How to Create a Design Portfolio

If you’re a design student or a new grad designer, you need a portfolio. Period.

You need a portfolio to show people what you got as a designer.

In this post, I will provide a step-by-step guide on how to build a design portfolio. To make it easy to follow, I will use the design thinking framework as our guide.

This is a written version of a portfolio workshop I gave in December 2021. I’ll share the presentation link at the end of the article.


First, we need to answer two questions before building a portfolio:

  1. What is a portfolio?
  2. Why do we need a portfolio?

Let’s dive right in.

What is a portfolio?

A portfolio is your greatest hit album.

It’ll contain three-four of your best work and showcase who you are as a designer. It’s your chance to flex your design muscles.

Why do we need a portfolio?

I believe there are two reasons.


Source: GIPHY

Let’s be honest here. Who doesn’t want to get an internship or job?

This is the ultimate goal for a design portfolio, and we will focus on this when we start building.

Yet, it’s important to note: A portfolio is essential, but it’s not the single thing that will get you hired. There’s a lot more to it (interviews, networking, design challenges, and more). But don’t be discouraged. Let’s take it one step at a time.

Opportunity to reflect & organize your past experiences

Building your portfolio is a lengthy process. You need to decide which projects to include, plan out the design, and build the website.

But in this process, you will learn a lot more about yourself as a designer. What is your proudest work? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is your design superpower? What are your design principles?

Think about these when making your portfolio. It’ll help when you’re applying for internships/jobs.

Building a portfolio

After going over the basics, let’s get into the meaty part of this article: building!

Have you ever heard of this portfolio-building advice:

Treat your portfolio like a design project.

I never get what it means. It’s so vague.

Thus, let’s use the design thinking framework and try to build a portfolio.

design thinking

Phase 1 - Empathize


In this stage, we will specify our audiences and the type of research to conduct.

Who will look at my portfolio?

This is an important question that most people overlook. They’re so eager to finish their portfolio that they forget who it’s for.

In short, these two personas will most likely view your portfolio:

1 - Human Resources / Recruiter

  • Looks at 20-50 applicants per day
  • Disqualifies people that don’t have a good match with the role description
  • Typically not a designer -> visuals are important
  • Wants to fill the position -> Your friend!

2 - Hiring Manager

  • Busy
  • Reviews only those who match the requirements
  • Wants to see the process
Two personas


This is also a crucial step before you start building. Look into:

Past Employee Portfolios

If you want to get into Spotify, go check out past/current Spotify’s employee portfolios!

Portfolio Inspirations

Find portfolios that you like and don’t like and add your favorite elements to your portfolio!

Job Descriptions

If you know what company you want to work at, check out their job description and see what skills they look for!


After going over your audiences and research, here are two takeaways:

Keep your portfolio concise & easy to navigate!

Remember, your audiences don’t have time! The common consensus is that you only have 20 seconds!

Show clear process

The point of a design is to solve a problem. Show what and why you did to solve the problem in your case study!

Phase 2 - Define


In this stage, we will do something very important: Self-reflection time.

Annoyed man

Wait, Guo... Why aren’t we building yet?

I know. I know what you’re feeling. But let me explain why this is important.

Remember our personas?

Two personas

This is what they see on a daily basis:

Gallery of people

This is what it’s like when you’re applying for an internship or job. You’re competing against thousands of unique and talented applicants. It’s overwhelming.

Thus, how can we stand out amongst the sea of applicants?

Standing out amongst a crowd

The answer: Your voice and personal brand as a designer.

How should I package myself so that I stand out from the rest of them?

Ask yourself:

  1. What is it that’s unique about me?
  2. What is my background? How did I get in to UX?
  3. What kind of skills do I have that will be useful for this role?
  4. What are my interests and passion that lines up with this job? How can I relate my previous experience or project to it?
  5. What skills or knowledge do I lack? What can I do to gain them?

Trust me. If you can figure this out early, you will be miles ahead in the game. Because as a designer, self-awareness is a valuable skill.

How to choose projects

After you contemplate who you are as a designer, you now need to select projects to showcase. Here are four criteria to consider:

End-to-end design

Goes through the full design process that can be explained clearly.

Type of medium

Mobile, web, watch, VR/AR - It’s good to diversify the medium unless you’re specializing.

High impact

Goes through the design process and has measurable and high impact (#).

Passion projects

A personal project that you’re passionate and proud about.

How to choose projects

Website structure

website structure

The barebone structure for a design portfolio is as follow:


This is your opportunity to grab your visitor’s attention. It’ll establish their first impression of the site. Tell the audience who you are and display your projects.


