If you found it hard to make your design portfolio stand out in 2015, then you should seize this New Year as an opportunity to create the portfolio you know you deserve. 

It definitely won’t be easy. Your competition will continue to increase in number with each passing day. More and more designers will be hunting for the same jobs and the same clients. As a result, recruiters and clients will have less time to spend on your portfolio. Sparking their interest will be even harder.

Making sure you have a portfolio that makes a good impression is a good start. Here are 5 tips to make your design portfolio stand out in 2016.

1) Show Fewer Projects, But Execute Them Better

Imagine two restaurants. One serves just 5 pizzas, whereas the other gives you the option to choose between 50 different kinds. Where do you expect to eat the best pizza? I would expect a better pizza in the restaurant with fewer options. Why? I imagine the restaurant with fewer options to spend more focused time on improving their dishes.

I think that a lot of people make the mistake of showing too many projects on their portfolio. They are afraid that they might be forgetting to show something valuable. Unfortunately, your visitors will notice this lack of focus and confidence.

Showing too much work basically means “I have no opinion about my work, here is all the (expletive) I did since year 1999, just sort it out for yourself.” Tobias von Schneider, Former Spotify

When most people decide to show a lot of projects, doing the opposite can be a great way to stand out.

There is another consequential benefit to this. You can spend more time on presenting each single project in impressive and novel ways. Now you can go into greater depth. You can describe your design process. You can explain your design decisions. You can reflect on what you could have done better. As a result, the quality of your portfolio will increase and you’ll be able to demonstrate your insightfulness as a creative as well.

2) Don’t Just Follow Visual Design Trends

Because it’s the beginning of the year, you will see a lot of websites coming with trend predictions soon. You might feel that you need to stay on top of these trends. You might think that it is part of your profession to know how to apply the hottest design trends.

Yes, applying design trends is a skill but your portfolio is not always the right place to do this. The people you follow online, the people who inspire you are not the ones following trends. They are the ones setting trends. You noticed them because they were doing something different. They were unique. If you want your portfolio to stand out, you need to stop mindlessly following visual design trends. Instead, be yourself and develop your own visual style (which, admittedly, is easier said than done). Don’t rely on the traditional websites to get visual design inspiration, look further.

Besides that, if you follow visual trends now, your portfolio can become outdated extremely fast. In 2016, trend cycles will be even shorter as mobile technologies continue to mature and become more sophisticated. Having a trendy portfolio now might even start to work against you if you don’t keep updating your portfolio to be as trendy as possible. So keep that in mind.

3) Make your Portfolio About You

Generally speaking, if you want your portfolio to stand out, it needs to be unique.

What you might not have realized is that you are unique. Everyone is unique. Highlighting this uniqueness by making your portfolio personal, is a great way to stand out. Tell your story through your portfolio.

How did you get into design? What does your work say about you? What makes your creative mind tick? What motivates you every day to get out of your bed and start working? The answers to these questions is what informs possible employers or clients about the kind of creative you are. It’s what will set yourself apart from the rest of the herd.

The story you tell is entirely up to you, just make sure it represents reality. You really cannot go wrong with what you say.

4) Start Blogging

Blogging makes you stand out for many reasons, some which you probably haven’t thought about.

Did you know that 99% of the people online are content consumers? The content they consume is created by just 1% of the people online. If you decide to blog, you become a content creator. Just by publishing, you stand out, regardless of what you publish.

Besides that, it is not always appropriate to be very personal on your project pages. On your blog, however, you can take a much more personal tone of voice. Don’t take this too far though by showing photo’s of your cat. I will make you look unprofessional.

However, there is one risk you probably haven’t considered. One of the first things people will look for is the date of the most recent post. If you haven’t blogged for months, you are actually sending a negative message. Your visitors will question your ability to stick to your commitments. A blog collecting digital dust will work against you. If you commit yourself to blogging, stick with it.

5) Present Yourself as a Person, Not as a Business

Are you one of those people calling yourself the CEO of the “business” you started, when in reality it is just you freelancing? Does your portfolio have a logo, a tagline and testimonials? Do you talk about “our services” when in fact it’s just you in your attic? Let me be honest with you, there was a time where I answered “yes” to all to these questions as well.

The most influential content creators online, such as Seth Godin, Tim Ferriss and Tobias Von Schneider are not hiding behind a business. In fact, they are doing the opposite. They engage with their followers in a very personal manner.

Your portfolio is meant to sell yourself, not your business. So don’t mix up your personal portfolio and your business. Delete anything that implies you are a business. Stop worrying about your logo. Write as if you are talking directly to your visitors. Stop hiding yourself behind your “business.”

Save that for when you’re designing the new website for the studio you start next year!

Final Thoughts

You will start to stand out the moment you stop doing exactly what is expected of you as a creative. This does not just apply to visual design, it applies to all of the work you do. Just be yourself and have faith in yourself because you are unique by definition. Don’t hide behind a brand or an “identity”. Instead, put your portfolio together with sincerity and personality. Blog about what is on your mind and tell a story that will catch the attention of others.


Martijn van den Broeck is a Interaction Design student, at Umeå Institute of Design, one of the world’s best Design schools. Currently, he is interning at IDEO in San Francisco. Every week he shares design portfolio tips to help students improve their design portfolio on Medium. Follow him on Twitter @MartijnvdBroeck.