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How to Create an Interior Design Portfolio to Wow Prospective Employers and Clients

Whether you're a seasoned interior design professional or a newly graduated designer, the one thing that is no different is the need to be able to show your body of work to prospective employers or clients. You need to build a professional portfolio to land a job at a commercial interior design firm or to sign up clients if you have your own creative studio.


But how do you get started?


We all have to start somewhere.

The truth is, we all have to start somewhere. I will share tips and tricks for building an effective and impressive portfolio, even if you’re just starting from scratch.



Why Do You Need an Interior Design Portfolio?

Are portfolios really necessary these days? Can’t you simply share a link to your Instagram and call it a day? For me, the answer is yes and no. The idea of a portfolio is that it shows your body of work and design direction in the very best light. It should be highly curated and only show the work you wish to present to others. If your social media profile does that, it might just fit the bill. I spend a lot of time curating my Instagram interior design profile and certainly consider it a portfolio for the most part.


However, creating a successful presence on Instagram is not easy. Read my 6 Tips to Boost Your Instagram Account & Grow. Unless maintained by a professional, a social media feed often lacks a cohesive point of view. For a professional career, particularly when applying for jobs, it’s almost always better to share a carefully curated collection, i.e. a professionally created portfolio.



In your portfolio, you can focus on your unique design personality and you have the opportunity to tailor it to your audience. You can adapt it to whoever you have in front of you to demonstrate why you’re the right person for the job or project. It also clarifies your unique design point of view. Portfolios are also useful during initial conversations, and allow you to show your process and ideas, demonstrate your philosophy and elaborate on how you approach design. So when creating a portfolio, consider how you’ll use it during meetings with potential employers or clients.


What if You're Starting from Scratch?

Maybe you're thinking 'EEK! I am only just getting started... I have nothing to show for it!'. Am I right? Don't worry, you can do this.


Take on small jobs

When you’re just starting, you can’t afford to be too picky in selecting your projects. Take on any opportunity you get. You will learn from every one of these jobs and walk away with something to show for it.


Document everything

Keep in mind that you don't need to show an entire house to give potential clients a sense of your design aesthetic. Even if you have only restyled a little corner of a space, you can use this to demonstrate your vision. Shoot close-ups of projects you’re working on, even if it’s as simple as restyling your mum's coffee table. You can showcase texture and style, without having to show completed rooms.


Let your own home do the talking

Start in your own home! Make it the envy of your friends, who in turn might ask you for help. Start building your portfolio by designing and styling your own space and take photos to document the process. You can also use projects you have done for friends and family.


Get creative

It’s okay, especially when you’re just starting out, to show images that don't necessarily show finished projects but refer to your thinking process. You could include coursework, (hand) renderings, mood boards, sketches etc. Showcase what inspires you and what design direction you're taking in your work. In the end, people hire you for you, not for your portfolio.


Start posting

Instagram is a great way to convey your aesthetic and style without necessarily showing your own work. Personally I only share my own work and home, and this is what you want to do as you get further along in your career, but by curating (and crediting) a gorgeous selection of architectural and design images that speak to you and your design aesthetic, could help define you as a designer. Explain why you're drawn to a certain image and how you implement certain features in your own home.


Start posting images of the smaller jobs you have done in your own home, and projects you've completed for friends. It's not just paid assignments that make up your portfolio. Take a professional approach to your Instagram account and it may become part of your portfolio.




3 Steps to Impress with your Interior Design Portfolio

To make a great first impression, your portfolio should do three things well:


1. Present Your Work Professionally

In this day and age, the majority of prospective employers and clients will expect an online and digital portfolio. This doesn't mean you cannot print your portfolio, but it's likely to already be out of date by the time it's returned from the printers. Creating a digital portfolio means you can be agile, adapt on the fly, always have it up to date with your latest work, and can customise it to your audience.


A great design project won’t look so great if it’s not photographed well, displayed on an ugly website, with content lacking the proper dimensions or resolution, or even just presented in a way that doesn’t flow well or make it easy for the people to see your work.


