Neil Leonard: Presenting your portfolio

Neil Leonard: Presenting your portfolio

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 10/07/13

Bournemouth-based web and print designer Neil Leonard has worked for a range of clients including publishers, charities and businesses. In advance of his IdeasTap portfolio reviews he shares his advice on presenting and selling your work…

You need to show an aspect of your personality in your portfolio. It’s a problem if the work is too derivative.

Mainly, I want to see a range of projects. Try to show commercial and non-commercial work. Non-commercial shows you can think and have really good ideas. The commercial stuff shows that you can apply that.

I would never separate out the commercial and non-commercial strands. Instead find a good flow to the work. It might mean that across the spread you’ve got two pieces with similar colour palettes, or a linking theme. You want a narrative going through your portfolio – not just the best bits at the front and a good piece to finish. You have to think about the middle and the way the projects link.

It doesn’t only have to be finished work – really good sketches or mood boards can be included too. They show your thinking. Employers want to know that you can think – they can always teach you new skills. Good ideas are much harder to teach.

Don’t be afraid to show that you can do the basics. Anyone can sell models, high-end cars, amazing landscapes – the skill is in how you sell a bottle of milk.

Show your work in a range of contexts. Not only does that show that you’ve got good ideas, but also that you’re thinking about where your work can be placed. Just because you’ve done a book cover, it doesn’t mean you’ll only get book covers. A book cover also shows you understand about print processes, layout and audiences.

You have to put yourself in the places where you’ll meet the right people. I’ve always gone to networking events and met people through that – rather than pitching for work traditionally. I’ve got website commissions because I sat next to someone on the train. And don’t just go to industry events. I go to a lot of Chamber of Commerce events, which sound really dull (they are) but you meet people who own companies. They’re the people who’ll hire you – not other designers.

Find out what you’re really good at, what your unique skill is, and run with it.


In Focus: Which websites to use to sell your work online

On web shops like Big Cartel and Society6 you can make your own postcards, prints, books and t-shirts and sell them directly to customers.

I have a Big Cartel Shop. I’ve also used Etsy but it’s a bit overcrowded now.

Square Space is a really good up-and-coming one too. As soon as Stripe [a version of PayPal] is brought into the UK I think that’s really going to take off. It’s one of the easiest platforms to use.

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