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Portfolio management for creative people

Updated on November 4, 2010
Organisation of the portfolio doesn't have to be an ordeal.
Organisation of the portfolio doesn't have to be an ordeal. | Source

If you're a creative person like a fashion designer, Web designer, graphic designer, writer or artist, your portfolio is "who you are" to your clients. Your portfolio is your major professional asset, along with your talent and commitment. It’s extremely important to know how to manage your portfolio and use it for the best effects.

One of the typical characteristics of being a creative person is that the creativity overrides everything else. Creating a good functional portfolio sometimes involves a lot of work and you can actually trick yourself into doing this work by being creative about how you manage your portfolio. Putting a good creative portfolio together really doesn't have to be "work".

Organizing your portfolio

The simplest way to put your portfolio together is to create a series of contexts for your work. This is a type of categorization, but it also allows a lot of flexibility and permits you to manage your portfolio in a way which makes sense to you.

Everybody's portfolio contains a menagerie of works that can only really be categorized in your own personal context. The portfolio also typically includes "works in progress" which may have taken years to prepare and still be in the process of production because you’re still tinkering with these pieces.

Probably the simplest way to organize a portfolio in its proper creative context is to start with very simple, basic categories and "evolve" subcategories:

Commercial work:

This part of your portfolio includes all your published works, and forms the basis of the typical commercial portfolio. The advantage of creating this particular category is to create a framework of easily accessible pieces all in one place which you can use and modify depending on the type of work involved in a particular contract.

Technical pieces:

Many contracts will require specific technical capabilities, like working with particular platforms, media and necessary production skills and capabilities. This is an extremely important part of your portfolio, and it needs to be organised coherently so you can demonstrate these very important skills as and when required. It's a good idea to classify these pieces specifically in terms of the types of software, design issues and technical skills involved. It is also worth compartmentalizing these pieces into specific examples of technical skills in these areas. The great advantage is that the contract calls for experience with a major platform like Adobe Creative Suite, Dreamweaver, Flash, et cetera, that it's all there waiting for you when you need it. Many creative people do themselves a great disservice because they simply leave out of their portfolios extremely valuable materials which will get them jobs.

Important: Make sure that you note the relevant technical details like the type of software used et cetera, for easy reference during presentations and to prevent tearing out hair trying to remember which platform you did this work on. These notes are also very good for matching your work to essential criteria.

Creative pieces:

This is a particularly important, and often very personal, part of the portfolio and it's very much a matter of taste what you want to put into it, but it's also representative of your best skills and talents. This part of the portfolio needs to be approached with care. The highly creative parts of your portfolio can also be a major competitive edge, and you need to make sure that you're accurately representing your skills.

It is absolutely typical of all creative people that they regularly underestimate the value of their creative work. All creative professionals do large amounts of work which they consider to be so basic and so obvious that they can't even imagine that anybody would be interested in these pieces. That's a particularly useless concept. Generally speaking these pieces are so well done they’re self-explanatory, and reinforce your presentation.


Drafts often lie around for years, cluttering things up and largely being ignored. They'd usually be thrown out, except the best drafts, of course, have natural value and remain useful in some form or another.

What is not generally recognized is that for business, commercial and professional purposes, drafts are an invaluable insight into your production methods. That's exactly what your clients need to see when assessing your creative capabilities and technical skills. These materials include sketches, outline drafts, vector-based materials and design component elements.

You will also find that when you're speaking with professional people in your own field that the drafts are particularly useful for engaging these very demanding professional clients. This is a good way of showing your knowledge base and how you operate. Professional industry clients will appreciate your skills and you'll be able to hold a real conversation on all your favourite subjects, for once, with people who do know what you're talking about. They absolutely must see how you create your designs and make a match between your capabilities and their business needs. It's critically important to be able to provide these examples of your production methods for commercial clients.

Non-professionals also need to see drafts, and because they're obliged to match your work against the criteria for the contract or job. As matter of fact, non-professionals need to see these pieces specifically because they're actually explanatory works, and better tuned to their level of comprehension regarding subjects where they lack the technical skills themselves. Select some of your best, clearest drafts of these purposes.

Archive materials:

It's quite normal for creative people to build up a large stock of older materials. These materials are still valuable, but currency of work in portfolios is often an issue, and there's a risk of imbalance. A portfolio full of a lot of old work can also get very cluttered, and it’s necessary to establish an archive to prevent that happening. Your archive should be put together in the same way as your current portfolio, just make sure that everything is findable and accessible.

If you have a lot of hard copy materials, make absolutely certain that these materials are properly stored, particularly if you're using materials which can deteriorate because of oxidization or exposure to moisture.

Job-specific portfolios:

One of the most obvious problems with portfolios is a constant assembling a different bits and pieces of your portfolio for specific jobs really is a nuisance. It's also not good for the materials, particularly hard copy, and you'll be pleased to hear there is a way around this situation.

If you create a ready-to-use series of copies of your portfolio materials, you won't need to go rummaging around in your hardcopy or go file-mining through your computer trying to find things. It's quite easy to grips and to create a computer file with scans, copies et cetera, which can be put together instantly for any particular job.

These copies also effectively act as a backup, in case any of your valuable pieces go temporarily missing in the ocean of portfolio materials of most creative people generate. The other big advantage of creating ready-to-use materials is that it saves an enormous amount of time when you need to be concentrating on your presentation. Everything is where you need it, when you need it.

Note: This Hub is based on years of experience writing on the subject in the US and Europe. If you've got any questions about your portfolio, drop me a line, and I'll try and help.


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    • Maralexa profile image

      Marilyn Alexander 5 years ago from Vancouver, Canada and San Jose del Cabo, Mexico

      Very interesting and thought-provoking. It would be nice to use our HubPages site a little more in this way. I appreciate your comments on drafts and their value.

      Thanks Paul. Voted up.


    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      This is a real informative revelation of a topic I could be getting into. I am trying to write a book and your information might come in very useful. Thank you.