What size/length for PDF portfolio in ID?

Hi everyone,

I was wondering what everyone’s thoughts were on how long of a PDF portfolio (how many pages, projects) and what size file is reasonable for an initial job application?

When applying to a certain job online, the size limit on additional files was 4MB (they allow up to 5 separate files). That seems kind of small for an industrial design portfolio, and I’m struggling to decide whether to cut down the number of pages (currently 39 including project title pages), cut down the number of projects (currently 5), or somehow figure out how to compress the file size further without sacrificing image quality (currently failing at that). I suppose it could also be conceivable to break up my portfolio into separate project files, but that doesn’t seem like a great solution.

The thought even crossed my mind that maybe a PDF portfolio is outdated, and submitting the URL to your portfolio website is enough? I do have a portfolio website, but I’m worried that without a PDF version I might not be considered. One other option I thought of was to include a link to a PDF hosted on my website, but I’m not sure if that is really acceptable either.

Any thoughts?

If you open the PDF in Acrobat CC you can go to Save As Other, then Reduce File Size and dial in all of the specifications. That should take it way down. Overall 39 pages seems a bit long for an application. The portfolio you present in person can be very long but the application can be much shorter.

For example, when I applied to Nike I sent a physical clipboard with maybe 10 images and my resume. In person I brought 5 books of work an a huge 6 foot by 36" poster with 100 shoe concepts.

Thanks for the advice! I will try out your Acrobat workaround and also reduce the number of pages in my application portfolio.

No problem. I think the option might actually be “optimize PDF” I forget which one gives you all the options. Both reduce file size but only one allows you to specify compression.

I actually adopt the portfolio I showcase, based on the individual requirements of the job. I do, however, Always add some sketches and renderings to show some of the process and skills expected…

This could just be my own boomer nitpicking but I’m making a judgement call on a candidate based on size and quality of an emailed PDF.
If you can’t figure out how to make a PDF of reasonable portfolio length with good-enough images in a reasonable size, you can’t say you’re ‘expert’ level at Adobe CC. There are ways. Not every company or region has blazing fast internet. I had emails bounce yesterday from a US company because my attachment size was over 5MB. Cruddy blurry images also mean you didn’t carefully check your PDF before sending it out.
Pages-wise, what yo said above certainly worked for him, but I don’t think 30-40 pages is too long. But a sweet spot might be 20-30 pages.

I recently switched from PDF to website for ease of update-ability, but there are still a handful of companies who specifically request PDFs. Apple for example. Conversely there are some who seem to only want websites. Do people here keep both updated? Is one better than the other?

Ideally yes, keep both updated, but the portfolio more often, unless you are changing jobs all the time.
A PDF really needs to be tailored to the audience. A website doesn’t (unless you know how to make a portfolio website respond to cookies and change projects around, in which case, you’re in the wrong industry.)
A website is a poor interaction in an interview. It could get you in the door. Worst interview tool is using a tablet to show a portfolio website. Who wants to look at all those fingerprints?

Slippy has some good points. In my mind, professionalism and skill as a designer also includes file and resource management and using the right tool for the job.

An application submitted with a PDF should be a teaser, at most. It will likely get flipped through in 1-2min (at most, more likely 30s), and chances are the copy won’t get read. It should give a pretty high level overview of your experience, skills, area of interest and also ability to put together a portfolio that tells a story and is graphically consistent.

8-10 pages (spreads) I think max suffices. As a PDF that should be under 5mb I’d guess.

If selected for an interview or follow-up with Design Directors or HR, you could submit an expanded portfolio or website to follow up in which case content is more important and depth.

Web is great, but a PDF is handy to pass along by email and also shows me IF you can put together a layout, use fonts, and manage content, more than just using a squarespace website would.

An in depth portfolio cold be 30 pages (spreads), and that would be 10-15mb.

Making your portfolio and creating the PDF should ideally be in InDesign. Illustrator if need be. If you are making pages in Photoshop or Word, or Powerpoint you are doing it wrong. You can adjust PDF setting in InDesign or Adobe Distiller to manage the optimization and get files small without sacrificing quality of images. As much as possible should be vector and type should be live type. If you text is pixellated you are doing it wrong.

Not exactly the same as I’m not applying for jobs, but my professional “portfolio” is below (one version- I have a few different ones and also a physical print copy).


Thank you everyone for the advice! I found a way to tweak the “smallest file size” PDF export setting in InDesign to get my file size way down. I am going to work on narrowing down the content to cut down the number of pages as well. I can understand that someone flipping through a ton of applications can’t devote a lot of time to each.

If this helps anyone else in my situation, some of the ID job listings I’ve applied for have asked for a portfolio website link while some have asked for PDFs. I think it might be a toss up and is probably best to have both formats up to date and available so you can apply with whatever the job application specifies (or include both so people can choose).