If you’re a newly graduated designer who wants to work for a commercial design firm, or even if you’re a seasoned designer itching to make the switch from residential to commercial design, one thing is true: You need to build a professional portfolio to land a job at a commercial interior design firm.
But how do you get started?
Begin with this guide. Below, we’ll share essential 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?
While you could link to your social media profile, it’s almost always better to share a carefully curated collection, i.e. a professionally created portfolio.
On social media, we all have the tendency to share everything we’ve ever done. But this can be confusing to a potential employer because a social media feed often lacks a cohesive point of view.
However, in your portfolio, you can focus on your unique design personality. And you also have the opportunity to create a narrative that shows why you’re the right person for the job.
This is why portfolios are more important than any other tool. Your portfolio can showcase what you offer to potential employers. It also clarifies your unique design point of view.
Plus, portfolios aren’t only great for getting an interview, but they can also be used during the interview. By showing your process and ideas, you can demonstrate your philosophy and how you approach design. So when creating a portfolio, consider how you’ll use it during an interview to explore your design skills.
How to Build an Interior Design Portfolio
Follow These 3 Steps
To make a great first impression, your portfolio should do three things well:
1. Present Your Work Professionally
While some designers may still rely on printed portfolios, the majority of prospective employers will look for your portfolio online. It goes without saying that a great design project won’t look so great if it’s on an ugly website, in a slideshow that won’t display your photos in the proper dimensions or resolution, or even just presented in a way that doesn’t make it easy for the employer to see your work.
Thankfully, in today’s digital age, the physical task of building a beautiful interior design portfolio has never been easier, with portfolio-building software that allows you to simply choose a template and upload photos. (We’ll share those resources at the end of this guide.)
Be sure to adjust all photos for optimal brightness and color. Make sure they’re free of any blurriness or pixelation. Also include sketches and preliminary work, not only your final renderings or photos. This gives you an opportunity to write about the design development process and how you worked with your teammates and clients.
Speaking of the team, you also discuss the role you played in the team, and your specific set of responsibilities. Seek to establish yourself as a valuable part of the team that helped make the project a reality.
Don’t be afraid to be descriptive in your portfolio, because it gives the prospective employer more insight.
Here’s some of the topics you can highlight in your portfolio:
- The technology you used in your projects (including design software, such as Revit or CAD, and also the project management tools and other tools they use to share ideas and information)
- Technical skills you’ve acquired
If possible, include design related topics that inspire you, such as sustainability, LEED, current commercial 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.
In addition to your portfolio, consider writing about your work in a personal blog or on LinkedIn (or another social media platform). For your blog, you can use SquareSpace, WordPress, Wix, or a similar platform that’s simple to set up and share.
Finally, your prospective employer should be able to scroll through photos and check out your work in a simple, intuitive way, with no confusion or slow load times. Ask designer friends and colleagues to check out your finished project and give you feedback so you can make it as easy to use as possible.
2. Make a Concise and Deliberate Impression
Some new designers hesitate to commit fully to one niche. They worry it’s too limiting, or that establishing a distinctive brand right away will pigeonhole them into a certain kind of work too early.
However, starting off with one specialization doesn’t mean you can’t pivot later. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t do other, more varied work: Just keep the projects that don’t fit your aesthetic out of your interior design portfolio.
A showcase of your best work will set you apart from those of other designers and attract prospective employers who share your style, as we mentioned. For that reason, the portfolio should only show work that you want to repeat and specialize in.
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.
You may want to include a variety of project types, such as hospitality design, retail design, product design, and residential design. But the projects should all come together to form a common thread about the work you do.
3. Tell a Story About Your Work
Stories are naturally engaging to all humans, and that makes them a great way to get your message across.
The main draw of your portfolio will be the photographs of finished projects, but you may also want to include design concepts, mood boards, renderings, layouts, and other documents in your portfolio that show how you came to each final product.
These additional images give potential employers a glimpse into your creative process. They show that you will be bringing expertise and thorough planning to each project.
Make your projects more compelling with small narratives. A short paragraph about your relationship with the client and the end result of the project is a great touch.
Even if you don’t have experience as a commercial designer, you can still include a design problem that you solved in a residential project.
If you can add testimonial quotes to each project, even better.
Look at each of the projects featured on your site as its own little story. But the collection of projects will come together to tell a bigger story about you as a designer, and why your clients love to work with you.
Identify Your Audience
When building a portfolio for employment (and not just enjoyment), think of your target audience.
Your work portfolio is about you but it’s intended for your prospective employer. When debating on which projects to add to your portfolio, ask yourself if it will help your prospective employer learn more about you and see a space for you in their firm.
Gather Portfolio Material
At this point you might be thinking: “Sure, that all sounds great, but what if I don’t have any projects to showcase?”
What if you’ve never worked professionally? Or what if your professional work is unrelated to the position you’re applying for?
Fortunately, you have options.
If you’ve recently graduated from design school, you can use your graduate portfolio to show your skills and unique design style. Employers who are looking to hire new graduates are aware that you don’t have “real world” design experience, so try not to let that stop you from applying for a job.
However, if you don’t have a graduate portfolio or if you’re concerned that your portfolio isn’t substantial enough to get you a job with your dream commercial design firm, here’s what you can do:
First, keep in mind that the work you show doesn’t have to be work that people paid for.
You can showcase work from school if you were an interior design student, for example. If you’ve done work for friends and family, you can also use that. Haven’t worked for anyone else yet? Look around your living space and document the work you did to make it beautiful.
If you haven’t done any of those things yet, it’s time to start. Solicit family and friends to let you redesign their spaces, or create rooms for fictional clients and display the results with an explanation of how you came up with each character. There’s no need to be disingenuous. People just want to see what you’re capable of, regardless of who paid for it.
As you start developing your portfolio, you’ll need to ask for your clients’ permission to feature their project on your website, and ideally get a written release from them. As you build your client onboarding procedures, add this photo release agreement and the final photo shoot into your standard procedure. This way, you continue to improve your portfolio over time.
How to Create an Online Portfolio to Showcase Your Interior Design Work
Here are a few tools to help you quickly and easily build a portfolio website:
Use Format to build a portfolio website. You can customize your website in minutes with the easy-to-use built-in editor (no coding required). Format also comes with 24/7 customer support in case you run into any technical issues with setting up your portfolio site.
Portfoliobox is another option that allows you to build a site to house your portfolio. If you opt for the Pro Package, a free domain name is also included in the package. But, if you already own a domain, you can use it with Portfoliobox.
Issuu gives you the power to create and share a digital version of your portfolio. You can use Issuu to turn a PDF into an SEO-friendly social media story, email graphic, or flipbook for your website.
Building an interior design portfolio can be intimidating, especially when you’re just starting out. Keep in mind that your prospective employer is not looking for a massive 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.
Here are more resources to consider when building your interior design portfolio: