What is an interior design portfolio? It’s a collection of your best work.

The National Design Academy of the UK says that an interior design portfolio is ‘an opportunity to showcase a range of skills and your design style’.

As you can guess, such a portfolio would be a key marketing tool for an interior designer. Hang on! We’ve already talked about marketing, haven’t we? So what’s the deal with a separate post about designing an interior design portfolio? Here’s the difference…and why it’s so important to talk about designing a portfolio. A social media account is a kind of encyclopaedia of your work. Every major (and even important minor!) piece of work you’ve done figures in your social media account. At any point in time, a social media account reveals two major pieces of information about you.

  • One, your most important project/style of working at that time. As a practical example, this would be the ‘pinned tweet’ and the brief user description below the user handle on Twitter.
  • Two, an account of all the work you’ve ever done.

The phrase ‘trawling through social media’ is no accident; social media is designed to be an ever-expanding account of our work (in a professional setting) from which you can get a lot of information about someone by trawling through.  A portfolio on the other hand is a snapshot of all the work that you have ever done that you are particularly proud and/or that you feel represents you the best. Click To Tweet It’s probably the first thing investors and clients will want to see when they’re considering whether to invest/place an order. A well-designed portfolio is no guarantee of a positive response but it will get you crucial brownie points. Alright, so a portfolio is a snapshot of an interior designer’s work. Where does it rank in relation with, say, the pinterest account in attracting the attention of an investor or a client? I’d say it ranks higher. See, you’re one among tens if not hundreds of interior design firms competing for the same client. Or investor. The initial game is not so much of selection as it is of elimination. That is, Round One will involve the client/investor striking out of contention those firms they see as not serious in their offers or not in tune with their tastes. This is where the portfolio comes in.

Before they trawl through your Pinterest or Houzz account, they’ll look through your portfolio to get a taste of your style, work ethic and possibly cost management.

And if they don’t like what they see, you’re out of contention! Having established the importance of an interior design portfolio, let’s go about seeing how to design one to draw a favourable response. In brief, there are three principles you should remember while designing your portfolio.

1. It should be self-explanatory

That is, whoever is examining the portfolio should have an idea of what you are about without a single word being spoken on your part.

2. You should know your own portfolio

There’s always a chance investors/clients will want to talk with you about your portfolio. So you should know every project that is mentioned in it. You should be able to back up every claim made there with facts and figures. Prepare like you’re facing an interview. If you can’t you look like a phoney. If you feel you can’t talk about something when asked, do not mention it in your portfolio.

3. It should not be unnecessarily large

Quality is more important than quantity in establishing credibility.

Most people have certain expectations from portfolios. Among those is brevity – they should not have to wade through it to understand the interior designer – unlike a social media profile. If there’s too much on it, more than necessary, the client/investor will feel you’re showing off, or worse, trying to hide something by providing so much information…and you’ll be out of contention. That being said, there are two other factors you should not forget while designing your interior design portfolio.

4. It should be visually attractive

The format should appeal to the eye.

Remember, whoever is glancing through your portfolio isn’t allocating a lot of time to it. It’s just a snapshot of your work; not a detailed account.

Drawing someone’s attention will take more than just facts and figures. It must be visually striking; it needs to arrest their attention so they spend more time on your portfolio and not on somebody else’s. And end up liking it. A portfolio that is full of information but not pleasing on the eye is of no use.

5. Reflect your working style honestly

Everybody has their own working style.

Some designers are very hands-on, using pen and paper; others have a more digital approach.

Some are more modern in their design; others are retro. These elements should be apparent in your portfolio. I wouldn’t suggest trying to match what you think the client/investor is expecting because if you aren’t suited to their temperament it will lead to disagreements when the actual work is proceeding. With these 3 + 2 = 5 guiding principles in mind, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the portfolio design process.

6. Make a list of all your completed and ongoing projects till date

This will be your pool from which you’ll choose which topics reflect your inner designer the best.

