It seems like every week someone asks me for instructional design portfolio tips, so it was time to write a post. Today, I'm going to start with the top three considerations you need to work through when designing your portfolio: branding, content, and user experience.
A portfolio is a way to show off your personal style and talents. It's part of your larger brand story.
That's why most people will tell you that when you start trying to piece together a portfolio you should consider your niche. Having an ideal client/community helps to further define and gain visibility for your brand.
This concept is the thing that seems to send most IDs into perfectionism-related procrastination. They just can't start until they've figured out their EXACT niche.
Now while I'm a big advocate for having a niche, please don't let that stop you. Sometimes, the work you do informs the decisions you make about the kind of work you want to be doing.
For me, deciding whether you want to do K-12, Higher Ed, or Corporate work (government kind of feels like corporate to me most of the time) is probably enough for someone who is just going to market.
Instead of worrying about whether you want to work with pet supply stores or law enforcement agencies or English teachers, think about these two things:
2. What kind of work environment do you want to be a part of? Are you looking to work for an organization that's always an early adopter of cutting edge technology? Are you looking for an organization that's playful and friendly? Are you looking for something that feels serious and corporate?
What you decide will ultimately change the style in which you create and present your assets. That's really the point of niching down-- to help focus your communication. It influences everything from the language, colors, graphics, and fonts to the items you choose to share. It influences how you develop your brand presence.
(If you want to do more work on branding, may I recommend the Build a Brand Toolkit on the Upskill Experience 😉)
What goes into the portfolio? I must get this question at least once a week. Two things-- your work samples and your work story.
If you have 3 great pieces that take a potential hiring manager less than 3 minutes to go through, you've done enough (though you can always do more later).
These pieces should highlight the kinds of work you WANT to be doing and be very high quality samples.
Why so few and so short?
A hiring manager DOES NOT have a half hour to sift through all your samples or even to sit through your one incredible eLearning module. And even if they do, they probably won't. Pick a scene or something.
For example, on my portfolio, I only have ONE Storyline example, and it wasn't built for a client-- as most of my stuff is protected through NDAs/confidentiality agreements. It's about 4 - 5 slides long and takes about 1 minute to get through. But by doing it, a client could see how I think about design and that I can create more than "text and next" slides. That's enough.
I've worked on a ton of projects, though, and I want clients to know that. I especially want them to know what kinds of work I've done, so I've curated a list of nearly all the projects I've completed (which reminds me that I need to update my portfolio, as I've added a few to the list). It shows that I'm experienced without forcing people to click through a million samples.
And remember... quality matters way more than quantity.
For most clients, visual design will be an indicator of quality work. So even if you're not big on the visual design stuff, do your best to impress here. That said, impressive work doesn't have to be complex or over the top. Simple can still be sophisticated.
Tell the story behind the piece. Help the viewer understand your process, your design philosophy, and your impact.
If it's a real project, provide a short case study write up.
If it's a hypothetical/made for the portfolio project, then explain the problem you were trying to solve and your rationale for your design.
The other part that people often forget is that, in our field, it's not always obvious how much work you've completed on a project. I've worked with very talented video producers, eLearning developers, and graphic designers on multiple occasions to help bring my storyboards to life. While I might still want to show the end product, it's important that I specify what my role was in the process and not try to take credit for work that I did not do.
Remember, the point of the portfolio is to help your potential client or employer see your talent.
Consider the user experience (UX) when it comes to your portfolio. Most instructional design work requires at least a hint of UX design thinking these days anyway (hello, LXD). Think about your portfolio as your would think about LXD (yes, it's all very meta).
How do you want the user to experience your work?
What pathway do you want them to follow through your portfolio? Are certain things more impressive/important than others?
What's the story you're trying to tell?
What do you want them to do by the time they're done? What's your call to action for them?
Honestly, if you can do these three things, you're ahead of the game already, regardless of what media types you choose to include in your portfolio.
I can't say my portfolio is the most beautiful portfolio in the whole world. I designed it with Articulate Rise. It's fairly simple.
BUT it does meet my goals for the user, and it does get a lot of positive feedback from potential clients. It's also easy for me to manage. These are the critical aspects for me.
I should also note that my portfolio is "separate" from my website. You can go through YourInstructionalDesigner.com, including the about me and services section, without click into my portfolio. There is a Portfolio tab with an opt in form to view it.
If you want a real WOW example, I'm always inspired by Cath Ellis's portfolio.
BUT LET ME BE CLEAR... your portfolio doesn't have to look like Cath's or even mine when you're first starting out.
Just get it done!
It can and will evolve. In fact, I'd suggest planning for an update every 6 months.
But get it done!
Because you won't reap the benefits until after you share it.
Need some content inspiration for your portfolio?
Check out the monthly portfolio challenges on the Freelance Instructional Designers, eLearning Developers & LXDs Facebook community.
It's FREE to join, and there are monthly giveaways 🥳