PORTFOLIO HACKS for Architects & Interior Designers
When it comes to individuals pursuing architectural or interior design there is the added concern of the portfolio.
Your portfolio can tell a potential employer so much about you as an individual:
- Are you organised?
- Do you understand the progression of your own projects?
- Who are you as a designer?
We want you to ace the portfolio, so here are my top hacks from having gone through the gruelling process myself and what I’ve seen as a recruitment consultant. And trust me – I’ve seen a lot.
1. How Should I Structure My Portfolio?
Hierarchy or get out
Your portfolio should be structured to the role. If the role is primarily documentation with the potential for concept design, highlight the documentation first over concept design.
Provide more weight to certain aspects of your work over others. Place the most relevant work in the first couple of pages.
Just as with a job interview – first impressions count and your portfolio is no different.
Portfolio example that demonstrates different stages of the design process – note that the ‘hero’ image is accompanied. Example provided by Mohamed H. with his full permission to use for this article. Please do not reuse or repost without permission.
Recent and relevant, not chronological
As with hierarchy, ensuring that your portfolio shows your most relevant and recent work is critical. You may hear people say that your portfolio should tell your story, however your story doesn’t need to be in chronological order – maybe your start really belongs at the end, maybe that one job prior in commercial interiors should be placed just before your most recent project.
Develop two portfolios
The first portfolio is a teaser trailer. It should be a 5-10 page preview portfolio that accompanies your cover letter and CV. It is critical that this one is highly relevant to the role as this is what you’ll be first assessed and judged on.
Your second portfolio should be an elaborated version of the first, that you present at the interview. Here is your chance to highlight any additional skills you may have – keeping in mind that you need to build off what you presented in your first.
It is often a good idea to also print of a documentation package to accompany your second portfolio.
2. Where Do I Start?
Curate with the correct software
Using the correct software to build and present your portfolio is critical – you’re going into design after all. Your layout does not need to be overly complicated but don’t use programs such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint as these programs won’t show off your software skills.
I would recommend using Adobe InDesign to curate your portfolio.
Fonts – simple, simple, simple!
Stick to simple typography, like Arial or Helvetica etc. unless you want to justify your decision. Readability is key. You may see some people knock down Arial for being overused – but it is available on most computers and devices, so you won’t experience font scramble where suddenly all your formatting is all over the place.
Focus should be on your work, not your font.
Admin: name your file correctly
If a firm is looking through a dozen applications, naming your file correctly will help make their life easier. A good way to name your file is ‘Firstname_lastname_company’
Compress your portfolio
There is nothing quite like opening your inbox on a Wednesday morning to find half a dozen emails – all from the same person because they’ve sent their portfolio through on multiple PDF pages. Often this is because they haven’t compressed their portfolio themselves, so their only option is to split it up.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Not sure how to compress your portfolio? You can use Adobe, or there is a range of free online PDF converters to use – just go to Google.
To online or not?
Online portfolios do have many benefits: it’s a click away, instantly available, you don’t need to mess around with those pesky file sizes (than again, you do in case of slow internet), and it will build your online presence.
But unless you have a UX/UI Design background, stay away since you won’t be able to control and curate the viewer’s journey through your portfolio. They can jump from here to there, completely missing certain areas of your work.
3. What Content Should I Include?
Be raw: show your own work
Seems self-explanatory? And yet I cannot stress this enough.
We see a lot of portfolios that only show the final visualisations of the project – while this looks impressive, considering that most visualisation work is outsourced to specialists, they do nothing to showcase your skills.
Show me your raw skills, show me:
- Hand sketches
- Progress shots (e.g. Wireframe images, screenshots of your parametric scripting)
- Quick WIP renders completed for internal design review
- Construction Documentation & Detailing
Because that will show your interviewer what you can actually do.
If you want to include the “hero shot” visualization to show how all your work looked in the end, that’s fine, but please provide credit to who did the final piece.
And if you did the final visualisations – well certainly include that, but you still need to take me and your interviewer from concept to visualisation. Step by step. Don’t skimp out.
Portfolio example that demonstrates the process of parametric modelling. Example provided by Mohamed H. with his full permission to use for this article. Please do not reuse or repost without permission.
Hierarchy, hierarchy, hierarchy
I could talk for days on this, but once again, repeat after me: hierarchy!
Provide more weight to certain aspects over others as relevant to your role. And if you’re presenting yourself as an all-rounder provide samples of your work from all stages.
Keep it simple, keep it short. Ideally in dot point form.
A useful template to use is: Title & Build Value (if know): x Project Phase: x Software Used: x
- 12 Level Multi-Residential Development – Richmond $15M
- Schematic Design, Town Planning
- SketchUp, Photoshop, Hand Sketch, Revit
The annotation needs to align with your CV. All images and project samples should relate to projects notated on the resume.
Portfolio example that demonstrates concise annotation. Example provided by Wan Z. with his full permission to use for this article. Please do not reuse or repost without permission.
4. How Do I Present My Portfolio At Interview?
Softcopy or hardcopy?
You can honestly do either – but keep a few things in mind.
If you’re presenting your portfolio in softcopy:
- Ensure you ask if they have a computer or screens to display your portfolio – not all firms will have this, so plan and call ahead so you don’t turn up, USB in hand, and nowhere to stick it in!
- If you do bring it on a computer or tablet, ensure the screen is large enough. I’ve had people show me their portfolio on their iPhones or Tablets before, where it’s taken up to 20 seconds for each image to populate – frustrating!
With hard copy make sure you have used a quality printing service to best showcase your work – OfficeWorks will always do a clean job.
Think about how you want to display your portfolio in an interview. Portfolio example provided by Mohamed H. with his full permission to use for this article. Do not reuse or repost without permission.
Keep your concept to the point. To help structure your response, use the following formula:
- Build value
- Time frame
- Stages completed
- Who worked with you on this project
- How you made the image
My number one tip is to practice talking through your portfolio with friends from within the industry and outside the industry! Also practice presenting your portfolio upside down as you will at interview.
Look for cues from the interviewer as to where their focus is when reviewing the folio – this will give a feel as to where their interest lies or what the role actually is.
There are dozens of articles from Forbes, Business Insider, and many other sites about body language in interviews- and there is a good reason for it – while your portfolio may be amazing, the interviewer will be thinking:
Can I put this person in front of a client?
I’ve had candidates sit hunched over, barely make eye contact, crossing their arms – and often this is due to nerves and not self-aware of what negative messages they could be sending.
Their portfolio work is killer, they are incredibly passionate about what they do, and they will be an asset to any firm but their body language will become their greatest barrier.
So, to avoid bad body language, here are my top three tips:
- Sit up straight – think that your spine is attached to a string and someone is pulling it up. Lift yourself.
- Make eye contact -staring down your interviewer isn’t good, but do look at them when they are asking you a question. If you need to look away to think, that’s fine! But look back at the start and end of your response.
- Smile – endorphins are released when you smile, which will lower your stress levels, relaxing you, and more critically: you may be working with the interviewer, so look excited!
And that’s it – keep simplicity, readability, accessibility, and approachability front of mind when constructing and presenting your portfolio, and overall honesty in that the work you are presenting is yours!
– Stephanie Gleeson, Senior Consultant (and unofficial Portfolio Queen)