Thankfully, there are many options to create an online portfolio, even if you're not a graphic designer. Many website platforms offer in-house portfolio-building software that allows you to simply choose a template and upload photos. There are also plenty of third-party providers that offer site services specific to portfolio building (portfoliobox is an example). When you're just starting, you could also go for good old-fashioned PowerPoint or use Canva, and create your portfolio as a PDF to share digitally.


Be sure all your imagery is of great quality and shows your work in the best light. Use optimal brightness and colour and never use any photos that are blurry, or not in optimal resolution. If you're not using a professional photographer, you can read this blog for some tips to style your space and how to take photos for portfolio content to impress.



Include (professional) sketches, mood boards, sample boards, material boards and anything that shows a little about your process and creativity along the way to a final result. These additional images give potential employers a glimpse into your creative process and how your creative mind works. It gives you an opportunity to write about the design development process and how you work with others to achieve the desired results for clients.


Give potential employers a glimpse into your creative process and how your creative mind works.


You want to be a bit descriptive in your portfolio. I suggest dividing your work into chapters and have a little accompanying text about the project and what your brief and vision was. Don't write essays but talk about your technical skills, and what programs you use during the design process.


Include design related topics that inspire you.

If possible, include design related topics that inspire you, such as sustainability, LEED, current interior design trends, and empathy in design. It’s even better if you can include an example of how you incorporated these design trends into your own work.


Keep in mind, if your fantastic portfolio takes forever to load, or has very confusing navigation, it has missed its goal. It will not reach its intended audience. Simplicity is key. Test your portfolio and ask friends and family for feedback. It should be as easy to use as possible.


2. Communicate with Intent: be Concise and Deliberate

Just because you have worked on very different design projects, doesn't mean you have to include them all. Your portfolio should only contain the body of work you're most proud of, fit your design style and show your capabilities in the very best light.


You might be hesitant to commit to a certain nice, and worry about missing out on design projects that require you to take a slightly different direction. However, specialising in a certain design direction doesn't mean you can change your aesthetic at a later stage. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t do other, more varied work. You do not want to confuse your audience however: keep the projects that do not fit your aesthetic out of your interior design portfolio.



Your portfolio should only show work that you want to repeat and specialise in. A showcase of your best work will set you apart from others.


Your portfolio doesn’t have to be comprehensive. As you build your body of work, you can choose to include only the projects you loved the most. Of course you can include different project types, as long as you ensure there is a common thread about the work you do.


3. Tell a Story About Your Work

There is a saying that 'a picture is worth a thousand words', but in reality there is a fundamental difference between looking at a picture and reading text. From the point of view of how we process information, there is a fundamental gap between text and images.


Clearly communicate your vision, and make your imagery come to life.

Our biological need for imagery partly explains why showing an interior design portfolio is so effective and necessary. However, just as words cannot really turn into pictures, pictures cannot replace words in terms of their ability to convey clear and unambiguous information. You want to be able to clearly communicate your vision, and make your imagery come to life. Make your projects more compelling with small narratives. You may even consider adding testimonial quotes to each project. Look at each of the projects featured in your portfolio as its own little story. Find the right balance however; you're not creating a textbook!




How to Start Building an Interior Design Portfolio

Identify Your Audience

Who is your portfolio for? Who is going to see it? Prospective clients? Maybe a new employer? What is it that you want to show these people? What message do you want to convey?


When deciding on which projects to add to your portfolio, ask yourself if it puts your body of work in the very best light possible, tells something about you as a designer and shows off your design aesthetic. Don't include any work you're not proud of, just because you think you should. Curate and edit your work, simple often works best.


Gather Portfolio Material

As we discussed before, you might struggle for material when you're new to the business. Fortunately, you have options. Employers seeking to hire graduates do not expect a lot of real world experience. Do not let that stop you from applying for a job.


Keep in mind that you don't need to only show paid work. You can also showcase your course assignments, or own hobby projects. Look around your own living space and document the work you did to make it look beautiful.



If you haven’t done any of those things yet, it’s time to start. Ask family and friends if you can redesign their spaces. This is not fooling anyone, people just want to see what you’re capable of, regardless of whether it was a professional gig or not.


