For opportunities that require demonstration of design and artistic abilities, the portfolio presents artifacts that visually document your skills and experience as well as your future direction. The presentation of your work should be thoughtfully organized and demonstrate strong attention to detail, clear navigation, and depending on your career field, may include both finished work as well as process work showing how you arrived at your final design.

Portfolio Development—Four Phases

  • 1. Prephase

    • Documenting work and organizing files (this should be an on-going practice throughout your career)

    • Self-assessment: understanding unique skills and qualities

    • Identifying general career direction

    2. Initial Phase

    • Clarifying purpose of portfolio
    • Selecting work to include
    • Choosing presentation format
    • Assessing your own technical skills to produce the portfolio and selecting appropriate tools to use

    3. Production Phase

    • Organizing, updating, and digitizing your work
    • Choosing the layout and design of your pages or formatting of your website
    • Creating your portfolio

    4. Presentation Phase

    • Strategies for distribution
    • Interviewing skills
    • Updating and maintenance

Phase 1


As you complete projects both in and outside of the classroom, build a habit of documenting your work. From scanning sketches and photographing pieces to creating an organizational system to maintain all digital files, documentation of your work is critical. Document everything so when you do assemble your portfolio you can then select what to include and what to leave out. If it is not documented, you won’t have that choice. When photographing your work, give thought to the background and lighting, and ensure clarity of images.

Identifying your career direction and skills

Online resources are available to help you explore career paths. Additionally you can access assistance through individual career advising appointments and DSGN career classes.

Phase 2

Know your audience

Who are you creating your portfolio for? The purpose of your portfolio will help you determine its content and format. What kinds of projects, skills, knowledge, and abilities are of most interest to those reviewing it? A portfolio can be tailored to the type of work you want to pursue and more narrowly to how your work fits with a particular organization.

Your audience might be as broad as “the animation industry” or narrower such as “ABC landscape architecture firm.”

Select your best work

Your portfolio does not need to include every project you have ever completed. What work are you most excited about and most proud of? Which projects demonstrate your most relevant skills for the opportunity for which you are applying? Be selective and choose your best work to represent you. Decide what story you want to tell about yourself and your work and select the projects that express this story.

Depending on your career field and purpose of your portfolio, including work outside of your primary area is one way to broaden your demonstration of design capacity. For example, an architecture student might include a page or two of photography or another type of art that is a part of their skill set. Remember though that your portfolio should primarily focus on work that aligns with the type of opportunity for which you are submitting your portfolio.


Your career field and the purpose of your portfolio will determine the format. An architecture firm might request a pdf of your portfolio while an application for an artist residency might request a select number of images of your work or a link to your artist website. If you plan to pursue work that requires skills such as motion graphics, a website will enable you to show these types of projects. Be sure to check for and follow any instructions in the application such as maximum file size or number of images. To review a variety of presentation styles, search online for examples of professionals’ portfolios in your field.

Phase 4

Ask for feedback

Solicit feedback from a variety of people. Career Services advisors can help you with getting started. Create a draft and ask peers for feedback. Attend career events that offer portfolio critiques. Talk with your professors and ask for them for feedback. Connect with practicing professionals; ask for a review and advice on how to improve your presentation. Use feedback from multiple critiques to help you create the best presentation of your abilities!