How you want to format this page depends on you. Feel free to show a more personal side of you.

Work (optional)

I’ve seen people have a separate “work” page with all their case studies. I prefer showcasing all my case studies on my home page, but it’s up to your preference.

Case study structure

Here is a common structure for showing projects:

  1. Overview
  2. Your roles and responsibilities
  3. Your partners and stakeholders
  4. Problem statement
  5. Users and audience, how you defined or clarify those
  6. Your Scope and constraints how you defined or clarified those
  7. Your chosen design process, and why you chose to design this way
  8. Your testing process, and why you tested this way
  9. Outcomes and results, how you measured success, and why it is meaningful
  10. Reflection, lessons, or next steps

Phase 3 - Ideate


In this stage, we will brainstorm the look & feel, structure, navigation of the site. Here are some reminders when ideating:

You have less than 20 seconds to impress

As mentioned earlier, both hiring managers and recruiters don’t have much time. Thus, grab the visitor’s attention immediately (animation, 3D modeling, bold colors, typography).

gallery of portfolio home page
Some of my favorite portfolios

Stay concise & easy to navigate

If a visitor can’t see what he wants with a few clicks, it’s over.

Examples of good navigation
Ways to create clear navigation

(Meaningful) Visuals over words

Make sure that each visual you use has its purpose. When done right, it’s powerful.

gallery of visuals
Infographic, mockups, boxes

What tools to use?

I use pencil & paper for rough sketches and low-fidelity wireframes. Then, I use Whimsical for user flow and mid-fidelity wireframes. I use Figma for high-fidelity wireframes.

Phase 4 - Prototype


In this stage, we will start building the portfolio. We will also answer the most asked question for a portfolio

What tools should I use?

For me, the answer varies based on your preferences:

Simple & NO Code

Advanced & optional code

I love to code!

  • Front-end development all the way!

Phase 5 - Test


In this stage, we will ask for portfolio feedbacks. Here are some tips when doing this:

Use ADPList

ADPList is a place where you can book appointments with industry professionals. It’s a GEM!

Be specific about questions

Know what you want to ask and be specific! For example, what’s your first impression of my portfolio?

Go through a case study

Sit down with a designer and go through a case study yourself as if you’re in an interview.

Remember: design thinking is never a linear stage. So iterate and refine your portfolio as you build it out and gather feedbacks.


Woohoo! You made it to this section! 🎉

Here, I want to answer specific questions from imaginary personas. Hope this will answer a question you might have.

Hi Guo! I don’t have a portfolio now! Where should I start?  (John, college freshmen)

Hi John! I will recommend first find at least three projects you believe is worthy for portfolio.

If you can find them, write out the project details in a document and start designing. If not, join hackathons, work on side projects, and take design courses at your school to gain project experience.

Also, look up designers and portfolios you like. Learn what works well and doesn’t on their portfolio.

Hi Guo! I do have a portfolio! But I don’t feel like it’s strong enough...  (Isabella, college sophomore)

Hi Isabelle! I will recommend you to try to realize why exactly does it feel “not good enough” and fix them. For instance:

Problem 1: Case study has too many text

Add more visuals or infographics to break up the text!

Problem 2: Looks very basic and generic

Delve deep into your values as a designers & what makes you stand out. Then try to apply that to your entire portfolio visual!

Hi Guo! Why does everyone’s portfolio look so much better than mine... :(  (George, college junior)

Hi George! This is such a common and valid concern. Imposter syndrome is real. And if not treated right, it can turn into an infinite rabbit hole of negativity!

I will suggest avoid “comparing” at all cost. Focus on yourself and see if you’re improving as a designer.

These “better” designers should serve as inspirations. They should not beat you down mentally.

Remember that it’ll take time and trust the process.

Just for reference...

This is my portfolio back in 2019.

2019 portfolio
Portfolio Link

And this is my current portfolio in 2022.

Portfolio Link

Trust the process!


Onto the last section of this article, I want to share some helpful resources.

For inspirations

Cofolios: Showcase of design intern portfolios at top tech companies.

Awwwards: Great site for more experimental designs.

LinkedIn: Find designers you like on LinkedIn and check out their portfolio.

Bestfolios: A gallery featuring portfolios, resumes, and other design inspirations.

For critiques

ADPList: A gem in the design community. Reach out to as many industry professionals you want!

Design Buddies: The largest design community. Feel free to join their Discord and share your portfolio for feedbacks.

For further readings

Lastly, as I promised...

Here is the link to the Figma presentation.

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

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