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Ask Lawrence: How do I make my folio stand out?

05 Jun 11:00 By Lawrence Akers


When it comes to the Creative community, a folio is pretty much one of the most important ‘sales tools’ that a creative has.  Within that folio, they’re offering a glimpse as to what they’ve achieved, the range of work they’ve produced, and a look into their design flair.  In an industry that is visually driven, it is the confirmation that a potential employer needs to see to back up that everything on the resume is absolutely true.

This week’s Virtual Meet Up focused on folios and given the reaction we had and the number of questions we received, it is clearly a topic that is important to graphic designers and creatives alike.

Along with the replay below, this week I thought I would look at some of the top tips that came from the session for you to consider the next time you go to revise your folio.

Attention to detail

Regardless of if it is a PDF or online version, attention to detail is critical with your folio.  Whoever is viewing it will want to see that you’ve taken this document as seriously as you would any of their work and so things like URL’s that don’t work, spelling mistakes, and bad layout are going to immediately lose points for you.

On a similar note, if you’re applying for a creative job, PLEASE include a folio with your application.  Additionally, make sure that you are offering the correct URL for your folio in your CV.  Absolutely NO ‘Coming Soon’ sites.  If you’re looking for a job, then get this together before applying!  This might seem really obvious but you would be surprised by how many people apply for graphic design roles without offering everything a hiring manager would need to make an informed decision.  It is not their responsibility to chase this up from you; you should be doing the thinking for them and making it easier for them to determine if you meet the brief enough to shortlist.

While we’re at it, Instagram is NOT a folio.  I get that it is easy to upload an image to Instagram however you’re asking people to (a) have ready access to an Instagram account and (b) scroll through loads of work before finding what might be right for them.  You would be better off putting together a PDF and sending that to them, or having a considered and thought out online folio.

The range of work

Another aim of your folio is to showcase the range of work that you’ve done over time.  If all you’ve done is press ads and you offer 10 pages of press ads, your folio is going to completely undersell you.  You would be better off only having one or two pages and leaving it at that, or considering doing some personal projects to include that show your direction.  

One important note on personal projects though; always clearly label them as personal projects and NOT commercial work.  You don’t want to unintentionally mislead anyone with your folio either.  You could also ensure your personal project was created under a realistic time frame that would match industry expectations too; for example, some studios will only give x amount of time to create a press ad so match that.

If you have the other problem and have too much work, consider how you present it to your clients.  You could break it down into medium or industry for online, and with the PDF, you could create a ‘greatest hits’ PDF but then also create other versions that focus on particular skill sets, such as packaging, text heavy documents, wayfinding, etc.

Tell us what you did

It is always worth having a short description of what you did on the work.  Are you the sole person who worked on it?  What was your involvement?  Was it your concept?  Don’t leave it to the person looking at your folio to guess, give us some details.

Show your conceptual ideation

We’ll sometimes be asked to present creatives who have a ‘conceptual folio’.  Consider for a moment what that might mean.   Ideally, we’re looking for a folio that shows us your ideation process.  This could be perhaps showing the initial concept and then the development over time.  On a similar note, if you’re a retoucher, show us the before along with the finished work.

We want a ‘greatest hits’

When it comes to how many pieces to include in a folio, it would be safe to say that you are wanting around 10-15 pages of content max.  I’ve had people send me 100 pages of content before and no one has the time to work through all of that.   You might think this is impressive however I can assure you that it is just seen as lazy when we want to see work that relates to the job being advertised.

All we want to see is approximately 10 pages of well thought out work that is nicely laid out so that we can get an idea of the ‘wow factor’ pieces along with the ‘bread and butter’ pieces.  Give us your greatest hits.

Also consider the file size.  Sure, we have better internet speeds and all nowadays but many places may want to keep your folio on file and if you’re sending through files that are too big (I’ve personally received some over 100mb), then that isn’t going to happen.  It will get lost and it will work against you.  Keep them between 10-15mb maximum.

Make sure you’re allowed to show it

One last thing is the topic of permission.  If you’re a freelancer, you’re being paid by that company to provide a service to them and, as such, the intellectual property around that work will remain with that client.

The proper thing to do would be to approach that client and ask for permission to include it in your folio.  Many clients will appreciate that gesture and, in some cases, may even offer you the assets to use.

Some may not provide permission for whatever reason, whether it be non-disclosure or because the campaign is yet to run.  I recall one instance of a freelancer circulating a campaign to every advertising agency in Australia in an attempt to get work; one problem, the campaign hadn’t even been launched yet.  The campaign had to be scrapped and there were threats of legal action.  You put yourself in that risk if you don’t do the right thing by your client.

Be creative and share what you do well

I love it when I open up a folio and I have a wow moment.  It’s an opportunity to share your commercial work and to really inspire the viewer with your creative ability and skill.  Avoid including ‘other creative interests’ if you can; you don’t want to make the folio ‘all about you’ but you do want it to focus on your creativity.  It’s not a coffee table book on you, but it is a sales tool about what creative ideas you can bring to a company and while those two things have similarities, they also have distinct differences.