How to Create a Compelling Printed Portfolio

As any marketing professional will tell you, packaging counts — especially when you're creating a printed portfolio. Putting together a strong book doesn't have to be a daunting process. Just try out the following steps for building a compelling portfolio:

Selecting samples

The first step is deciding which pieces to include - the goal is to select items that best represent your core strengths and industry experience while showcasing your creativity, technical ability and range. Choose 10-12 work samples that demonstrate the breadth and depth of your abilities. Include eye-catching items that highlight your ability to think strategically, communicate complex concepts, utilize multiple software applications and solve real-world problems within the framework of a client's objectives. And, avoid showing work that is more than five years old.

Organizing items

The method of organization you choose will depend on the type of client you're targeting as well as your experience. Many corporate clients, for example, are interested in an industry-specific portfolio that demonstrates all the pieces you've produced that relate to their line of business. Some agencies and clients, however, will prefer to review samples by media specialty. It's a good idea to call ahead and see how the interviewer would prefer your work to be organized. Professionals just beginning their careers may want to organize their portfolios chronologically, with their most recent projects first, since this method emphasizes creative development.

Customizing content

Ultimately, your portfolio should resemble a well-written resume - it should be relevant and easily customized. Always match your qualifications with the unique needs of the potential employer. Researching the company's website, learning about its history and the various products and services it provides, and any material it produces (e.g., brochures, annual reports, design samples), will help you identify which of your talents will best serve the company.

Finalizing the look and feel

Creating a compelling portfolio isn't just about including the right number and assortment of samples. It's also about making your collection of work aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. Following are some ideas for displaying your items for maximum impact.

  • Select a portfolio format that complements your particular style and body of work.
  • Make sure all samples are free of smudges, folds, tears or extraneous markings.
  • Show one item at a time to avoid a chaotic, cluttered look.
  • Use pocket pages for your resume, biography, client list, and any disks or tapes; carry bulky or odd-shaped items separately.
  • Label each sample with the name of the client for whom you produced the piece (with their permission) and the date, a sentence or two explaining the work and your role in the project, and all software applications used.