Length of Portfolio

I’m in the beginning stages of getting my professional portfolio together for the first time. I have 3 years of professional experience to discuss

How long should my portfolio be?

I’m planning an 11x17 layout, and after jotting down some real rough thoughts on what to include, I have:

-7 major projects
-3 minor projects

total page estimation of 26 pages.

…seems like a lot. but I haven’t done this in several years so I could just be responding to the amount of work I have a head of me.

Any thoughts on how many pages would be too long? and too short?



I think 10-15 pieces is fine.

You want to have a good pace with the work.

Open and close strong and have a strong piece every 3-4th piece.

Like a fence. The posts are strong and the wire is the filler.

Too many pieces make the viewer bored. Not enough doesn’t let them know what you are capable of.

Good Luck!


I think it depends a lot on what kind of work you’re showing. If it’s, say, graphic design or illustration, you can show more pieces, because the image is the primary object of presentation.

If you’re doing ID, I would say 10-15 projects is too many, since you’re expected to do a bit more storytelling. I just did a portfolio review a couple of days ago: 17 pages, letter size, 7 projects plus a couple of pages of sketching and rendering samples, that may have been just a touch too long.

It might be more useful to think of it in terms of time: a typical initial portfolio review lasts 15-20 minutes. If something really catches their attention it might go longer, but you need to be able to get through the whole thing, giving each project its due, in that time. 26 pages in 15 minutes seems awfully rushed to me.

I once interviewed a designer who brought everything they’ve done since college. So, all related (and un-related) college work + 4 years of professional work.

Took him 40 minutes to ramble through it all.

He wasn’t called back.

Thats interesting. When I interviewed (straight out of college) I had nearly 6 hours of interviews which included about a 45 minute presentation and 15 minute discussion of all my work from school as well as some extra curricular work.

Is the time really the issue? Or was it the fact that his work and presentation skills were so bad you didn’t want to listen to him for more than 15 minutes?

I think 10 is a great number. Quality is much more important than quantity here. Also, lets not give them too much. If they want to see more they will ask.

I’m not sure if it was mentioned, but process is maybe the most important aspect to include. They want to see the thought process. napkin to sku.

Great point!! Also as a designer, presentation is almost as important as the work. I’ve seen plenty of off the shelf glossy portfolios that you find at the art store and they just make your work look cheap.


That’s about 2 pages per project, on 7 projects. Not very long. How are we suppossed to show napkin sketch to sku in 2 pages? especially in projects with extensive research/exploration? are 1 page projects frowned upon (because its not enough info…more like a teaser) or ok for filler projects?

What are good lengths (in pages) for big projects and small projects?

Unless it is a massive project, I’d say 2 pages is a maximum length. Remember, we’re talking about an initial portfolio review, so you’re probably going to be flipping through a book and talking. Two pages let’s you show the whole process in one view (assuming you’ve got a book that shows two pages at a time), which is about all most interviewers are going to want to see the first time.

One good strategy for dealing with the speed/depth dilemma is to come prepared with additional sketches, renderings, prototypes in your bag or briefcase, so that if the interviewer shows interest in a particular project, you’ve got more to show: “huh…interesting idea, how’s it feel in your hand?” “well, let me grab a production sample for you…and here are some of the alternate concepts we ended up letting go on the way…”

I have one friend who actually has four different books: a primary portfolio, and three “supporting” books featuring specific projects in greater depth.

The problem you want to avoid is making your interviewer feel like they are now trapped on a long, lurching rollercoaster, where they have look at pages and pages of things that they don’t see as useful or indicative – and what an interviewer considers useful varies tremendously from interview to interview, yet you only make one portfolio.

Or was it the fact that his work and presentation skills were so bad you didn’t want to listen to him for more than 15 minutes?

Yes. That was it.

He showed me everything from a flower he drew in an introductory drawing course, to screenshots of a web site he designed. Both of which were sub-par at best, and had no relevance to what I was looking for.

