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Portfolio strategies

One format or venue is unlikely to serve all your needs. Most creatives plan on some combination of the previously mentioned media and online options. But what should you put where, and how do you end up with a coherent personal story? There are several ways to approach the multiple portfolio problem: duplicating, dispersing, dividing, doubling, and developing.


When you duplicate, you have a single body of work in many formats. You develop your portfolio themes, choose the best pieces to illustrate them, and create one portfolio version—the easiest to create or the one you need immediately—first. After this portfolio has been tested, presented, and, if necessary, refined, you duplicate it in other media. The plus of this approach is that it’s very fast. Updates happen in tandem, and you never have to remember who saw which version of your work.

There are two minuses. First, you may be showing some work in a medium that compromises its effectiveness. More important, you have no second act. Any-one who was interested in your first portfolio will want to see more and different material elsewhere. It is particularly important that you have something extra that you can show in person.


The divided portfolio demands more thought and preparation than simple duplication. The first stage of dividing can be relatively straightforward. Material that doesn’t look right onscreen and can’t be zoomed into or manipulated remains in a traditional portfolio, which you use only in personal presentations. Anything that is effective onscreen stays there. The few pieces that sparkle both digitally and traditionally remain in both versions but may be highlighted differently onscreen and off.

But once you’ve determined on- versus off-screen material, you may need to divide further, or differently. What if you don’t need a traditional portfolio, but you have some work that doesn’t feel like it belongs on your personal website? Do you have alternative concepts, or process work? These belong someplace where they can tell a story about how you think. Here’s material that could be divided out and posted on a blog. Other times, you feel the work needs a narrator. It might work as part of a traditional portfolio, or even better as part of a laptop presentation you prepare for people who have seen and liked your website.



Designer Luke Williams’ thesis project was a photographic essay. Although he posts a sampling in the photo section of his portfolio, he uses the division concept to display the images in a more appropriate venue, directing interested viewers to his Flickr site.


Dispersing is a variation on dividing. You create a core group of work that exists as a coherent prime portfolio. A couple of the best individual pieces, or a subset reel, can be posted on one of the self-publishing sites to build traffic.

Then you look at the pieces that you didn’t include in this collection. After eliminating the ones that are really not your best efforts, you’ll probably find additional pieces from a series of projects, project work, concept sketches for ideas that are still in germination, or secondary artwork (illustrations, photos, 3D art) that you are proud of but that are not your primary focus. These pieces, by themselves or joined with related pieces from the main portfolio, can be salted into other venues. Are you a designer, but consider yourself a good photographer? Maybe some of your photo work belongs on Flickr, with some commentary on how you use it to develop your design ideas. Have a good poster that you’ve weeded from your main site to make room for new work? It may be perfect in a blog with a discussion of your typographic decisions.


Doubling—maintaining two completely different portfolios—is not just useful, it’s required if you do more than one thing well and the two things speak to radically different audiences. Fine artists who actively solicit commercial illustration, designers who also photograph, or illustrators who design are often best served by keeping these specialized skills separate.

It is possible to create distinct areas on a single website, but think twice before you try. This tactic can work brilliantly if you are really a double- or triple-threat, or if your secondary creative outlet illuminates some aspect of your primary expertise. If the second element is only a tag-on, it weakens your overall presentation.


When you develop, you are planning on a radical break with your past, rather than an expansion or transition. A small selection of older material may combine with newly invented work—revisions of older projects or brand-new ideas—explicitly created for one new portfolio that will take the place of all existing ones.

You use the developing strategy when you are in the process of reinventing yourself, but still need to maintain a professional presence for current employment. If, for example, you want to move into a new specialty within your profession—like a photographer moving from product to editorial shots—developing may be the only way to do it. The same is true if you have been an exhibit designer but you are now studying interactive design or architecture.

The negative points of developing come down to two little words with big impact: money and time. Developing from scratch is by far the hardest strategy—short term. But it’s often best to take the long view with your portfolio. Everyone has periods of feast and famine, even during good economic times. The quiet periods are ideal for developing new material, which will hopefully help to minimize downtimes in the future.

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