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Ask Lawrence: What are people asking for when they want to see a 'conceptual folio'​?

23 Jan 11:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers Conceptual Folio

This week, we had a client who asked us to present folios to them that showed conceptual thinking. We applauded the client for this request, simply as we believe when it comes to great designers, this is a mandatory skill and yet so many creatives can completely miss how they present this ability in their folios. It was at this point that it felt like a good time to explore what you can do with your folio to showcase your creative conceptual skills.

There are four stages to creativity and yet we often only see the final product as part of the folio. Even then, we are lucky if we get a description of what the creative actually contributed to the project or what challenges they experienced during the brief. It’s amazing that for an industry that is built around visual communication and insight, we’re often finding ourselves pushing back on creatives for providing folios that just don’t represent their skill sets sufficiently.

Here are a few tips that you can take on board to make your folio showcase your creative conceptual skills.

Show your thought process

You’re been approached by a client to create a brand mark for them. You sit down and take a detailed brief, talking about what it is they want the brand mark to represent and the message they want it to convey. You sit down and do some research to come up with some concepts. You then begin to refine those concepts until you come up with three options that you feel match the brief and yet are unique and different enough in their own right to stand alone. You then present these to the client and they pick the one that they like before you refine it even further, making the tweaks and adjustments that they’ve requested.

Have you noticed in the above example, which most graphic designers would do, there are several opportunities where you are required to display your creative thinking? How often have you included the creation and evolution of a brand mark in your folio? What kind of message do you think showing this process would show about you as a designer?

Consider what happens next; you have now created the brand mark for the client and chances are you’re going to be required to roll that brand mark out across a few touch points whether it be from stationary through to apparel through to signage, point of sale or online. Each is going to have their own challenges, right? Each are going to require creative thinking to make it original and innovative. How do you display that in your folio to highlight how you use your conceptual creative ability to solve the problems that may be present?

Be in a mood

It isn’t uncommon for many designers to start with mood boards to highlight their research and their references. By sharing elements of this, it can allow people to gain some insight into how your research and draw together all the influences that start your creative process. One note though; if you are going to include this kind of work in your reference, it should not take up too much space and should be clearly noted as your mood board so as to not give the impression that the work is your creation.

You’re a creative; be creative

The point of the folio is to communicate your ability to be a designer. This means ALL facets of what it is to be a designer. Most designers get this wrong by only including the finished work, which is obviously essential however it feels like a missed opportunity to show case the creative thought process that went into the work before arriving at this last, beautiful piece that is included in the folio. If you sketch ideas for a brand mark, include them. If you have a before and after, show it. The folio shouldn’t just be about beautiful work, it should also be a document that highlights the power of conceptual thinking to work with a brief (or identified problem) and to provide a visual solution. 

Of course, if you have any thoughts, questions or simply would like to get in touch with me and offer up a topic for the next Ask Lawrence, you can contact me on or you can find me and connect with me on LinkedIn. You can check out more jobs by going to our website or you can search for them on Twitter via #CRJOBS.

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