That being said, does anyone else keep a large portfolio together and tailor smaller ones for each interview?

Thats how I did my interview. I had a digital presentation, one main binder that was a collection of sketches and 11x17 1-2 spread project boards, then like 3-4 project/research books showing more detailed process for specific projects. Worked out well since I had seperate interviews with the designers, researchers, etc.

The “bag of tricks” was a pretty common thing our professors told us to have, rather then 1 giant portfolio with ALL your work.

I’d agree that a lot of things students spend a lot of time on, but aren’t really worth showing. Still life/figure drawings, CAD class projects that are just reverse engineered staplers, things like that. I’d rather see you can do CAD through a project, not through a tutorial.

When I sent out portfolios though I had different short portfolios tailored to the job - particularly since I had a lot of Point of Purchase type work and none of that was very relevant to my product design job.

I’ve taken a book-per-project approach. I have 10+ years of experience in a range of product categories and project ‘depth’. At this stage of my career, my interview discussions focus mainly on soft skills (collaboration, leadership, etc) and the technical skills are illustrated within the books.

Each book (project) can stand on it’s own, or I can ‘talk along’ with the interviewee.

This format works really well - the more pages the book, the deeper the story I have to tell. It also allows the interviewee to proceed at their own pace thru the portfolio or for me to walk them through the salient points of the discussion.
Also great in a ‘group’ interview - everyone can have a book/project to look at and stay interested in the meeting at least (but maybe not in me…)

Gilty, I’m not sure JSK has the experience that you have…

Posted: Tue Jan 08, 2008 4:59 pm Post subject: Length of Portfolio
I’m in the beginning stages of getting my professional portfolio together for the first time. I have 3 years of professional experience to discuss

SpaceCadet: Understood, but the approach could still be applied, it would just be a matter of breaking down the content to his strengths and ‘pacing’ his presentation in that manner.

Excellent by the way, Gilty. Raising Arizona is one of my all time favorites.

I’ve also used a technique similar to what guilty explained.

instead of separate books, i use loose pages, usually about 2-3 per project. This lets me feed them to the interviewer, as apposed to letting them flip through a book. Also you can spread them out on the table and let a group look through them at their own pace. It also helps to see what people are interested in, the boring shit never gets picked up. Also makes it super easy to add and take away for specific job opportunities.

fair warning…don’t use this method during an informal lunch interview, you’ll end up with marinara sauce on your portfolio :slight_smile:

10-15 pages for a sampler…

My presentation in person is usually 50-60 powerpoint slides + books, prototypes and samples. The powerpoint usually walks through the process on 3-4 projects highlighting different experiences and then kind of a gallery section at the end showing as wide a breadth as possible, go deep then go wide kind of thing… I have one very large powerpoint (100+ slides) that I tailor and trim for the specific interview.

But I think the rule of thumb would be put in as much hot stuff as possible, anything even slightly luke warm, leave it at home. Make sure your presentation abilities are good both visually and verbally, and tell a story. The portfolio should be the story of why you should work there.

I think yo’s example can also show that it depends on the level of position you’re going after. It would make sense to need to show your breadth of work and abilities if you were interviewing for a Senior Design position or Art Director. But at entry level I would think you would want to show much less work, and just focus (like YO said) on what’s hot.

Wow…this is definitely more input that what I expected. Thanks to all! Definitely some good advice.

One of the other main factors determining my length of portfolio will be the fact that I’m a retail designer right now, meaning I have all of the sketches, start to finish and final shots of the open store, but they all tend to be large. Most full sketches are 11x17 format and obviously going too much smaller would lose a lot of information.

So I’ll have to weigh how many pages it can be. Each project may end up being 6 or 7 pages long but going at a much faster clip to cover it all in a timely manner.

I would say, definitely have some of your best 11x17’s full size on hand (in your bag) to show at full scale then.