For designers fresh out of school, finding a job can be difficult. School can only teach you so much. Often the portfolio you produce in school isn’t quite enough to get you a job in design. So what can you do? You need a job to produce design work, but you need a good portfolio to get a job. If that’s the case, you just need at least a few good graphic design portfolio projects to get you started.

First off, your portfolio doesn’t need to consist of client work or school projects. Obviously, the more real-world projects the better, but you work with what you’ve got. You can absolutely include creative projects that are entirely your own. Employers want to see that you know how to think and that you have the technical skills to produce high quality work. You can prove both of those things all on your own.

Five great graphic design portfolio projects, to prove your design skills, are your personal brand, a packaging re-design, an event poster, a website homepage, and an icon series.

1. Your Personal Brand

You need to show your work in an online portfolio. That portfolio needs to have your name on it somewhere right? The best way to do this is with a logo. This will be the cornerstone of your brand visual identity and something great to showcase in your portfolio. Show your initial sketches, your process creating the polished version on the computer, and show mock-ups of it on things like a t-shirt, business card, etc. Make sure to talk about your research and process to show the rationale behind your design.

This is one of the best portfolio projects for new designers because it’s not strictly a personal project. It still serves a real purpose. Plus, when it’s done, you get to use your logo on your site and all your social accounts.

Tip: If at some point you get stuck between a few logo options, ask designers on social media. For example, post two or three options on Instagram and ask people to choose their favorite. This is a great way to get constructive feedback to improve your logo and build your social following at the same time.

2. Packaging Re-design

There is probably something in your pantry that you love that has a terrible package design. Well, now you can make it better. Ideally, you want to find a package design that is simple to create and mock-up. Save the trickier packaging projects for when you have a bit more experience. Look for a package design that you can improve both visually and functionally.

Examine how the packaging works. Is it easy to open? It is easy to close? Is it resealable? What about the environmental impact of the packaging? If it’s something that consists of a lot of unnecessary plastic, can it be made more sustainable? Think about what other materials can be used like cardboard, compostable fibers, glass or metal.

Try to choose a food item that you are familiar with. That way, a big part of the research phase is taken care of. If it’s something you eat often, you know what it’s main selling point is, how long it’s good for, how easy it is to put away, etc. This obviously isn’t a product you will actually be creating, so you don’t have to worry about a budget for your packaging materials, although you should try to keep it realistic.

Don’t forget to create a mock-up of your package to make sure it would actually work. This will help you explore the strengths and limitations of the final design. If you create a polished enough mock-up you can use that on your portfolio. Otherwise, a digital version will do.

Package design

3. Event Poster

An event poster can be as simple as an image and a bit of text. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs to show you can pair imagery and text together effectively. An event poster is one of the more common portfolio projects for new designers. There’s a lot of flexibility to show your skills in whatever area of design you’re strongest. You could do a poster that is entirely typographic without any imagery, or one that is image heavy with a small bit of text near the bottom. It’s up to you.

The event can be something real like a neighborhood event or something fake like a concert for a made-up band. You could even do a holiday event poster, for example, advertising a Christmas Day event on planet Earth. Be as creative as you want.

Remember, you don’t need to stick to a standard size for a poster. You can go with the standard 8.5″ by 11″ if you want to print out a mock-up on your home printer and photograph. Or you can make it taller, like 8.5″ by 14″. Even a landscape orientation could be interesting. If you’re not worried about the dimensions, find a free poster mock-up online and just design to those dimensions.

Tip: If you’re still in school there are likely event posters hung up in the hallway you can use to re-design. In your portfolio, you could show the before and after.

4. Website Homepage design

A good website homepage design is a great addition to your graphic design portfolio projects because it shows that you know how to organize and prioritize information for users. It also shows that you’re able to properly utilize grid systems and hierarchy. Designing a website homepage is also a great exercise to help you learn how to organize your Photoshop layers effectively. That’s a skill they don’t teach in school.

You can choose to re-design an existing website or create something all new. If there’s a website you go to often that you find difficult to use, start there. You don’t need to design the entire site, just the homepage. Or if you really want a challenge, re-design a popular, familiar website like YouTube or Netflix.

It’s important to remember that your design shouldn’t just look good, but it also needs to function well. Websites are interactive so you need to take the user into account. Why would people visit the site? What information are they looking for first? How will the user interact with the site?

Visually, your design will depend on the type of website you’re designing and who the users are. A photography website might have a large photo that takes up much of the screen, with a few links and logo near the top. A video streaming service site might have and logo and menu links down the side, with videos thumbnails taking up most of the space.

Whatever you choose to design, make sure it makes sense, is easy to navigate, and looks great. You can use a free stock photo site like Unsplash or Pexels for imagery.

Tip: If you’re not sure where to begin structurally, find a website you really like. Take a screenshot and bring it into Photoshop. Make a grid structure from that screenshot.

Designer Portfolio Projects

5. Icon Series

Icon creation is a fun design exercise because it shows off your illustration skills in a minimalist way. Not that your icons need to be minimalist, but the point of icons is to simply visual information into something that will look good when shrunk down. It also showcases your ability to use vector drawing software.

You can do an icon series for menu items on a website, icons that represent your classmates or coworkers, or icons that represent your favorite TV shows. You can really do whatever you want.

There are all sorts of styles you can do for an icon design. You can keep it very minimalist and have icons with only a few lines and one colour, or a bit more complicated with a range of colours, textures, and gradients. If you need some inspiration for your icons, Dribble and Pinterest both have some amazing icon design work.

Graphic Design Portfolio Projects: In Conclusion

With only a few great items in your portfolio you can show a potential employer just how much of an asset you would be to their team. Make sure each of your graphic design portfolio projects has some research, sketches, and a rationale behind it. You’re not just showing employers that you’ve created great work in the past. You’re showing them that your brain and technical skills can create great work in the future.

If you’re still stuck on ideas for projects to put into your portfolio, check out sharpen.design for some awesome randomly generated project ideas.

What are some of your favorite graphic design portfolio projects? Are there other graphic design portfolio projects or design challenges that should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below.

If you need more ideas for graphic design portfolio projects check out The Graphic Design Exercise Book by Jessica Glaser.

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