What's your criteria for a good portfolio

5 years ago from , Designer

I'm am currently in the process of reviewing portfolios and can see that it could be quite subjective, it would be great to here what your process is of reviewing for example a portfolio for a visual design job.


  • Dirk HCM van BoxtelDirk HCM van Boxtel, 5 years ago

    Most important in a portfolio for ANY role:

    Show off the skills that are most vital to your role.

    That sounds silly, but a lot of us (including myself!) have at one point been guilty of showing off what else we're good at, more so than what actually applies to our role.

    Don't get lost in coming up with an original portoflio idea: getting it out there is step 1. Just let your work do the talking.

    So again: your portfolio framework (website, PDF, whatever medium) doesn't have to be the most original thing since sliced bread - as long as you can show that the work you've done is great.

    .edit: Dutch saying: "At the plumber's home, the tap is leaking." Designers being bad at displaying design skills, making for poor design! It happens :)

    12 points
  • Eric York, 5 years ago

    I teach UX, so I rely on criteria a lot. Here are the five categories I use. If you rate each criterion on a 4-point scale, you could calculate a percentage score for each portfolio by adding up the total and multiplying it by five.

    Context: There is enough information for me to understand what I'm looking at. Things have titles and headings, with more details to be had. Project listings explain roles, time spent, links to outside content etc. All in all, I get the sense, when looking, that the person who made it thought about what I knew and didn't know and tried to help their readers.

    Substance: The quality of the text and visuals is high. Relevant projects are presented clearly and effectively. There are enough projects for me make a judgement about various skills. Other site content is high quality. All in all, I get the sense that the site has real substance: the things in it matter.

    Organization: The sequencing of the content makes sense for different kinds of readers. Pages/content bits are "close together. Each section has clear focus, and different sections cohere together. All in all, I get the sense that the content has been organized with the user in mind and that it all fits nicely together.

    Style: The design and writing strikes the right balance between formal and informal. There are no visible errors in writing or UX. Normal conventions are followed except with good reason. All in all, I get the sense that style is effortless and almost invisible unless I look for it.

    Delivery: The site makes the right moves in presenting itself to users. It is polished, performant, and lightweight. Code is largely clean and readable (behind the minification, if there is any). It works in different browsers and on different devices in different conditions. All in all, I get the sense that the site has been through its paces many times and knows the ropes.

    10 points
    • dh ., 5 years ago

      An Excellent and comprehensive overview, thanks Eric!

      0 points
  • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, 5 years ago

    I see a lot of people giving advice instead of actually answering your question.

    Originality - I wanna see something that is not copy and paste of current trends. I also want to see a portfolio that highlights work and not a person's religion or whether or not they decided to reproduce. An immediate no is a portfolio that reeks of narcissism.

    6 points
  • Nick LeonardNick Leonard, 5 years ago

    We primarily employ UX Designers and Visual Designers, which have a broad set of common criteria and then role-specific criteria. Across either position, I want to see work where I can understand what the problem was, and how it was solved. I value well-reasoned, "uncool" work far more than aesthetically nice conceptual work without constraints. I want to understand the applicant's role in the work and how they worked within the team. I want to see that they understand their role deeply, that they care about details, and can communicate clearly in the written form.

    For UX roles, I want to understand how they utilized research to drive decision making, what the overall strategy was for the product, and how that translated to the final output (if that isn't the output itself). For visual designers, I want to understand what they started with, how they got to their final approach, and how they describe their design. We don't expect either role to code, so while I want to see a polished portfolio, I don't particularly care if it was built from scratch or how sound the code is.

    4 points
    • Terrell GriffithTerrell Griffith, 5 years ago

      I value well-reasoned, "uncool" work far more than aesthetically nice conceptual work without constraints.

      Thanks for saying this! I'm in the process of redoing my portfolio and I admittedly have some projects that fall into the latter category... I'll have to rethink some things.

      1 point
  • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 5 years ago

    I'm currently reworking my website as part of my portfolio update and I've been mulling over several ways to present work.

    Like Dirk mentioned, showing off the skills that are most vital to your role is imperative. I am going to assume that you've worn a lot of different hats in your career and deciding which skills are most vital can be confusing....I know it is for me. In that case, I would showcase the skills for the career path you want to continue down....so if you are happy with visual design, tailor your portfolio to that...if you're into design leadership, tailor your work to showcase how you've managed a team and the collective outcomes.

    When I am reviewing portfolios, either student work or for a job, I keep in mind a few things....

    1) Does work presented solve a business problem? For me when I see an online portfolio presented as case studies, I delve right into understanding the problem they are trying to solve.

