Purpose of the Portfolio
A portfolio can be described as a compilation of your work, carefully curated to display your skills, talents and character in the field of architecture.
An Architecture portfolio can be put together in many formats, including a physical paper book or file, a digital pdf, an online access portfolio, or in some cases even video.
In this guide we will look at all the aspects of an architecture portfolio and take you through the steps to create the most effective awesome portfolio.
Different uses of the portfolio
The first encounter of a portfolio in architecture is most likely during university or college when a student is asked to put together a portfolio of their work, usually at the end of the academic year. It is important to start to take time on curating your portfolio even in these early stages of your career. The portfolio could be part of an assessment of your work so far, or it could be a showcase of your work that is leading you to future studies.
Beyond study, the architecture portfolio is used as a tool to gain employment, and in many cases is given more weight than a CV or resume. The portfolio is vital in giving potential employers a view of your work, your skills and your character.
You will not only be judged on the content of the portfolio, but the portfolio itself. Make sure the design of the portfolio is well thought out, clear and well put together – this is an opportunity to use your creativity, but don’t get too carried away.
The two types of portfolio
We will focus on the architecture portfolio for employment rather than the educational portfolio in this guide.
There are two types of portfolio used when searching for employment. The first is what I like to call the introduction portfolio. This is usually a two to five page portfolio that is sent with a CV or resume and covering letter when applying for a job. This introduces the potential employer to you, gives them a small flavour of your work, with the hope they will like what they see and invite you to an interview where you can take your full portfolio for review. Never send a CV or resume alone, I would always encourage you to include the introduction portfolio.
The full portfolio features more of your work and is an opportunity for you to show the potential employer your varied skill set, the projects you have worked on, your talents and strengths and so on. This is the portfolio that you would present at interview.
It is worth mentioning that in order to give yourself the best opportunities and the best chance of success, it is advisable to tailor your portfolio for the different practices and firms that you apply to. Having a one size fits all approach will often be pretty obvious to the potential employer, you need to show them that you are really interested in the practice, and that you would fit right in.
Building the portfolio
Who and what is it for?
When creating your portfolio the first thing to establish is ‘who is it for’? What is the purpose of the portfolio? Study the company and the role they are advertising. What are they looking for? Be clear at demonstrating the skills and work that reflects their requirements. If the practice work in a specific sector that you have some experience in, be sure to include that project to demonstrate your knowledge. If they are looking for someone to carry out conceptual work, be sure to include that in your portfolio.
First gather all of the visual content from your past projects and start specifying what is relevant to the portfolio. Look at including a variety of work, from sketches to renders, but only include work you are most proud of. It is about quality not quantity. So if you don’t have any sketches that you think are worth showing, leave them out. Likewise, try not to over saturate the portfolio with one type of medium, try and show a good selection of work.
There are many categories that your work may fall under, some of which I have listed below:
- Architecture Design
- Urban planning
- Architectural Graphics and Representation
- Interior Design
- Other design work (graphic, product, etc)
- Small projects – extensions etc
- Collaborative or group work
- Realised projects
- Model Making
- Conceptual work
- Competition work
When selecting your work for the portfolio, you need to be pretty ruthless. Imagine you are judging this work as if you were seeing it for the first time. Pick the best and forget about the rest. Remember, your potential employer will no doubt receive a large quantity of portfolios to wade through, and its a time consuming process, so make sure you just include your best stuff.
When working on your introduction portfolio, remember that it will be glanced at for a matter of minutes or even seconds, so the projects you choose must have high impact.
The work you collect to include in your portfolio must be your own work. Sounds obvious, but it is important that you are clear on this. If you want to include someone else’s render of a project you worked on make sure you credit them for the work. Everyone knows that architecture is a collaborative field and it is rare that one person works on a project from start to finish with no other intervention. So be clear how you contributed to the project – for example, ‘feasibility study’, ‘prelim concepts’, ‘planning application drawings’, ‘technical drawing package for tender’, and so on.
Show the different skills you have by demonstrating them in a variety of projects you have worked on. For example, if you are a bit of a ninja when it comes to model making, get that stuff in your portfolio! Make sure you take really good photos that show the model off at its best. Or, if you spend hours sketching ideas and design processes, scan it and get it in there. Don’t forget, you are unique, demonstrate.
Hierarchy and Structure
The structure of your portfolio is really important. Remember, first impressions do count, so make sure you show your best and more recent work first. Also make sure the last project is a good one too so that you finish on a high! Some say chronological portfolios are good as they show your progression and development. This is true, and I would argue that it works well for an academic portfolio, but for gaining employment I think you need to hit them with the good stuff first.
Some people suggest your portfolio tells a story. That is certainly a good option, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a chronological story. Consider how your portfolio would be viewed by someone for the first time.
Make sure you include a contents page if your portfolio is a good number of pages. It allows the viewer to get a feel of what to expect and navigate the portfolio quickly if they wish.
Information and Text
Make sure you provide information with your images, but keep it brief. In most cases there won’t be time to read through copious amounts of text – either the employer won’t have time, or you would be better explaining the project in person rather than reading the text from the portfolio. Stick to the basics:
- Project title
- Build Value (if relevant)
- Phase of design
- Software used
- Responsibilities on project
You could also include if relevant:
- Site details
Once you have chosen and prepared your content for inclusion in the portfolio, you must decide what format your portfolio will be presented in.
For the introduction portfolio, it is most likely you will be emailing or writing to the potential employer. So, will you send out a CV in the post with a print out of your portfolio? Or would it be better to email your CV and PDF copy of the portfolio?
