Q: Raw ideation vs Organized presentation?

Is it an absolute requirement for portfolios to have a clean, organized, layout that was created in programs like illustrator? With beautiful typography, gridded layouts, large photos and more.

The reason I ask is because I am much better at telling a story and showing how I got from point A to point B with pen and paper. I am the type to draw, think, write, then add notes, sketch, then think again, and add and subtract all at the same time. Take a look at my sketchbook and you can clearly see my thinking and process. But once I finish a project, and go into illustrator to layout my project, I run into alot of problems. For some reason, I am unable to portray the same process and thinking when I go digital, and my process becomes less impressive, cluttered, and broken.

Would employers be turned off by a portfolio that feels more like a sketchbook of ideas & projects?

I would need to see examples to give feedback. As an employer I would want to see how you think further than just sketches. Sketches are just part of the process. A lot people can sketch, it’s how you translate that into actionable designs that meet consumer needs and solve complex problem is what makes great designers.

Throw up some examples and let us give you feedback.


I don’t think it’s a set requirement. Your portfolio is supposed to be a visual representation of your work and thought process. How that story is told is completely up to you as a designer. Employers are looking for a certain level of quality, sure. I’m with PackageID. Some examples of your work would be helpful for a more honest opinion. There’s no definitive way to create a portfolio.

For me I do something along the lines you are talking about. I do have a polished portfolio that really highlights skills and the products that I have done and worked on. But I also bring with me a raw sketch book. This is a very helpful and powerful tool. I would not show it as a stand alone piece because it does need some explaining. But I bring it out so I can point to a rough sketch and say “this sketch right here is how that product in my portfolio got made”. Which gets to what PackageID was saying about the ideas being more then just a sketch. This brings home the work follow that I use and shows how a sketch translated into a finished product.

Without seeing your work not sure if it would be good as a stand alone portfolio. But I have seen some very nice sketch notes that could be stand alone. I think it would also depending on the work that you want to do. It is very important that you show different skills because that will give you best chance of landing a job.

Following on with Sidetrack’s comment, you need to understand your interview audience.

Some people, like the person who would be your manager, is going to want to get beyond the portfolio and into the sketchbook. This is the person that wants to see how you think through sketching.

Others, like marketing, engineering and other people you may interview with, want to know you can sketch but are really interviewing you to see if your personality will work with the team. In this case they want to have seen sketching but don’t always know how to follow the thought process. They may interested in the objects you have designed but are using the portfolio to look for other things (personality, presentation skills, etc.)

I tell my students to have a portfolio that could be shown to any audience and not bore them to death. But carry notebooks that go deep into sketching, research, etc… that can be pulled out when a specific topic interests the interviewer. Don’t throw these on the table, but be an active listener and if it sounds like an interviewer is interested in a specific area, offer to show them more in regards to that specific topic.

So short answer - both are needed, just understand why.