When you’re first starting out, you don’t usually have a lot of work to put into your portfolio. It can end up being a catch-22; you need clients to get work but you need work in your portfolio to get clients. So what do you do?
As a graphic designer, I know that getting clients isn’t always easy, and being a newly minted or flat out new designer is even harder. I have often been asked if there is a strategy to getting more work or more clients. I’d like to share a few relatively simple ways to fill your design portfolio that don’t require spec work (aka– selling your soul).
What is a personal project you say? Well, a personal project in the realm of a graphic designer is a project that you do that is creative but that you are not doing because you are being paid.
Personal projects, also called “Passion Projects” are things you do because you want to.
Personal projects are not commissioned or paid, they are things you do simply to sharpen your skills and are a way for you to constantly be creating even when you don’t have a client.
Here are some of my own examples of personal projects:
- I really wanted to learn and get better at hand lettering. I bought a few pens and started lettering song titles, quotes, individual letters of the alphabet, or people’s names. I still do this, and not only have I begun to get actually decent at it, I now have a ton of lettering examples to put into my portfolio. It’s not graphic design in the strict sense, but it is a skill I can use in my designs to be better and have more variety of choice when it comes to my type in my work.
- I love poster design; like I really love it. But as much as I have done posters, I wanted to do more. So when I have been in-between clients, I decided to do some posters of my own choosing. I chose a theme, I wanted to do a series as a self challenge. So I decided to do what I call “Classic Author Portraits” for posters. You can check them out on my website. I still went through my design process and created them from a point of “why” when designing, but it was only for my use and my benefit. There was no pressure to finish except for the goals I had placed on myself.
- The only thing I love as much as (or maybe more than) poster design is book cover design. So my newest personal/passoin project is going to be a series of book cover designs for books that I love. I’m planning on this one going on for at least a year. So stay tuned and follow me on instagram to see what I’m up to.
- I’m also learning screen printing so something that’s going into my portfolio soon is some stuff I’ve done in this area.
So why am I sharing my own personal projects? I have tons of stuff in my portfolio right? Well it’s not just important that you have “stuff” in your portfolio. It’s equally important to have current work in your portfolio as it is to have great work. Designers are supposed to constantly be changing and growing and their work should reflect this.
Pro Bono Projects
A pro bono project is a project that you do for free, usually for a non profit of some kind. Pro bono projects can be really valuable to you as a designer and obviously to the client you are working with. Often, [especially the small] non profits don’t even consider a budget for design because they are trying so hard for all their funds to go to their cause.
Tips on how to get the best work out of your pro bono projects:
- Partnering with a non-profit can be a really great way to get some different work under your belt. I suggest partnering with a cause you believe in. When you’re doing work for free or for little cost, it can sometimes be hard at times to feel motivated. But if you are partnered with a cause you believe in, it will be fulfilling for you personally as well as professionally.
- Sometimes partnering with a non profit can be frustrating because they often have a lot of people on boards and things that want to have a say. The best thing I can tell you is to ask up front who you will be communicating with and set it up that way in your contract so that seven different board members aren’t sending you feedback, changes, and requests.
- You should ALWAYS track your time and prices for everything you do, especially when doing a pro bono project. Then after the project is done, I suggest you still give them an invoice with the total cost of your design work. In the spot where the “Total” would be listed, you put zero dollars. This allows them to see the value of what you have given them and it also gives you something to keep track of for your own finances, taxes, etc.
This one is a little tricky. Assigned projects for my purposes can be a few things. Basically this is projects that you were tasked with completing by someone that is not a client of any kind. The reason these are tricky is because they have the appearance of paid client work but really you are never dealing with real-world client interaction (and the inherent problems that can come with it). Because of this, your work in these areas can be much more out of the box many times and can be a bit more high concept. And even though I can usually pick out student work a mile away, I love to see it because it gives me an idea of just how far a designer can push things.
Some examples of assigned projects can be
- School Projects/Assignments (mock clients, etc.)
- Projects given to you during an internship
- Projects that you have been given via self-directed training such as Lynda.com, CreativeLive, Skillshare, or even YouTube.
- A project you may have worked on during a creative workshop
Don’t Forget to Share
Reasons to share your work:
- It gives you some accountability. If you put out a sketch or mind map on Instagram, it implies that a finished product is coming and it motivates you to finish what you’ve started.
- Sharing your work gives you a platform for future clients/employers to find you
- It’s an easy and free way to create a simple online portfolio
- It allows you to feel like you are part of a larger creative community (using hashtags, etc.) where others can like and comment and follow what you’re doing
- It shows your process and your personality as a whole, not simply as a polished finished piece of design work
I want you to be encouraged if you’re just starting out. You have literally nothing but potential up ahead.
Seize opportunities to pursue passion projects, do work for a cause you truly believe in, and learn things you’ve always wanted to learn.