Tips on putting your portfolio together

Shock and awe. That's how I feel sometimes when I look at people's books.

It's clear when you get it. It's clear when you're talented. And you know how someone can tell? By looking at your book.

The three things you need in this industry is a good portfolio, a good personality and good connections. 

I've written about it before *ahem*

What exactly do you mean by "portfolio"? 

What your portfolio says about you
Beef up your book
What not to put in your book aka Don't Columbus other people's work
Don't Benetton Your Book
Your book will never be finished
but here is even more great advice for copywriters, art directors and developers on what to put in their book.

What Not To Put In Your Book 
From Big Orange Slide

I spend an embarrassing amount of time reviewing portfolios. Over time I’ve drawn this conclusion: for every one good book there are at least ten bad ones.  And of those bad ones, at least five are flat out horrifying.
The ones that really break my heart are the near-misses. The portfolios that show some great thinking, but are ruined by (for lack of a better term) a “deal breaker.”
A deal breaker can be anything from a misaligned font to a misspelled headline. Herewith, a list of some of the things portfolio reviewers here at Grip look for. Or judge harshly.

For Copywriters – by Leilah Ambrose

Yes, your ideas are super important. Trouble is, hidden deep in the word “copywriter” is the word “writer.” If you can’t spell check or proof your own headlines, body copy or overviews, you’re not exactly demonstrating dedication to the art.  It’s like Yul Brynner in the “Magnificent Seven” showing up to a gunfight with no bullets.
Or something.

Show elasticity:
Sure, you can prove that you have great ideas and writing chops in a series of print ad. But it helps to show off your process and creative versatility. Put your ideas into unconventional media. Find interactive elements. Talk to where you draw inspiration from. Link to blogs that you have. Celebrate your creativity and insight alongside your headlines.

Assess your WTF quotient:
Honestly, if it takes 15 minutes to explain your idea, even after showing your executions, it probably shouldn’t be in your portfolio.

Don’t Tolstoy your work:
Having breadth of thinking is good. Having breadth of thinking that rivals the length of War and Peace is not. Pick a handful of your best ideas, and the best executions of those ideas. 50 “meh” ideas don’t trump 5 great ones.

For Art Directors – by Colin Craig

Have a portfolio website:
It’s a given that every aspiring designer or art director must have a portfolio site. Even a few years ago, this could be a daunting project for the coding impaired. Now, with options like Cargo Collective and the Behance Network, it’s become far simpler to launch and maintain a professional-looking portfolio site. Use large, high-quality images. If you’re going to shoot your print work, make sure it’s crisp and well lit. Be clear about your role on each project.

Keep it professional:
Leave the Holga travel photos out. Same goes for art school paintings and neighborhood cafĂ© installations. You should keep your portfolio tightly focused on art direction and design. Personal projects within this space are a different story though – they show a passion for the field, strong motivation and drive, and are a great way to explore media you haven’t had a chance to work on professionally.

Be a chameleon:
Artists and illustrators have personal, signature styles. Designers and art directors shouldn’t. Portfolios should demonstrate an ability to follow (and stretch!) brand standards, and execute in a wide variety of looks and styles.
And I’ll second Leilah’s “Keep it tight” and “No spelling typos.” Five or six projects are more than enough if that’s the scope of your best work. Spelling errors make me question an art director’s attention to detail and work habits.

For Developers – by Doug Riches:

Provide rationale:
It’s necessary to have code examples and descriptions of the project and, when possible, the final result. But the most important aspect to all of this is the rationale. Explain why you chose the examples you did. Too often, developer portfolios read like a hum-drum list of projects. Don’t be ordinary. What I need to see is examples of the code you worked on, why it’s best practice, and why it represents your best work.

Give context to your technologies:
Almost every developer portfolio lists out the same technologies. The problem is everyone lists the same thing without context. I want to see explanations and examples of the types of code you profess to know. Avoid itemizing every technology in the world with no context of examples of how you would use them.

Define your contribution:
Don’t include your CMS-driven site without defining your role on the team, and how you were instrumental in making it awesome. This especially goes for front-end developers. When I see a cacophony of horrible CMS-generated front-end code without any context – well, it doesn’t show me that you get proper web standards.

Overall – by Jacoub Bondre

Show attention to detail:
Think Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place.” Misaligned fonts, typos, shifts in content and navigation have the ability to almost immediately disqualify you from an opportunity.  Screwing up on the hard things is fixable and understandable.  You can be trained to use 3D in flash.  Typographic flair will come with experience.  However, being lazy about your details could be construed as a character flaw. And that’s something that can’t be taught.

Be honest:
I encourage all of our interns and freelancers to put any work they do here at Grip in their portfolio.  Even if their contribution was minor, all hands that touch a project mold and affect it.  That being said, you need to be honest about your contributions to a project.  People will find out quickly if you exaggerated your involvement. And that ain’t gonna look good.

Show me the money:
Only show your BEST work, bearing in mind that your best may not be something you did for a big, recognizable brand. If you did a project for Nike that sucks, and a project for Bob’s Tackle Shop that’s amazing, show the Bob’s Tackle work.  I will also echo Leilah’s “Keep it tight” comment.  I will lose interest after a max of eight pieces.  The words “more work available upon request” can be magic.

To sum up: your portfolio is your first impression. It’s a representation of what you’ve done, and how you work. If you’ve followed the above guidelines, the only thing standing between you and a job is whether or not you’re a jerk.