Every interior designer has to start somewhere. No matter how successful they are today, each designer had a very first project.
It might follow that new designers will simply have to go without a portfolio in the beginning as they start looking for their first paid gigs.
However, even the most novice designers can — and should — create portfolios.
Portfolios are more important than any other tool when it comes to attracting more and better clients.
A distinctive collection of work displayed professionally will help clarify your business’ aesthetic and help launch a strong brand foundation.
Here’s what you need to know about how to curate and publish a brand-new interior design portfolio.
Clarify Your Niche
We’ve discussed how important it is for interior designers to establish a clear market niche. Specializing will help you get more jobs that you truly love. Over time, it will also help you command better rates.
Getting intentional about what type of client you want to serve and how you’ll meet their needs is not optional — it’s essential. It clarifies your business purpose and forms the foundation of your marketing strategy.
Your defined niche will likely center on a certain design style and a few other limiting factors, such as a budget range and standard type of interior. A few examples could be “upscale modern homes” or “boho chic loft living.”
Once you’ve settled on one, start to create a portfolio that articulates that vision clearly and professionally.
The Main Objectives of a Good Portfolio
Your portfolio is your most important sales tool. It, more than anything else, is what will make a potential client decide whether to reach out and meet you.
To make a great first impression, your portfolio should do three things well.
Present Your Work Professionally
Although some designers still rely on printed portfolios, the majority of clients will look for your services 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 visitor to see your work.
Thankfully, in today’s digital age, the physical task of building a beautiful portfolio has never been easier, with portfolio-building software that allows you to simply choose a template and upload photos.
But you still have to make sure that all photos are adjusted for optimal brightness and color, and free of any blurriness or pixelation.
The visitor 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 family and friends to check out your finished project and give you feedback so you can make it as easy to use as possible.
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 portfolio.
A carefully curated collection of your best work will set your services apart from those of other designers and attract clients 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 some variety in your portfolio, such as the same aesthetic style in various interiors or budget ranges. But the projects should all come together to form a common thread about the work you do.
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 clients a glimpse into your creative process. They show clients that you will be bringing a lot of expertise and thorough planning to each project you work on.
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.
Here’s an example of one of these narratives: “Client A had been trying to redesign their master bedroom for months but couldn’t find a floor plan that worked for the unusually shaped room. They finally reached out after finding me on Instagram, and we found the perfect combination of furniture to fit in the space and create a calm, soothing haven. Client A’s bedroom now features a small desk and chair, and Client A loves to spend time journaling in their new desk area in the morning.”
If you can add actual 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.Photos alone aren’t enough. Each project in your portfolio should tell a story. Click To Tweet
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?”
New interior designers will have to get creative, but there are definitely options.
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 own 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 permission to feature your clients’ homes 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.