Portfolios for creative arts jobs

June, 2016

Containing a range of your best and most recent work, portfolios help you to stand out and show employers what you can do

Jon Unwin, director of The School of Communication Design at Falmouth University and Gareth Hughes, AKQA art director, offer their advice on creating the perfect portfolio…

Why is a portfolio important for jobs in the creative arts?

Jon: It represents the culmination of your studies - your subject knowledge, craft skills, communication skills and creative thinking. It's the only tangible vehicle to articulate your creative potential to a future employer.

Gareth: It demonstrates what you're capable of and is one of the few ways you can stand out in the creative arts. Experience of course has its merits, but a portfolio is a way of showing off any self-initiated projects, which I find far more interesting than client work.

A portfolio shows enthusiasm and a creative's ability to innovate and break the mould. It can also be a peek into the owner's personality and their interests - whether you're meticulous and sweat the details or more conceptual and willing to try new things.

A portfolio shows enthusiasm and a creative's ability to innovate and break the mould. It can also be a peek into the owner's personality and their interests

What should a portfolio include?

Jon: Firstly, it's about quality not quantity. It should represent the best of what you do. Time is precious at an interview so don't dilute your best work with 'padding' that you're not excited to present. The conceptual thinking behind your work is key; hopefully it will be self-explanatory, but if it needs context keep it to a minimum.

As well as delivering a physical portfolio you need to think about what other media you will use - a PDF, a personal website or social media are all worth considering.

Gareth: A portfolio should only contain projects that you're proud of. Deciding which projects make it is a tough decision, especially if you've toiled over a project for months but it doesn't demonstrate what you'd like.

Drop anything that may distract from your strongest work. Unfinished projects are completely acceptable to include, but low fidelity sketches require the viewer to imagine how something could be, which risks losing the impact of an idea.

A minimum of three projects are needed to show variety and competence. There is no maximum for an online portfolio as long as the strongest are surfaced. For an interview however, a portfolio of up to six projects allows you to have a focused amount of work to proficiently talk through and discuss. Your ability to talk through your work is just as important as the work itself in this scenario.

Personal style seems to be a general concern for students, but it shouldn't be. The broader your abilities the better. As trends change, a portfolio that demonstrates that you're willing to try new things has never been so relevant.

What's your advice to anyone putting together their portfolio?

Jon: It should include work in-progress and not be past its sell-by date. Always end with, 'and here's what I'm working on now'. We encourage students to be ambitious and identify who they want to work with rather than take a blunderbuss approach to their communications. As a result, they recognise the need to tailor their portfolios in relation to each potential contact.

Gareth: Keep it simple and let the work stand out. Keep descriptions concise and the imagery clear. Potential employers are usually time scarce, and the less time they spend trying to navigate your portfolio, the more time they will end up viewing it. It seems obvious but even experienced designers get carried away with how the portfolio looks over how it works.

Most importantly, show the work you want, not what (you think) the audience wants. Opportunities can arise when you display passion for your work.

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