Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

4 minute read

How To Build A World-Class Design Portfolio

Six tips for building a portfolio that lands the job. Plus, peek inside the portfolios of designers at Facebook, Dropbox, and more.

  • <p><strong>Facebook designer Ben Barry</strong> has one of the most visually effective portfolios. View <a href="http://designforfun.com/" target="_blank"> it here</a>.</p>
  • <p>An example of going deep on a high-quality project is the Pinterest Creative Team’s deep dive into <a href="http://creative.pinterest.com/features/place-pins/" target="_blank">Place Pins</a>.</p>
  • <p><strong>Brigade designer Kevin Shay</strong> showcases interactions as the final part of his design process on his portfolio site. <a href="http://www.shaykevin.com/souvenir-2/" target="_blank">View his portfolio here</a>.</p>
  • <p><strong>Jason Perez, designer at One Kings Lane</strong>, shows off some amazing photography in his portfolio. <a href="http://www.theworkofjasonperez.com/#/photography/" target="_blank">View his portfolio here</a>.</p>
  • <p><strong>Dropbox designer Francine Lee</strong> uses Medium to show off her fantastic user research process. <a href="https://medium.com/%40___fl/a-guerilla-usability-test-on-dropbox-photos-e6a1e37028b4" target="_blank">View it here</a>.</p>
  • <p><strong>Inkling designer Ed Lea</strong> showcases his motion skills in product videos as well as interactions on his portfolio site. <a href="http://edlea.com/point-of-sale/" target="_blank">View it here</a>.</p>
  • 01 /06

    Facebook designer Ben Barry has one of the most visually effective portfolios. View it here.

  • 02 /06

    An example of going deep on a high-quality project is the Pinterest Creative Team’s deep dive into Place Pins.

  • 03 /06

    Brigade designer Kevin Shay showcases interactions as the final part of his design process on his portfolio site. View his portfolio here.

  • 04 /06

    Jason Perez, designer at One Kings Lane, shows off some amazing photography in his portfolio. View his portfolio here.

  • 05 /06

    Dropbox designer Francine Lee uses Medium to show off her fantastic user research process. View it here.

  • 06 /06

    Inkling designer Ed Lea showcases his motion skills in product videos as well as interactions on his portfolio site. View it here.

I’ve reviewed thousands of designer portfolios over the past 10 years as a former design lead at Facebook and now as the cofounder of the investing and mentoring network Designer Fund. Beautiful shots of your work might've carried you into an interview years ago, but today, design managers at top startups are looking for more. Here are tips for building a great portfolio site based on feedback from our partners at Bridge, a design education program that connects designers and startups:

Pinterest portfolio

1. Quality over Quantity

It’s much better for you to go deeper on a few projects than go shallow on many projects. This will give you the advantage of showing off your best work and let you give a lot of context around that work. If you simply throw in some work to "round out your portfolio" get ready to be judged by your weakest work.

An example of going deep on a high-quality project is the Pinterest Creative Team’s deep dive into Place Pins.

Ed Lea's portfolio

2. Structure your Projects

Don’t be afraid to write (a lot) about your work, talking about the goals, context, constraints, and your thought process. I want to see more than just big beautiful images.
Josh Puckett, Dropbox

Make sure to include the following information for each project where appropriate:

Project Background: Set the context for the project. What was the goal of the project? What were your constraints? What was the timeline?

Team and your role: What was your explicit role, what did you uniquely contribute and who did you work with?

The Work: Go deep to show what you produced. Research, sketches, wireframes, mocks, and a link to working site or application if possible.

Success Metrics: Why are you showing me this project? Do you have any results that show this project achieved its intended goal?

What You Would Have Done Differently: Based on the process and outcome is there anything you learned you would have done differently? This is a great way to show growth and introspection.

Francine Lee's portfolio

3. Show Process

Seeing how you frame the problem (text), how you think about the problem (sketch), and how you solve the problem (pixels) really tells us everything we need to know.
- Justin Edmund, Pinterest

Probably the top piece of feedback we hear from design managers is that they want designers who have a great process. This means frame the problem well, collaborate effectively, explore many options, and execute with a high level of craft. If you are not showing your process on a project, you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to showcase one of the key ingredients startups desire.

Dropbox designer Francine Lee uses Medium to show off her fantastic user research process. View it here.

Ben Barry's portfolio

4. Get Visual

Designers need to take advantage of the visual potential of an online portfolio. Too often we see scaled down versions of visuals, visuals out of context, or visuals that don’t best support the narrative of the work. If you are a UI designer and sweat the details, show the pixels in all their glory at full scale or even magnified. If you are a user researcher, show beautiful photos of your user research sessions, your findings, and how you present those to your team. It is worth spending the time to select and present the right images to tell a compelling story.

Facebook designer Ben Barry has one of the most visually effective portfolios. View it here.

Kevin Shay's portfolio

5. Show Interactions

Today’s products have much more motion and movement. The best product design portfolios showcase those flows. To startups this is a great sign that you can think over time rather than in static mocks. Extra credit if you’ve prototyped the application or link to a live demo.

Inkling designer Ed Lea showcases his motion skills in product videos as well as interactions on his portfolio site. View it here.

Brigade designer Kevin Shay showcases interactions as the final part of his design process on his portfolio site. View his portfolio here.

Jason Perez's portfolio

6. Side Projects

A wonderful way to show off your personality and how you think with different constraints is to devote a piece of your portfolio to side projects. These can be as simple as photos you’ve shot all the way to applications you’ve built and shipped with friends. To many startups, side projects can be a good sign that you are driven and able to work on a broad set of problems when needed.

Jason Perez, designer at One Kings Lane, shows off some amazing photography in his portfolio. View his portfolio here.

Closing Thoughts

Portfolios are a wonderful way to catalog your work and to get you thinking about the intentions behind your work. They force you to organize your thoughts, and they often prepare you to talk through your work in person—a step you’ll be required to do on your path to working at a great startup.

Once your portfolio is dialed in and you have interviews coming up, make sure to read our tips for designers on interviewing at startups.