Whether you are fresh out of school or an experienced interior designer, a strong portfolio is the cornerstone of attracting new clients or landing your next job. This guide offers a comprehensive guide to building an interior design portfolio that will help you stand out from the competition and get noticed for your considerable talents and skills.
Design Portfolio: Online or Hard Copy?
Most interior designers these days maintain both an online (usually more than one) portfolio as well as a hard copy. Of course, this will depend on the context of your work and the types of jobs you are looking to secure. For example, for a freelance interior designer, an online portfolio may be sufficient. However, for commercial designers, there is often an expectation to be able to present your work in the form of a hard copy binder that you can show during an interview.
In terms of your digital portfolio, the options these days are abundant. You can design your own website if you have the right digital skills. However, there are also plenty of well designed portfolio websites that can make the job easier as well as do a fair amount of their own work to drive search engine traffic to make sure your portfolio gets seen by potential clients.
Craft a Compelling Narrative
There is a difference between a random collection of pictures and a well curated selection that helps you tell a strong story that will emotionally connect with potential clients. The secret to making sure your story comes through your image collection is to include the following elements.
Your Personal Brand
Hopefully you have spent some time identifying your personal brand. What is it that makes your sense of style and aesthetic unique? What principles guide you as you create beautiful interiors for your clients? Do you have unique partnerships with craftsmen such as carpenters, suppliers of vintage furniture, or local artists? Perhaps you focus on green living with an emphasis on all-natural fibers and materials or maybe you have a knack for placing modern repurposed art.
Knowing what makes your style and approach to interior design unique helps customers who share your values connect with your mission. While you need to showcase your range as well, keeping that range within the boundaries of your personal brand makes your curated images more meaningful to the viewer.
Tell Your Story
What is it that brought you to the field of interior design? Was there a moment when you knew that interior design was your calling? What are a few of your proudest accomplishments? Where do you want to go next with your work?
These are the kinds of personal details that can help you capture the interests of clients looking to have an interior designer who is relatable and passionate about their work. Remember, clients are not hiring pictures. They are hiring a person who can listen to their needs and aesthetic preferences and translate their vision into reality.
Emphasize Problem Solving
Each interior space comes with its own unique challenges. Curating images for your interior design portfolio should include an eye for opportunities to showcase how you helped your clients solve problems. How did you help a client make the most of a shortage of storage space? What did you do to make the most of natural lighting that changed throughout the day? How did you balance simplicity of lines while creating a space to showcase a client’s considerable collection of eclectic antiques?
When you showcase your problem solving skills, it allows future clients to imagine you helping them with their own design challenges. It is a critical part of curating images and text in your portfolio to emphasize a client centered approach.
Elements of a Strong Interior Design Portfolio
The home page of your website (whether you design it from scratch or use a portfolio hosting site) should include a clear introduction that is brief, and yet carries your personal brand message. In addition, navigation from this main page should be clear and direct with an eye towards showcasing clear themes and helping visitors find the kinds of examples of your work that they will be most interested in learning more about.
Be sure your contact information is easy to find right from the main page of your portfolio. This is the last thing you want to make difficult for the viewer to find.
Interior Design Resume
Including an up to date resume as part of your portfolio allows you to showcase your education, certifications, honors and awards, and experience level. Consider this the place to put your credentials into words in a way that give potential customers a sense of your expertise. In most cases a functional resume format with a focus on past projects for the work history section makes the most sense.
Links to Other Platforms
Giving people a clear path to your other online platforms, for example, social media pages, helps them to connect with your community building efforts and get a different view of your work from the perspective of how you connect with other design professionals and a design inspired community.
For example, if you regularly post original content such as videos, it can help your future clients see you in action. Or, if you repost content from trendy design sites to inspire your followers, it can help to build excitement and engagement around your brand.
Before and After Images
Another way to tell a compelling story is to capture some before and after images of your projects. Again, this is a kind of visual storytelling that helps potential clients imagine your ability to take a space from a rough starting point to a final result that is visually stunning and cohesive in terms of style, color, texture, and flow.
These days high-end interior designers are making use of technology such as 3D rendering and 360 panoramic views to help their clients visualize color, texture, and materials as part of the decision-making process. If you are proficient with these technologies, then including some examples in your portfolio is important. You want to let clients know that you are ready with the most modern tools to help them make the right decisions for their interior spaces so they can get it right the first time.
One of the best ways to reassure potential clients of the value and quality of your work is to include testimonials from past clients. Including a few sentences from your past clients can go a long way towards promoting your work and helping new customers feel like they are in good hands.
Start to Finish Projects
Your portfolio should include at least 2-3 start to finish projects that showcase your competence at every step in the process, including before and after images as well as sketches, sourcing design elements (for example, finding that one perfect piece to tie the room together), 3D renderings of a few different options you presented to your clients along the way, etc.
By walking potential clients through your process, you help them to see that you are thorough and professional. You give them the confidence they need to trust you with one of the most critical aspects of making commercial or residential interior spaces reach their potential for both form and function.
Additional Tips for the Best Interior Design Portfolio
Because the images of your work are so critical, it is important to develop a relationship with a professional photographer to help capture your work throughout your career. Unless you have a second life in professional photography, this is a critical aspect of curating an interior design portfolio that will capture the imagination of your clients and tell a visual story that captures your true skill and talents.
Create a Balance of Scale
It is important that the images you use to showcase your work capture both (1) a pulled back view that demonstrates your ability to make a coherent living space with optimal flow and lighting as well as (2) your attention to the details that make it all come together.
For example, consider using textures from some of the fabrics you used in a space as the background that frames your images for a particular space. Or, include some unique points of view by taking images from novel angles and distances that offer a fresh perspective on the room and highlight specific elements that have a story behind them to help you emphasize your attention to detail.
Demonstrate That You Are Current
Interior design is one form of artistic expression that needs to keep up with current design trends, while still maintaining a sense of evergreen style. This can be one of the greatest challenges for interior designers, but it is certainly something sophisticated clients will be looking for.
Of course, you will want to be sure that your portfolio stays up to date with your most recent work. However, it also requires explicitly connecting the dots for your future clients by including an eye towards emerging trends through the text that you include with your images.
Drive Traffic to Build Your Online Presence
It does not matter how amazing your interior design portfolio is if potential clients are not able to find it. Unless you have SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and digital marketing expertise, you are probably missing out on the best opportunities to get your portfolio in front of the people that need to see it most.
Hiring an online marketing professional with good skills is generally worth the money. Online hiring platforms such as UpWork make it easier than ever to find a freelancer with the right skills to add to your team. Look for someone with the skills to help your brand shine on social media, drive local search engine traffic, and maximize conversions with paid advertising online.