Do not skip any project, however trivial, because you never know what may turn out important.

Tip – Here I find that incentivizing clients to send you feedback is crucial. It often happens that you’ve sent them a finished design they like but work on that hasn’t started yet. Most interior design projects take a lot of time to complete; the client may have forgotten about you by the time it’s finished. So give them an incentive to remember to send you feedback, consisting of verbal comments and a picture. I’m not asking you to incentivize them to get a good review but to remember to send you an honest review.

7. Select outliers and keep them in a separate list

For example if out of 20 completed projects you’ve designed a farmhouse only once, keep that project in a separate list. The reason is that your experience in that is obviously limited so you’ll need to give it special attention. We’ll return to this ‘separate list’ within a couple of steps.

8. Among the remaining projects list out the one you feel attest best to your capabilities

As I’ve said before; there’s no room for flab. Select those and only those projects that are necessary for establishing you as a designer. The issue is the type of work; not the amount.

Even a simple refurbishment of one bedroom may be more illustrative of your inner designer than an entire industrial project.

 

9. Sift through the ones you’ve selected. Are all the aspects of interior design work reflected there?

You should have at least one example of

  • Concept boards
  • Sample boards
  • Final visuals
  • Technical drawings

This reassures the client that you’re competent in all the stages of the interior design process. It also reassures them that you’re methodical enough to have ensured that they can see an example of your work in all these fields.

10. Now go through your ‘outlier list’

These may be outliers – work that you don’t do regularly – but did they turn out OK and did you enjoy doing them? See which ones fulfil both criteria and select those for your portfolio.

11. Digitize everything

This step is fairly self-explanatory. Whatever is not saved digitally, snap a pic or scan it and save it on your computer.

12. Organize your portfolio like a design project

This will make it easier for the client to follow your work. Concept board à Preliminary sketches à Design development à Sample board à Visuals And if they can follow your work easily, the chances of them hiring you increase. This is another step where the ‘outlier list’ can be of use. For example suppose there’s that one industrial design that’s an outlier but you’re very pleased with how the sample boards turned out (not the entire design), include only the samples as a special case. If asked, you can explain that you don’t go for that kind of work often but that you did enjoy that project and you can include (presumably positive) testimonials about it as well.

13. Start with the visual content

Ensure an attractive layout. Pictures should be spaced well, neither cluttered closely nor too far apart. Try to stick to a format in every page. For example if your title is at the top centre in page 1, it should be the same in page 2 and so on. If it comes to a trade-off between format and images, adjust the images. You can always provide the original (presumably clearer) image later if asked. An irregular format will be jarring on the eyes and that is something you can’t undo. Have a strict limit on the number of images on each page. If you have a logo, use it.

14. Start including the text

Remember, the text is there to support the images, not the other way round. So make the text clear but they should not look more important than the images.

The text should always be the bare minimum possible.

Always remember: if the client or investor wants more details they will ask you (remember what I said about having facts and figures ready like you have to face an interview?). But you can’t undo the irritation they will feel if your portfolio is cluttered with text that’s unnecessary. As Ludwig Mies van der Rohe used to say, less is more.

15. Design the cover

The cover should reflect your design style and if possible what the client is looking for in a nutshell.

For example if you think you’re good at minimalist design, design a threadbare cover with just your name and a logo if you have one. Choose the background as per what you think the client wants. If their project is something like an office environment, choose a bright background. If you think they’re looking to get a home environment designed, choose a soothing background. And so on.

16. Go through your file

First go through it by yourself. Then get a fresh pair of eyes to do the same. You should assess whether

  1. The portfolio is a pleasure to go through.
  2. It reflects the designer you think you are.
  3. It has an easy flow.
  If the answer to all 3 is yes, your portfolio is ready! How did your portfolio turn out? Did our guide help you? Did you follow any other step, something we may have missed? Please drop a comment and tell us.
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