How to Build a Kick-Ass Portfolio

ADC Member Marianna Fierro's eight pieces of advice to keep stress levels low and job offers high

It’s now down to a matter of hours before ADC Portfolio Night 13 — the world’s biggest advertising portfolio review — kicks off in Tokyo before spreading westward to 23 other cities. But even though her expertise lies in the design field, ADC Member Marianna Fierro has some great advice for anyone putting their last-minute touches on their books ahead of tomorrow.


MariannafierroWhen graduation or summer internships are looming and it’s time to build a portfolio, it can be an overwhelming time for students. Luckily, this task doesn’t need to be as stressful as it sometimes becomes. These eight honest tips and tricks will assist young designers on the road to build a successful portfolio without unnecessary stress

1. You’re a designer — think like one.

Before even starting to move pixels around, it’s important to get your mindset right. Building a portfolio is not just about collating your projects into one place. Instead, think of your portfolio as a design challenge. Do research into your audience. Who do you want to see your portfolio and what are they looking for? Select your content and edit it down. Only show work you think will be most interesting to potential job prospects. You should establish a clear hierarchy for each of your assets to create a defined narrative around each project. And finally, develop the pacing of your pages so that projects are linked into an intuitive flow. Your portfolio is just like any other class assignment, apply the same knowledge and rules to your process. If you start thinking of your portfolio as a problem to solve, you’re already halfway there!

2. Do your research

As a student preparing to work on your portfolio, the first thing you’ll probably do is ask your class buddy how he is handling the task. While there is nothing is wrong with learning from your peers, he’s not the person who is going to hire you. Look beyond student portfolios and research how designers who have been playing the game for much longer do it. Spend some time studying how the firm of your dreams crafts their own portfolio, and use that knowledge to your advantage.

3. Smart and beautiful

If you are doing this design thing right, your work is not just beautiful, it’s smart too. Write a brief intro for each project, and organize your content in a way that allows the viewer to easily see what your thought process was. A kick-ass portfolio is not one that just shows pretty pictures, but one where concept and strategy are highlighted.

4. Building blocks

Every image should help develop your visual story from challenge to solution. Start from the basics, and add on. The way you organize your projects, and the elements within them will affect the way the viewer interacts with your work. Strong visual storytelling shows your ability to engage with the viewer and your care for detail. You already have all of the assets, now it is the time to craft the experience.

5. Make the project feel BIG

Show off your hard work! Find ways to document your projects in a way that makes them feel professional and epic. The way you compose your images can really affect the perception of the scale of your project and will maximize the impact it will have on the viewer. Direct the viewer’s attention to the tasty details and call out functionality.For example, instead of showing a full-length screenshot of a web page, place different instances of the page in a few devices. What in reality is one piece of design now will look like you designed several pages, and shows you’ve thought through how your design will really work in the hands of users. Not bad, right?

6. Have great imagery

Whether you decide to display your work with photographs or use high fidelity mockups, every image on your portfolio must look professional. Handling lighting properly for product photography is more difficult than it appears. Find yourself a friend that knows how to do it, or use this inconvenience as an opportunity to craft your Photoshop skills.

7.Be responsive

It is 2015 and you are a design student. There is no way around it. Having a responsive portfolio website means your work can be accessed by anyone at any time, on any kind of device. Employers who receive hundreds of job inquires, will most likely read those emails and look at portfolios over lunch break on their phones. Be responsible and be responsive!

8.Show your personality

Employers (the good ones at least) are not just looking for talented designers, but for great people that will fit into the culture of their studio. You can showcase who you are through your work, by showing your passion projects, sketchbooks, and self-initiated work. This is extremely valuable, as it communicates that you took the time to do work on your own and have your own unique interests.

Building your portfolio is not easy, but it is attainable . If you approach the challenge with the right mindset and apply what you spent those long 4-5 years learning in your studio classes, your portfolio will be kick-ass.

Portfolio Night 13 takes place this Wednesday, May 20. Tickets and info are available at



Hailing from the hills of Udine, Italy, Marianna began her adventure in the States as a foreign exchange student. After graduating with a degree in Visual Communication Design and Photo Illustration at Kent State University, Marianna moved to New York.

Marianna has recently been nominated one of the most promising new talents of 2015 by Communication Arts, to which she reacted with her classic “Oh Boy!”. She currently lives in Brooklyn, where she enjoys exploring the city and cooking big meals with her friends.