I would personally avoid online portfolios. Generally, practices like to be able to view a pdf quickly and easily, and forward to other team members if necessary. Sometimes accessing online portfolios can be slow and painful and may put off an employer before they even start.
If you are working on a print portfolio, ensure you get it printed professionally on good quality paper. Will you have the portfolio bound? Or perhaps present it as a selection of loose pages in a box…if you do this make sure each page has your name and information in case the pages get separated.
If you prepare a pdf, try to keep to an absolute maximum of 15mb for emailing. Don’t send anything like a google doc, a word document or any other file format. PDF is the universal, easy to open option – stick to it. Whatever you do, don’t split your portfolio into individual pages in order to keep file size down and send a separate email for each page. If anyone did this to me, it would go straight in the trash. There are apps available to compress a pdf down to a manageable size, likewise there are some really useful apps for compressing images too – so there really is no excuse for an oversized portfolio. Get busy compressing!
For any digital files that you send through, make sure they are clearly named – for example, YourName_Portfolio.pdf or similar. It will look professional and easy for the employer to organise or file.
If you go for a pdf copy, try and stick to standard paper sizes so that it is easy to print, like an A4 page. I would go for anything between A5 and A3. It is tempting to be a bit alternative, but if the office choose to print your work, it may not come out as well as it looks on screen which would be disappointing. If you want to use unusual sizes for your portfolio, I would suggest you send a printed copy at the size you want it to be so that the potential employer see it as you intended.
Layout and Design
The layout and design can make or break your portfolio. It is key that the presentation is clear and uncluttered. You may have wonderful work, but if not displayed correctly they can be easily overlooked.
Create your portfolio using a software you are comfortable with, but one that has enough power to be able to do what you need. I would recommend Adobe InDesign, it has great functionality, with the option of creating templates to speed up the process, more on that shortly.
Microsoft Word or Powerpoint just aren’t suitable for creating these kind of documents, so I would recommend you get to grips with InDesign if you can.
It is a good idea to create a template for your portfolio that has all the general settings. This will save you time as you put together all your pages. Try to go for neutral colours, and a simple background that won’t detract from your work.
InDesign is great for setting up master pages that you can easily drag and drop into your document.
Less is more…. I’ll say it again, less is more! Don’t overfill the portfolio with too much content or it will get completely lost. Let the images speak for themselves with lots of white space. Generally a minimal design that sets off your work is most favourable.
Make sure you consider the format of each page, using margins to give your content space, and a simple background. Consider proportion of the images and text.
When selecting a font, keep it simple, be consistent, and make sure it is legible. Check for typos!!
Make sure the images you use are high quality. Don’t use pixelated or out of focus images, it looks terrible and makes you out to be unprofessional – if the images aren’t up to scratch, don’t include them.
Order and neatness
Don’t forget, the portfolio will give your potential employer a good idea of what you are like as an architect/member of staff. Does your portfolio look sloppy? Could this suggest you are a sloppy worker? Does it looked rushed and last minute? Is it giving that impression of you.
Keep your portfolio neat, tidy and in good order to demonstrate how you work in general.
Don’t forget to create front page, or cover that gives a brief description of the portfolio, your details. For your introduction portfolio it is worth adding your contact details. You could even ensure your CV and introduction portfolio are one document for ease to the employer.
Length of portfolio
Be mindful of the length of your portfolio. To me 50 pages is too much, I think up to 40 pages of an A4 document is plenty, although don’t be afraid to show less, especially with quality over quantity in mind. The length and content of your portfolio will also depend on the type of role you are applying for, how senior it is, and the company you are applying to, so consider all that as you are putting everything together.
Don’t forget that the architecture portfolio is representing you and your personality, make sure some of that shines through. Allow the employer to get an idea of who you are and what to expect of you should they decide to take you on.
Presenting your portfolio
So, you get the interview.
Make sure you know your portfolio. This is something we can easily forget to do. You may be asked in your interview “so, talk me through your portfolio” – be prepared for that.
In the past I have actually made notes about my projects and used these notes as a prompt in an interview to make sure I get across the key points of the portfolio. Don’t be afraid to do this – it shows that you are organised and passionate about your work, and the interview!
Go through your portfolio and practice telling someone about your work, pick out some key features that you would want to discuss. Be prepared for questions you that might be asked about your work.
Don’t ramble, and look for clues from the interviewers as to whether its time to stop talking or are you keeping their interest.
Think of things that would be interesting to the interviewer. Perhaps a challenge with the project that you overcame. Mention a key feature about the project, or a particular element of the design you were proud of. Also consider things like client satisfaction, staying within budget and other factors that a business would consider more than personal design ego!
Speak clearly, make eye contact, be honest and be yourself.
While we’re on the subject of interviews, I always found it was useful to take copies of any written references to an interview, and hand them to the potential employer. It was always received well that they didn’t have to ask for them, and didn’t even need to go off and photocopy them.
You could also leave behind a copy of your portfolio, perhaps in a smaller format, as a little reminder. Again, this shows you are passionate about the job, proud of your work, and it keeps you fresh in their mind.
Precedents and Ideas
We have put together a couple of Pinterest boards full of inspiration to help you put together your portfolio.
Check them out below:
If you are struggling for ideas on layout or need some inspiration there are loads of places you can look. Obviously a simple google will bring up lots of inspiration, along with Pinterest too. Also look at sites like Issuu where people publish their portfolios, and where many of the examples in this article are from.