How to make an A+ design portfolio to land the course of your dreams

So you want to study design?

So you’re thinking about entering the design industry? Welcome to our world. 

Formal education is a great way to ensure you know the difference between a palette and a palate, meaning you can get your career off to a bright (or possibly delicious) start. 

And while many courses require academic transcripts and exam scores, design courses often only a portfolio. This is great news for many, but it can also mean a lot of pressure to get your portfolio perfect. 

We sat down Karl von Busse Institute of Design’s Head of Design, Angelique Sloss, to talk nailing your submission.

You don’t need to have finished high school or have an academic record to get into one of KVB’s courses, just relevant examples of your creative work. And given Angelique is also the brains, eye and steady hand behind The Envy Edit, we figured she is the perfect person to dish out advice on perfecting your portfolio.

What to include

Before you get started, you’ll want to gather all your work together. Then pick from the best bits. This isn’t the time to throw 80+ pages of work together in a folder. 

“Just give us the good stuff!” says Angelique. 

“Don’t bulk out the portfolio with everything you’ve ever worked on. Quality of work is incredibly important and shows the standard immediately.”

For those who are still in high school, or feel like you don’t have much design work under your belt, don’t stress. Your folio doesn’t need to be limited to professional examples or school projects. 

“Your portfolio is separate to a CV and you don’t always need to list times and places for your projects, like your employment history,” explains Angelique. 

“Include other examples of work you have created just for fun.”

Choose your order carefully

So now that you’ve selected the work you want to submit, it’s time to put it together. Layout is key to nailing a folio; you want it to flow (as Viola Hastings would say, ‘flow is flow’). 

“So often we see pages just put in a sleeve, with no thought given to the flow of the work and no name on loose pages,” says Angelique.

“Whichever order you choose, stick to it! Earliest work to most current or vice versa is fine, but take the viewer on a bit of a design journey.”

It’s all in the details

It’s not just the order of your folio that’s important. The smaller details on each page will also make a big difference.

“It’s always a good idea to scan illustrations or photography projects and display them in a consistent manner,” says Angelique. 

Her number one tip for perfect presentation? 

“Annotate your work and provide short descriptions for what the person is looking at. It makes sense of what they are viewing and offers some background on the work itself.”

What to avoid

We get it, you spend so much time working on a creative project that it kind of becomes your baby. But you need to be ruthless when putting together your folio. 

Sorry to get all repetitive on you but there really is nothing worse than a folio that weighs 7kgs because it’s filled with pages of the same work.

The person that’s looking at your folio is probably looking at hundreds of others, so be considerate. You want to communicate yourself quickly and effectively. 

“Engage the viewer and spark an interest, not ask for hours of their time,” says Angelique.

It also pays to use spell check/ask someone else (hi Mum!) to read over your submission. 

“Proof read everything,” says Angelique. “A design portfolio only has limited text, so make sure it’s spelled correctly and makes sense!”

Pro tips

So you’ve got the basics. There’s a few more little tricks to remember, and they’ll keep your submission top notch. 

Handwrite: A creative portfolio is a representation of you, so keep it organic and reflective of your personality. The easiest way to do this? Ditch the computer and hand-write notes throughout.

Aim for consistency: If you’re folio is starting to look a little eclectic, try to tie the work together. “If you have a mix of different projects, aim to connect them with a common thread – be it your logo or choice in fonts,” says Angelique. 

“We should know that we’re looking at the same person’s work throughout.”

And lastly: “Be proud of your work!” says Angelique. “Everything you’ve done has cemented you further in the design world, and that’s a wonderful place to be.”

If you think your portfolio has what it takes, you can check out Karl von Busse’s design courses and entry requirements here


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