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Bespoke Careers

22 March 2024

22 March 2024

How to build an impressive portfolio in the architecture & design field

Are you searching for industry insiders’ advice on how to build an architecture portfolio? Look no further. From our perspective from both sides of the fence – as designers and architects submitting our own portfolios and as recruiters assisting firms with portfolio reviews – we’ve gathered a few pearls of ageless wisdom on what makes a portfolio special.  

Whether you’re a junior keen to make your mark as a commercial architect or need a refresher before you re-enter the market for interior architecture jobs, here are a few tips for making your portfolio stand out.  

Understand the difference between sample portfolios and full portfolios 

Understanding the difference between a sample portfolio and a full (or general) portfolio is an important aspect of the job-hunting process.   

In your initial job application, a sample portfolio will serve as an introduction to your skills. Think of it as your highlight reel, carefully curated to showcase your absolute best work. This condensed version typically spans around 8 to 10 pages.  

When a hiring manager likes what they see in your sample portfolio, it’s likely they will request to see your full portfolio, so you should have this one ready to go as well. Your full portfolio will be quite comprehensive relative to your sample portfolio, so aim for 40-50 pages.  

Express yourself with canny design choices 

Employers look for evidence of a candidate’s considered self-expression through a well-made portfolio. Ensure you take the time to make it your canvas! 

The design, layout, fonts and colour scheme of your portfolio are the details that show your portfolio is more than just the sum of its parts. Your design choices should be in harmony with the work you’re highlighting in your portfolio. Consistency of these elements will demonstrate your design credibility. Just remember to use font types and sizes that are readable! 

Your portfolio’s design will express your style as an architect or designer and complement the details in your portfolio that make you unique. For inspiration, check out platforms like Behance, where you can view portfolio samples from other architects and designers.  

Give your best work prominence 

Those initial seconds of a portfolio review are crucial for making a lasting impression on a hiring manager, so make sure to lead with your best work in both your sample and full portfolios. Begin with your most professional and captivating projects to immediately grab their attention and demonstrate your skills and capabilities. Remember to clearly describe the purpose of a project – whether it was for a commercial project or part of your university coursework. 

Let the visuals guide you 

When it comes to crafting a portfolio for architecture or design jobs, visual storytelling reigns supreme. Picture this: a sleek, modern layout showcasing stunning images of your most impressive projects, accompanied by concise yet compelling descriptions. This is the essence of a well-crafted portfolio – a powerful tool that can make all the difference in landing your dream job. 

Tailor your portfolio for the audience 

Curation is vital for any effective portfolio presentation. Designer and architect jobs are shaped around the unique requirements of each firm – their clients, design philosophies, market niche, geographical region, and so on. So, it makes sense to emphasise the work that is most closely aligned with the job you’re applying for.  

For example, if you have a mix of commercial and residential experience but you’re applying for commercial architect jobs, it’s best to err on the side of brevity and only showcase your commercial work. 

If you’re applying for different types of roles, keep a few versions of your sample portfolio on hand and be ready to edit accordingly. 

Highlight the narrative 

One of our favourite tips on how to build an architecture portfolio is to take the viewer on a journey, signposts and all. Highlighting your inspirations, challenges, and solutions for major projects is an excellent way to convey your thought process and creativity.  

Along with images, renders and sketches, you could also include material to illustrate what inspired you, in the form of mini mood boards.  

Build a vision board for inspiration  

If you love discovering the architecture and design work of others as much as we do, compiling snapshots and other bits and pieces from online and print sources can give you inspiration for how to shape your own portfolio.  

Look to architecture and design publications that resonate with your style and interests for inspiration. Study how they present work and incorporate elements that align with your aesthetic and goals. 

Be transparent  

It's wise to accurately represent your contributions to each project, regardless of your role. The aim is to look for ways to highlight why you performed your tasks well.  

Hiring managers understand that teamwork is a given. Remember, any exaggerations or misrepresentations can be uncovered with a reference check, so it’s better to be honest!  

Technical tips on how to build an architecture portfolio 

Clearly label everything: Organisation is crucial in a portfolio. Label each project and its components clearly to guide the viewer through your work seamlessly. Avoid clutter and layouts that are counterintuitive to follow. 

Use images wisely: Start with a hero image for each project that shows off the very best aspect of your work – and don’t forget to caption your images throughout your portfolio. 

Optimise for accessibility: We recommend sticking to the PDF format for architecture and design portfolios, with a manageable file size of less than 10 MB for sample portfolios and under 20 MB for full portfolios. PDF is the most durable and shareable format across the widest variety of businesses. Just remember to compress your images if needed! 

Be wary of relying on portfolio websites: Using portfolio websites with pre-loaded templates may seem more convenient, but they do come with risks. You’ll be limited to the design templates of that platform (unless you have web design skills) and you can easily lose your work if the platform goes out of business! PDFs by comparison remain unchanged in layout, whether they’re viewed on a screen or in print.  

Proofread before submitting: Spelling and grammar checks should be the bare minimum for proofreading, but we also recommend you have someone look at your portfolio to give it a once-over before you submit it for a job application. A second pair of eyes always helps! 

Get expert portfolio advice for architect and design jobs 

Need help with a portfolio review or refining your CV for architect and design jobs? The team at Bespoke Careers can guide you through this process, help you showcase your best work and support you in landing that dream role. For dedicated career support from qualified architects and designers, contact us here.  

Author: Lindsay Urquhart, Bespoke Careers

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