    2) Does the work show a whole process or just the outcomes? Call me old, but I like to see sketches or any part of the empathize/define steps of the process. This shows me how you think.

    3) Does the work sell? That sounds crazy outside the creative realm, but to me it's incredibly important. I tend to think it a more mature way of saying "Is it a good work?" because good work sells. In your example of a visual design portfolio review....if the packaging project they show in their work is bland or half thought out...it won't sell, which in turn is not aligned with solving the business problem.

    Those are my major considerations when reviewing a portfolio, but even outside of the portfolio, I am evaluating the person as well...which really requires face to face time. You can have a stellar portfolio, but if you have the personality of a sleep deprived raccoon....I'm not going to want to work with you.

    3 points
    • dh ., 5 years ago

      This is an awesome perspective and mega useful questions to ask.

      0 points
  • Richard SisonRichard Sison, 5 years ago

    If I were in your shoes, the process of reviewing would be something along the lines of:

    • Step 1: Cut the mustard. Once you've received a decent number of portfolios, gauge and shortlist them based off first impressions. This is a subjective part of the process because it really depends on your own design sensibilities, the overall quality of applicants and the level of role you're hiring for (this is important; don't expect senior-level quality when you're hiring for a junior). But I'd be asking myself questions like: Is the portfolio well designed? Is there care and attention to detail in their work? Can they articulate their design decisions well? What was their responsibility in their projects? If it's a visual design role, this should be a relatively simple and quick process.
    • Step 2: Shortlist again based off value and compatibility. If you're the one reviewing the portfolios, I'm assuming you've got a fair idea of the skills your agency/product needs. This should be the deciding criteria. When you "cut the mustard" you're largely shortlisting based off "quality" and first impressions. Here you're imagining this person in your team and asking questions like: Does this designer have the skills we were looking for? Are they at the right experience level? Do their skills (primary and secondary) complement the team's? It's very important to remember why you were hiring in the first place; don't get distracted by the shininess of their portfolio. Make sure you're judging them based off the right criteria.

    Hope this helps!

    1 point
  • Cameron SageyCameron Sagey, 5 years ago

    I think really original or conceptual thinking that shows in the work is important. Honesty about what role they had in each project, showing process work, and obviously the aesthetic. Often bad hierarchy / size relationships is a red flag, but to an extent that's a hard skill so if the thinking is there, it matters less. The way they communicate and explain their work is important too.

    1 point
    • dh ., 5 years ago

      Good point, i think the conceptual thinking is crucial to backing up the visuals - which could also explained in a conversation. I have reviewed quite a few portfolios now and i find that details are also important, for example when applying for a job as a visual designer and you can see that fonts are different sizes/colours, icons are cut off and mockups are properly put together, being able to present your work is a standard requirement.

      1 point
  • Tristam GochTristam Goch, 5 years ago

    ✔︎ HD photo of yourself

    ✔︎ Stock photo of a very tidy desk

    ✔︎ Project index that links out to Dribbble shots

    ✔︎ Inspirational quote (bonus marks if its attributed to yourself)

    0 points
  • Taylor PalmerTaylor Palmer, 5 years ago

    I wrote some of my thoughts here: https://uxtools.co/guides/making-a-great-portfolio

    0 points
  • Eliot SlevinEliot Slevin, 5 years ago

    The best folio IS a folio. I find a lot of designers get too caught up in perfection, etc. Make it super easy to update - otherwise you'll never do it.

    0 points
  • Lev MiseriLev Miseri, 5 years ago

    Good work

    0 points
  • Account deleted 5 years ago

    Is the work good? Is the work fake? Is the work theirs?

    0 points
    • dh ., 5 years ago

      what about for people working in agencies, where projects have been worked on in a team?

      0 points
      • Terrell GriffithTerrell Griffith, 5 years ago

        If you present work that was done by a team, always specify which role(s) you played in the process.

        3 points
        • Timothy McKennaTimothy McKenna, 5 years ago

          I totally agree with Terrell's point. This is something I am doing with my portfolio as creative director....spell out the role I had and showcase the team's work with proper attribution.

          1 point
        • barry saundersbarry saunders, 5 years ago

          Yeah, exactly this. All work is collaborative, tell me which bit you did and how you added to the process.

          It's more important to know you can collaborate than to think you created the whole thing on your own!

          0 points
      • Account deleted 5 years ago

        In addition to what's been said here, it's usually pretty obvious when it's teamwork. Someone will usually have a bunch of logos for their friends coffee shop and then a project for H&M thrown in the mix. If the visual styles and design levels are different it's a red flag.

        0 points