Putting Together A Portfolio – Architects and Designers

This article is designed to provide a guide for design candidates who need to put together a portfolio for interviews they have. We also last year created a graduate specific version which you can view here: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. This guide should provide information for all levels of design candidates.

If you are an experienced candidate with a number of years experience, your portfolio is likely to be made up of around 90% practical project experience and maybe 10% university work. We think it’s important to keep the practical and academic experience separated with the focus being on the work that YOU have undertaken as a designer in a professional environment. As your career develops, the percentage of the portfolio that is academic based should decrease as the practical/professional experience takes precedence so if you are nearing 2 decades of experience, it’s fairly obvious that most firms will probably not want to see your university sketches.

Your portfolio is in essence what shows a potential employer how you approach a design problem and the design solution you come up with. Therefore it should be fairly detailed including work from earliest design briefs and sketches through to more detailed final drawings and any models (3D or physical) constructed. It should tell the story of a project and be easy to follow and most importantly show the employer your strengths and what you could bring to their company. A lot of design portfolios simply include pretty 3D renderings or photographs of the final or completed design. These are important but only show a small part of the process you have completed. If you have spent a year working on a project, show a year’s worth of work. Compile the portfolio in reverse chronological order starting with your most recent work first and working backwards. Include some written descriptions if necessary but remember this is a visual tool. Also make sure you include any drawings you have done with specialist software to reaffirm the information on your CV (e.g. Rhino, Maya, 3D Max, Environmental Modelling Software).

'Susanne Schuricht' photo (c) 2007, Sascha Pohflepp - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A lot of people ask us how big their portfolio should be in terms of amount of content. We are of the opinion that you should almost take along too much work and then from your research prior to interview (and feeling at interview) decide which parts of the portfolio you will spend most time on – if you take a large portfolio, remember you don’t need to go through all of it, allow the interviewer to feedback and guide you if you are unsure. We go into more detail on presenting the portfolio in our Interviewing Successfully (Part 1 and Part 2) article.

We are also asked how big physically the portfolio should be. We would say that 90% of the portfolios we see are A3 size. This is usually the easiest size to transport to and from interviews and is usually enough to present a high enough level of detail. The best portfolios are those that are presented in a binder/folder and can be flicked through like a book during interview. Take the time to organise the portfolio in a folder or bind it – there is nothing worse than someone scrabbling through loose sheets of paper trying to find a drawing. And then you have to reorganise it for every interview.

This leads on to whether you should show a hard copy (paper) portfolio or an electronic (PDF/Power Point/etc) portfolio. We think that most companies still prefer to see hard copy printed portfolios. However, in the age of more specialist software tools and 3D renderings it can be useful to have an electronic copy as well. If you do take along an electronic portfolio we’d recommend taking your own laptop – an employer may not have the ability to read a CD or USB memory stick in the interview room. Make sure the laptop is fully charged and if necessary turned on when the interview starts. Organise the portfolio efficiently ideally into one presentation file as a PDF or equivalent. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to locate an image in the midst of hundreds of folders – it’s akin to sifting through a pile of loose papers as outlined above. It’s ok to have some separate files to show, just make sure you can access them easily and quickly. For example you may have created a video fly-through to show alongside your image portfolio.

Finally, once you have completed a portfolio ready to present at an interview, we highly recommend creating a condensed, email-able selection of work samples to send with an initial application. This does not have to be as extensive as the full portfolio but should give a flavour of your design experiences. We think that 10-20 PDF pages/slides is more than sufficient and generally speaking try to keep this file size below 5MB so it can pass through most email systems.



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