Choose a format that works for the kind of work you are showing. There are two kinds of basic design portfolio formats:
1. Digital portfolio (i.e. laptop, iPad or tablet)
This format is perfect for designers interested in web or interactive design, motion graphics, and other multi-media platforms. You want to be able to show how everything works in real-time. Screen-grabs for this kind of work is not acceptable. If you do have screen-grabs you must also have the actual video, website, or game available to show as well.
You can create a PDF portfolio or slide-show to present, and then create links within that document to show the actual interactive piece. You can show the actual video, website, or animation throughout the presentation or at the end all at once (so you're not having to go back and forth between the slide-show and the web or QuickTime). Keep in mind, there are ways to embed video and links into slide-shows and PDF documents.
Always bring your own laptop or tablet to present. Do not assume the reviewer will have a computer you can use, so do not just bring a flash drive. Only bring a flash drive for back-up, just in case your laptop or tablet suddenly crashes.
When showing work in the form of a digital portfolio make sure everything is up and ready to go. Know where your files and links are so you're not fumbling and wasting time. The less you have to search and do during the presentation, the less nervous you'll be and the more time you'll have to talk about your work.
Finally, if you are showing packaging, books, or other printed materials in a digital portfolio, bring a few samples so the reviewer can see your hand-skills (that's if this particular reviewer/employer is interested in printed work as well as digital).
Be sure to bring a folder of resumes.
2. Physical portfolio (i.e. a binder or book with pages, or case with boards)
This format is perfect for designers interested in print design; like packaging, publishing, or branding. In a physical portfolio designers are able to highlight their type skills, hand-skills, and their ability to choose materials and colors. It's really hard to see some of these details on screen; you want to highlight a beautiful paper you selected for a design, screen-printed colors for packaging, or the mechanics of a pop-up book. Therefore, you should have those samples to show.
There are so many great options for a physical portfolio. Almost too many. You can choose a case covered in cloth, leather or metal; you can have cases custom made; you can bind your own book; or you can design a folio with individual sheets of your work. All of these (and more) are acceptable.
Here are a few things to consider to help you choose which physical portfolio format would work for you:
• Figure out what best reflects you as a designer. I've seen a quirky designer, who loves patterns and textiles, take a tiny suitcase she found at a discount store and turn it into her portfolio. She reupholstered the case with a found fabric and placed her samples and bound book of her work inside. This works well with her design aesthetic reflected in her work as well as her interests and personality.
If you and your work are a bit more sleek and sophisticated you might want to consider a metal case. If you love typography maybe consider taking a vintage book, rebinding it and turning it into your own book with pages of your work. Say you're into sustainable design, that might influence the materials you use to build your book.
Making a physical portfolio that speaks to you as a designer (especially if you customize it) tells a great story about who you are before even showing your work.
Just remember, it all has to make sense. Don't go too crazy to the point that your work gets lost in an overly designed case or book.
Designs on boards or on pages organized well in a great order that keeps the onlooker intrigued is the most important factor. So don't worry if you can't come up with a super unique way to enclose all of your work. Create something that is well constructed, professional, and simple.
• Choose a format that will be easy to carry. My undergraduate portfolio case was huge! And heavy! And since I was determined to find a job in New York City I had to carry that thing up and down subway stairs everyday until I found work. That was not easy. I developed one muscular arm (because I always carried it with my right hand), a huge purple bruise on my leg from the portfolio hitting my leg, and made a lot of New Yorkers mad if they got stuck behind me lugging that thing around.
That case was the required format we had to create in order to graduate, and despite the load that it was, I was happy with it. You on the other hand might consider something that is a bit more flexible and easy to carry.
• That leads me to scale. Make sure you create a case/book/binder that is big enough to see the work but not too big to carry. I think anything between 9"x12" and 16"x20" is ideal.
• Make sure you have samples. If you are creating a portfolio with boards you'll probably be mounting original samples, but if you're bringing a book or binder these will probably have printed pages. So make sure you have pocket, folder, or some kind of configuration to house a few samples of your work. Make sure it's protected well so it's not crushed or damaged as you go from one interview to the next.
• Be sure to bring a folder of resumes.
The last thing I will say is make sure everything is organized and clean! Whether it's a digital or physical portfolio you want to make sure it doesn't look sloppy.
I think that's everything. Am I missing something? What would you add?
Want more tips and advice, RSVP to the Pop & Fly Portfolio Review.
Great books on creating your design portfolio:
Building Design Portfolios: Innovative Concepts for Presenting Your Work by Sara Eisenman
Get portfolios made:
Hinged, Hung, Stitched