen and if a potential employer dislikes professionalism, you’re much better off without them.

Organize everything, categories everywhere!

This is only possible if you’re using a professional portfolio website, or if you have a portfolio on your own blog. Make categories and different galleries for all of your artwork so your clients can easily find what they’re looking for.

If someone’s only interested in flat logo designs, they don’t want to scroll through dozens of banners looking for logos. Keeping everything in different categories allows your clients to easily browse through your work.

Build your portfolio

But what do you do if you don’t have a lot of stuff on your portfolio to being with? This is where the grind starts. Remember how I started off this post by saying that the market is saturated? Well it is! If you’re interested in being a professional graphic designer then you’re going to need a portfolio, but how do you put stuff on your portfolio if you’ve never been a profession graphic designer?

Volunteer

Offer up your services for completely free, if money isn’t an immediate concern for you then this is the best possible method of adding more items to your portfolio. You might be asking yourself, “why should I volunteer for someone else if I can just make more logos on my own”, well you’re not wrong! If your only aim is to add more items to your portfolio then just sit at home and start working.

But that’s not why I suggest volunteering! You should go out and voluntarily work for free because in doing so, you’ll be getting new clients. These are the people who you have worked with in the past and if they really like your work, maybe they’ll get in touch with you in the future. Just make sure you let them know that it won’t be for free the next time around.

Finding volunteer work

Is there a business near your home that has a bad logo? Approach them and offer to work on it for free. Tell them that you’ll gladly show them a few concept designs and if they like any, they can have it for free.

Let them know you’re doing this to build up your portfolio, ask them for a testimonial simple at the end, put it in the description of your final artwork.

Work for pennies

If paying bills isn’t your primary concern then in my opinion, you should be volunteering for free. But not everyone’s interested in working for free to why not just work for an absurdly low amount?

You can even sell it as a “limited time” offer since you’re just starting out and are looking for new clients. Design agencies do it all the time, why can’t you?

Ask your friends and family

For a vast majority of new freelancers, their family and friends are normally their first clients. If anyone in your family runs a business, you can easily offer your services to them, include a family & friends discount and you should be good.

This is a lot easier to do if you’re a graphic designer, so good luck!

Have any questions? Leave a comment.