How to make the best graphic design portfolio: Leta Sobierajski, Middle Boop and Brand Nu give their tips

L-R: Work by Middle Boop, Leta Sobierajski and Brand Nu

Radim Malinic, Gordon Reid and one of the brains behind Wade and Leta on how new grads can make the best design portfolio.

Graduate season has come and gone, meaning graphic design students across the world are taking their first big step into the real world with portfolios in one hand and a business card in the other pointing to their homepage.

Wherever the long and winding road takes them, they'll no doubt be dreaming of landing steady freelance gigs to land them a job at a design firm like Pentagram or JKR (some lucky ones may make that jump straight out of uni).

Some designers may make enough of an impact freelancing they set up studios of their own, as the likes of Radim 'Brand Nu' Malinic, Gordon 'Middle Boop' Reid and Leta Sobierajski have done.

Reaching out to these design greats by email, Digital Arts gathered their thoughts on how new blood should put together the perfect design portfolio, using both their experience from when they were newbies, to checking out the newbies whose work they field on a regular basis.

Brand Nu

We start with Radim Malinic, who through his studio Brand Nu has worked with clients including Harry Potter, Coca Cola and Google. He's also penned some essential design books; his latest is Book of Ideas Vol 2, which includes some of the branding work featured here.

"At the very beginning, just like every single novice in the industry, I used to put literally everything in my 'folio. I thought the more work shown, the better chance I had in getting hired.

"Little did I know that being good at one thing is the perfect way to get started. I wanted to be hired as a graphic designer, but I was showing a lot of illustration work in my folio. It was confusing everyone for a very long time.

"Now all of my work is gathered under the umbrella of branding. You can have a lot of different styles in your portfolio for target sectors and disciplines, fused together by the overarching skillset. The lesson is about clarity."

Radim says: Grasp the commercial

"It's nice to see conceptually-driven work included in graduate portfolios. But sometimes I find a lack of relevancy and understanding of the commercial aspect.

Branding for The Colours of Moods

"Grads are missing targeted design work for the role they are applying. A design folio should excite everyone — not just the person who's hiring.

"If your folio passes the test of friends and family, then you have a good start. After all, they will be the brand customers whom you'll be designing work for."

Leta Sobierajski

Brooklyn-based Leta Sobierajski has a style all of her own, with clients like Adobe, Tate Modern, and UNIQLO all having been desperate for a slice. She is the Leta in studio Wade and Leta, through which other clients have included the AIGA Eye On Design Conference (above), Gucci and Google.

"Show work that you're proud of, not work that only shows that you're 'capable'" Leta writes.

"Personal projects are key. I'm happy to see work that you've created at a studio for an internship or a job, but I want to see what work you truly define as yours."

Wade and Leta

Leta says: Don't forget the power of words

"Writing about your work is equally as important as showing it. It shows us that you're succinct, it portrays how you think, and it details your involvement in the project."

Middle Boop

Gordon Reid is the man behind Middle Boop Studios, whose projects have ranged from art direction for Visa’s 2016 Rio Olympic Games campaign, to book covers for Elon Musk and UK campaigns for Adidas. He may also be one of the funniest designers around, but don't worry – the joker's advice below is sage and serious.

"So much has changed since I've started out," Gordon writes. "When I graduated I was an illustrator, very much focussed on just working in the music industry, so my work was presented in the classic form of a big leather portfolio which I would schlep with me on the train up to London to meet labels and venues and basically anyone that would see me.

"Nowadays things are very different; as my meetings will revolve a lot more around strategy, my work is usually presented on my laptop (apart from a brief foray into using my iPad which didn't work so well).

Gordon's amazing cover for the Animated Violence Mild LP by Blanck Mass

Gordon says: Grading is a no-no

"My biggest no-no of recent years for portfolios are grading your skills. People seem to do it all the time and I think it must come from a portfolio template or something online.

"I've seen so many where people have graded themselves 'Five star in Photoshop' and 'Three star in InDesign'; no one wants to see that, there's no value in it.

"Also don't send huge files; you wouldn't believe how many portfolios I'm sent where they're over 100 MB and I've got to download a link.

Branding for Adidas Predator

Expand on the uni work

"Absolute musts are just making the process as simple as possible for the person on the other end. Bring six to eight of your top projects. Don't just bring in uni work for us to look at.

"If we're hiring someone we want to see proper passion. We want to see that you've already had the initiative to seek out proper, real life work. It shows real desire for the cause."

Read next: How to land your first job at a digital or branding agency

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