• Crystal Soto

Don't Have Design Experience?

HORARY—you've graduated! So, what's next? If you haven't done so already, you should be applying to your dream job or seeking out internship opportunities. While being a recent graduate has its perks, it also comes with setbacks. Most noticeably, not having any relevant work experience, leaving you with only school work to show in a portfolio. In theory, displaying school work is a "good start", but employers want to see more. They want to see this plus personal projects, including freelance work. You're probably thinking "Freelance? I barley had time for fun while attending school. What can I possibly put in my portfolio when I've never had clients or been paid for work?”

As a designer it will be your job to come up with concepts, present your ideas to a team, and carry through your concept to completion. A good way to add to your portfolio is to give yourself a project. If you're not sure where to start, think of a company you really admire or would like to work for. Research the type of work they produce and even research for ideas. Pick a category or concept and really think out your design. For example, a UX Designer is constantly creating concept work to showcase their skills in UX Research, collaboration, wireframing/prototyping, UX writing, visual communication, interaction design, etc. all for the purpose of keeping their skills relevant and adding to their portfolio. Developing and creating projects like this show that you know how to take something from concept to completion. It also shows a sense of style and problem solving abilities. So when you do get that interview be prepared to explain every aspect of your projects. Include how you framed your original ideas and the steps it took to execute them. Don't ever feel the need to pretend you got paid for something you didn’t, instead, be transparent in your responses being sure to clearly explain and navigate your own work calling your portfolio items concepts. 

Here are 8 projects you can add to your portfolio when you don't have design experience.

1. Typographic Poster

A skill highly valued by creative directors and art directors. Take advantage of this and wow them with some amazing concept-based typographic posters.

2. A Complete Branding Package
If you're ever unsure of where to start or looking for inspiration, Behance has a great examples of branding packages. Once you’re ready to get started — your next step will be to decide if you want to create a project for a real company or a fake one. It is important to be mindful of the items that are all included in a branding package such as: 

Website Design. design an SEO friendly website

Social media maintenance. A comprehensive social media suite is no longer a fun add-on for a digital brand package—a brand-consistent presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms is as essential as your website design itself. As part of your digital brand package, be sure to include mockups of your brand across these platforms.

Collateral print items. Just because digital rules the world doesn’t mean print has disappeared completely. There are a still fundamental print components you need to keep on the table when presenting a digital branding package. Business cards, stickers, postcards, and packaging, are all examples of print collateral pieces that you can add to bolster a digital campaign.

A style guide. This will tie up the project entirely, and showcase your ability to organize and plan. Check out the many digital style guides available online that you can use as a template or starting point in putting together your own rules for a comprehensive branding package.

3. Icon Sets

These are the stylish images that are typically attached to various functions on apps and websites. For example, the envelope icon that pops up to show you can share via email or the page icon with a folded tab means you can open/create a new window in your search browsers. 


While designing your own icon set is a standard project it's also an easy way to offer something for free to visitors on your website as well as something desirable in your portfolio. Icon design is often times overlooked by designers but in reality icons are a backbone of a website design. Showing your ability to design them lets employers know you have your fundamentals down. It’s also an opportunity to define your aesthetic, which helps people remember you and your work when perusing portfolios. 

4. Geometric Vector Artwork

This isn't always at the top of the list for client requests, however, they are very impressive when done well. Check out some amazing geometric artwork from the Behance community.

5. Photo Manipulation

This along with composite art is a skill that you'd never want to be without. Its the bread and butter of the design industry especially for in graphic design and advertising, and film. Create stunning visuals in Photoshop is a great project to place in your portfolio and also a way to have fun while still being practical when applying your skills.

Check out the following artist: Adriana Napolitano, Julio Martín Luiz Andrande.

6. Infographics

People are always on the go and therefore information needs to relayed immediately and in an engaging way. While its not an easy task, a skilled designer can make what was boring and make it interesting, and even sexy. Which is great to show potential employers and clients your skills while keeping the visuals fun and informative.

7. Motion Graphics

Are used in commercials, online advertisements, film, TV, and they grab our attention through movement. Any time you have the ability to add a skill to your repertoire — do it! Using apps like Adobe After Effects, Animate or even Apple Motion to add life to your graphics is a sure way to capture someone’s interest in your portfolio.

8. Interactive Print Media
Find and used interesting ways to make print an interactive experience. Today, the two categories: print and web are converging more and more so finding unique ways for your audience to interact with print work is a great way to get them familiar with your design and work. A great example of this is 19 Crimes wine label when holding your phone up to the label audio play.
9. Redesign a newsletter template

This may sound like a snooze fest, but I did this for my first portfolio while applying for my one of my first jobs in tech. One of the administrative duties of that job was to send out newsletters about events, interviews, breaking news, and other timely items so before I applied, I spent half a day redesigning the org’s newsletter, creating three samples and including it all in my portfolio. Needless to say, they were impressed. I got the interview (and two follow ups) AND the job.

To pull off a successful newsletter redesign, it’s helpful to remember a few best practices. First, put extra care in making your newsletter design short and simple—avoid long, impenetrable blocks of text and make sure there’s adequate white space in your overall design to make the text that is there appear streamlined and easy to read. Second, stick to the company's brand guidelines. Yes, this includes fonts! Don't stray from the brand. Be very cautious when using images or graphics—it’s easy to throw in stock photos or filler charts, but unless these images are integral to your design or critical to your brand identity they’re just going to distract from your message. Third, be mindful of the structure of your newsletter design. Remember to design for both desktop and mobile; Litmus Email Analytics reports that in 2016 mobile email opens rose to 56 percent (while desktop opens maintained at 19 percent). Meaning your design needs to be effective, mobile-forward, and content can be read as easily on either device.

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