Evaluating a portfolio

There are a lot of designers out there. A lot of portfolio for you to sift through. You might even find a lot of them appear very similar so how do you go about narrowing down these to a shortlist of designers for your project?

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Here are a few things to look out for when looking through portfolios, and also a few red flags to beware of.

Do you like their work?

This sounds like an obvious point but I know a lot of people who see the word ‘designer’ and automatically jump in to hire them.

Designers all have different styles and different strengths. For example, some may use a lot of illustration. Some may appear to favour a minimalistic approach.

So have a look through the designers work, do you see any themes running through? And do you see them working for your project? Of course you don’t want every piece of work to look the same, that shows the designer isn’t capable of designing for anyone but themselves (a big red flag) but you should be able to notice a few similarities between their projects.

Then you need to ask yourself, do you like their work? Would you be happy if any of their projects were yours? If so, that’s a great sign! If not, keep on looking.

Is there a good mix of projects and clients?

If your designer doesn’t have experience in your particular industry, it shouldn’t be an issue. What you need to look out for is whether they have solved problems for a range of different clients rather than just one.

For example, if you approach somebody who only works with Estate Agents, unless you want a website that also looks like an Estate Agent’s, they may not be the best fit for you.

Instead, see if they can work with people in different industries. This shows good problem solving skills and the ability to adapt. Two very good traits.

Do they put their work into context?

Beware of hiring somebody who just showcases images of their work with no context about the client, the brief and their solution.

The work may look great but it’s really important that you can get an idea of the problem they were trying to solve and how they solved it.

If they don’t have a decent amount of text with their projects, it could also mean that the designer cares more about their work looking good to their peers or in design awards, rather than being the best solution for you.

Make sure their speciality aligns with your main project

It’s really important that you find a designer suitable for your project. If you’re doing a web project, look for somebody who specialises in web design or if you need a logo design, look out for branding on their website.

Even if a designer lists every type of design work on their services page, they may not actively work on these so take a look at their portfolio and you’ll should notice some themes emerge.

Even though the basics of design are transferable to each medium (print, web, brand, advertising etc.) there are also many technical details specific to each of them so it’s important that for your main project you can be comfortable your designer has the experience in that particular field.

Have they worked with real clients?

Ok, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with personal projects or student work. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with giving somebody their first job (I’ll be forever grateful for my first few clients putting their trust in me).

But just know what you’re getting into. If the portfolio doesn’t have any real client work you will have to be more involved and guide the designer more. You may also not have all the ‘invisible benefits’ that comes with experience (e.g. knowing what converts and some of the more technical details).

You also want to be sure that the designer knows how to work with clients and how to take feedback and criticism.

A lot of designers like to do ‘reimaginings’ of popular websites or projects. So if you see a stunning redesign of Facebook in their portfolio and get excited, just check whether they actually worked with Facebook or if it was just for fun.

Can they write?

A designer who can write is going to be infinitely more useful than one who can’t. I’m not talking essays or books but just read through their website and see if they can string a nice sentence together. Do you like their tone? Are they convincing?

Having someone who is able and willing to edit your copy or even write (small amounts) of their own is really useful. And if anywhere on their website or in their projects, you ever see something starting with the words ‘Lorem ipsum…’ run a mile. Trust me.

Even though the basics of design are transferable to each medium (print, web, brand, advertising etc.) there are also many technical details specific to each of them so it’s important that for your main project you can be comfortable your designer has the experience in that particular field.

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So there you have it! Some tips on how to evaluate a portfolio. A lot of it will come down to your gut instincts and personal preferences but hopefully this has given you some more food for thought and will help you in narrowing down your list of potential designers.

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