One thing to remember, and this is important, when you start including imagery of spaces that are not your own in your portfolio, you’ll need to ask for your clients’ permission to feature their project. Ideally you get a written release from them. As you start working professionally, you may want to include this in your standard terms and conditions, and discuss it from the start.

​​

Practical Tips to Create a Stunning Interior Design Portfolio

Pick an Appropriate Format

A portfolio is all about displaying your work in the most effective way. The first thing to decide upon is the display format, and what method you're going to use to display your portfolio.


Even if you decide to go for a printed version (you can probably tell by now that's not my preferred option), you should always consider a digital version of your portfolio. You want to be able to send your target audience a link to your portfolio for them to view at their leisure.


With this in mind, you will need to ensure that your digital portfolio is as clear on a laptop as it is on a tablet or mobile. If you have any links in the digital version replace them with QR codes on the physical version.


Only Include Your Best Work

There's a reason why I keep coming back to this point, as it's super important. Only showcase you're very best work. People don't look at your profile to see how many projects you have completed. They want to see your skills and the type of work you can create for them.


Also, we live in a 30 second world, and people lose interest quickly. Instantly capture attention and make your portfolio easy to digest.


Instantly capture attention and make your portfolio easy to digest.

Include Your Design Process

Show the way your mind works. Within your portfolio, you should include the creative journey taken to come up with your final designs. You can do this for each project, or only show it for one project - that’s your choice. The artistic skills you show the viewer will broaden their insight into your idea development as well as the method behind each project.



Use Stunning Interior Renders or Professional Photos

For each project that you show within your portfolio, you need to “wow” potential clients. High-quality photographs and CGI renders are a perfect way to do this. Not only do they look professional but they will also enable you to display your interior design accomplishments clearly.



Tell a story, not a monologue

As mentioned before, it's important to write a few lines of accompanying text. But keep it short and to the point. Avoid large chunks of text. This is a visual industry, and look and feel is more important. It's a good idea to divide your portfolio in chapters, which clear navigation.


Embrace the White

Keep the background of your portfolio calm, with plenty of negative space, You don't want to overwhelm the viewer. It should be obvious where the eye should land.


White pages that only have a heading with a few lines of text can be very impactful and help strengthen the impact of surrounding pages. In a printed portfolio, don’t be afraid to leave entire pages empty. Space gives your viewer’s eyes a chance to rest and briefly contemplate what they were looking at.



Have a Theme & Keep it Consistent

Have you created your own brand guidelines yet? If the answer is no, it is time to start thinking about it. The keyword here is consistency. You want your portfolio to be consistent throughout, represent what you stand for as a designer, and match all your other collateral.


Think carefully about a theme, and choose one that will compliment your work and you as a designer. Then commit to it.


Pick the Right Typography

At least as important as theme, and something that should certainly be big part of your brand guidelines, is using the right typography. If typography is done the right way, it has the ability to elevate your design and subconsciously guide the viewer.


Select a font that matches your style and establish a visual hierarchy by using different font weights and sizes. It's also a good idea to increase the line spacing to give your text room to breathe.


Don’t use too many different fonts. I personally use two; one for headings and another for general copy. Don't use fancy fonts that may look interesting but make text difficult to read. The moment the viewer needs to squint, you've lost them. Also don't make your text too small.




Final Thoughts

Building an interior design portfolio can be intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out. Keep in mind that your prospective employer or client is not looking for a large body of work. They simply want to see who you are as an interior designer. Your portfolio, even a smaller one, can successfully do that.


 

Would you like to learn more about Interior Design? Or perhaps become an interior designer yourself? Follow my footsteps and study Interior Design with The Interior Design Institute where I could be your personal tutor. Click here to read more and receive a discount.





2 comments

2 Comments


quite interesting. Lots to take in, starting mine soon. Thanks

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Marieke
Marieke
May 03
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Very pleased to hear that Christine - good luck!

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Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

I am Marieke, a Dutch Australian interior designer, business executive, tutor, content creator and social media influencer.

 

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