Creating a Student Design Portfolio

You’ve got a huge major work to complete and, of course, you also have to include your lovely little friend… the design portfolio! While creating a design portfolio can seem like a big slog, it’s super necessary to bring purpose and creativity to the product you are creating.

2 years ago   •   5 min read

By Dylan Kay
Photo by UX Store / Unsplash

You’ve got a huge major work to complete and, of course, you also have to include your lovely little friend… the design portfolio! While creating a design portfolio can seem like a big slog, it’s super necessary to bring purpose and creativity to the product you are creating - believe or not, there is a reason why they make us do it! We will share our tips for creating a student design portfolio, considering its purpose, what to actually include and finally how to present it all.

Purpose of a Design Portfolio?

A design portfolio is there to illustrate the design process - from the crazy whirlwind of your initial ideas to the logical evaluation of your final product. It should therefore show the reader this clear evolution, representing the ‘flow’ of ideation from start to finish.

It’s important that you represent the process in a clear, logical and cohesive way. It’s very likely that your ideas will evolve as you spend more time experimenting and researching so make sure you record this all as you go – and don’t worry about presenting it all perfectly in the early days. You’ll figure out how you want to represent your ideas and thoughts in a creative way (that is reflective of your project) as you go.

Just a quick side note: remember to include ‘impact on final design’ statements at the end of each component of the portfolio – it shows why your research or task was relevant to the project and underpins the broader purpose. Ultimately, you always want to be thinking about the ‘why’ ... Why am I creating this product? Why am I researching this? Why should I use this technique/ material? (I think you get the gist).

What to include?

While the specific content and presentation of the portfolio is in your hands, you should aim to broadly include the following topics:

Project Proposal

The exploration and development of your ‘need’ is one of the most important steps in the design process. This will set the scene and tone of your folio and project. This ‘need’ will provide direction for what research and experimentation you may undertake At this point you should not know what your final product will be, rather that there is a need for a solution - and that solution is for you to deliver!

Think about the design situation, preliminary research and project parameters (your constraints, limitations and opportunities such as time, skills, finance and resources). After considering these things, you should be able to put together a design brief - like I said before you do not need to state exactly what you will be producing at this stage but you should have a clear need and target market.

Project Management

Use this section as a checklist for your research/ experimentation. Think about possible design ideas, materials, tools and techniques… What will make your project successful?

Complete a Time and Action Plan: outline and evaluate each step in the process – from the initial idea through to the evaluation.

What about a Finance Plan? Successful projects do not need to be expensive projects but careful planning will ensure you use the funds available to you effectively - establish a budget and track discrepancies between proposed and actual costs.

Project Development and Realisation

Now that you have completed your project proposal and set up project management plans you can think about how to solve the design need. Most designers begin by mind mapping key words or by completing basic sketches. This will vary depending on the technologies you are using – my personal fave is a mood board - get onto pinterest and start pinning!! Then consider how you can translate that mood or vibe to your own sketches or diagrams.

All ideas should be annotated with explanations of how each supports your need/ design brief.  Annotations may also include possible materials to be used, possible finishes on a product, possible measurements or the product or opportunities for further research. You are encouraged to produce a range of sketches from initial brainstormed ideas, initial sketches, refined sketches and then final design.

As you go, consider relevant factors that affect design in both the ideation and production stages.

Function and aesthetics are the obvious factors but also consider others such as the  appropriateness of design solution, quality, life analysis, ergonomics, short-and long-term environmental consequences - include specific examples relevant to your design project.

Project Evaluation

Remember to evaluate as you go! It is important that you are continually evaluating the design process. This can be done through regular reflections on say time, action, finance and production processes. Of course, you will also need to evaluate the final product - the key question here will be whether the product successfully meets the design brief and overall purpose. In doing so, you will consider the factors affecting design that we mentioned before (function, aesthetics, quality, appropriateness of design solution etc). Think about how the product works in its intended environment - this will actually require you to test it out.


So, now you’re probably wondering - how do I actually present all that information?

Establishing an appropriate presentation for your folio is super important - your presentation (theme, headings, text,  layout, colours etc) should  be related to your design/product and should be consistent throughout the entire portfolio.

What Software should I use?

The key to this is picking a software and form that suits you. Creating a visually appealing, well organised layout doesn’t take long. Consider readability, space use including negative and white space, font size, images and colour. Some potential software options include:

  • Adobe InDesign (recommended -  industry standard software)
  • Canva (recommended - intuitive and quick layout)
  • Google Slides (usable but more challenging when using A3 sizing)
  • Microsoft Word or Powerpoint (less options - MUST be backed up appropriately or used via OneDrive... you definitely do NOT want to be losing your work for this assignment).

Be selective with your choice - some need you to break the folio into pieces so the files don’t end up too big (Google Slides… I’m looking at you) whilst others are limited into their ability for flexible page layout (potentially Word).

Communicate clearly!

Make sure your information is easy to read and interpret. For example, presenting info in columns rather than straight across the screen might make it less straining for reader when they are working through those 80 pages of geniusness! Underlining or bolding keywords/points can also make it easier for the reader to navigate and draw attention to key ideas. Also remember to make use of titles - they will soon be your best friend.
Your folio must use a number of communication techniques (do not have pages and pages of text only). Think of using tables, graphs, sketches, diagrams - how can you best present what is going on in your mind as a DESIGNER!

And a few other little things to note for presentation:

  • Determine whether you want to present the folio in landscape or portrait, A3 or A4.
  • Obviously ensure all images/sketches are off high quality.
  • Consider using 1.5 line spacing - this will help ensure your pages don’t look too cluttered and will improve readability.
If you need help with project management or are after a tutor that has amazing experience in design subjects, then we can totally find a tutor  for you - you can start with the 30 minute free study skills consultation and we will get the ball rolling for you from there!

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