So you're interested in graphic design and heard that you need a design portfolio but you don’t have any experience or work to show. Where should you start?

So you’re interested in becoming a graphic designer because you heard all about how you can do it while working remotely, or you’re interested in working visually with your ideas, or you may just like solving problems. You also heard that being a graphic designer comes with the need to have what they call a design portfolio. But what if you’re just starting without any experience at all? Where do you start when it comes to building a design portfolio?

Building a design portfolio without any experience can be very simple as long as you approach it correctly. This involves understanding your career goals, choosing an area of design to focus on, building up your skills with projects, and over time you will have a design portfolio you can be proud of that you built without any experience.

Building a design portfolio with or without any experience is not a task that is completed within a matter of hours or even days. Design portfolios can take time especially because they are one of the most important tools you will use in your career as a graphic designer. In this article, I will go over all of the steps you need to take to build your design portfolio without any experience so you can be on your way to becoming a well-versed successful graphic designer.

1. Define Your Career Goal

The very first step to building your design portfolio without any experience requires no work at all except a little thought and perhaps a pen and a piece of paper if you choose. Step one of building your design portfolio without any experience is to define your goal. As a graphic designer, there are mainly two career paths that come to mind when you are working a graphic designer and those are the “Full-Time” and “Freelance” career paths.

They both have their pros and cons of course, but considering which path you would like to choose, before actually building your design portfolio will help tremendously as it can determine how you structure and present your design portfolio. Of course, you can always change your goal as you grow in your career as a graphic designer but for now, let’s choose one and stick with it for a while

If you are interested in pursuing a full-time job as a graphic designer then you should know that companies or agencies offering full-time roles will want to see more than just the design work you include in your design portfolio. They will want to see information regarding the steps you’ve taken to become a graphic designer, whether that be school, online courses, internships, and design challenges. They will also want to see if you can share any information regarding working with others in a team environment as this will most likely be the case at a company or agency. Don’t be scared or discouraged by this list. This is an article about building your design portfolio WITHOUT ANY experience but it is always helpful to know about these things ahead of time so you can be prepared when it comes time to apply and interview.

Defining your career goal as a graphic designer.

If you are interested in pursuing the freelance career path as a graphic designer then you should know that potential clients will tend to focus more on your quality of work. But don’t let this deter you from considering a full-time role as a graphic designer as being an independent designer also comes with the responsibilities of running and maintaining your own business. If you want to learn more about freelancing as a graphic designer, check out the article I wrote about Everything I Wish I Knew Before Freelancing here.

Building a design portfolio to pursue a freelance career will also require you to show variety in your design portfolio. Now when I say variety, I don’t necessarily mean showing a variety of projects but more so a variety of clients. Showing a variety of clients in different industries with different business goals will help showcase your versatility when working in new businesses. In the next section, I will also go over why showing a variety of projects will work against you and why you should focus on one area of work.

Pick an area of design to focus on.

2. Pick a Design Focus

Now that you have outlined your career goal as a graphic designer, your next step is to pick an area of design that you would like to focus on and create work for. There are a ton of different areas of design for you to choose from and picking one will help not only in the portfolio-building process but also when it comes time to look for new projects! This is a mistake I see a lot of designers make while reviewing design portfolios during the 1-on-1 sessions I offer here on Wellfed. As creative people, we love to showcase all of our visual talents and skills, and while that is great. When pursuing a career as a graphic designer, it is easier to “market yourself” when you are focused on one area. This was something that took me a while to learn but after battling with myself for a few years I finally made the change to do so on my portfolio and haven’t looked back since. Here is a quick list of design areas you can choose from to get you started. I have also linked them to some galleries on Behance to give you a sense of what that type of work can look like.

Of course, there are many more fields of design you can choose from but this is a good list to start from. 

Tips For Choosing A Design Focus

  • Choose one area to focus on today.
  • Don’t worry about only doing this type of work forever. You can always expand on what you do later on as you become more experienced.
  • Choose the type of work that is most interesting to you.
  • Don’t overthink this step.
Find inspiration from other designers.

3. Get Inspired

After you’ve selected your design area of focus, it is now time to get inspired and seek out other designers creating the work you would like to create. I find this step to be really important when you are building your design portfolio without any experience. Essentially this step is a crash course in design. You want to take the time to learn as much as possible about other companies, design agencies, and designers making the type of work you would eventually like to create. You can start by searching websites like BehanceDribbble, or even our list of design studios all designers should know to find inspiration. Then take it one step further and use an app like Pinterest or Figma to create a board of inspiration so that you can reference it throughout your design career and add to it over time. These sources of inspiration will help guide you to better create work and help you to grow in your design career.

Practice and hone your design skills to improve.

4. Practice, Practice, Practice

Now, it is finally time to do some real design work. Or at least to start practicing. Step four of building your design portfolio without any experience is to start creating some work while keeping in mind the three previous steps we’ve taken. Considering what design your goal is, which area of design you’re focusing on, and what kind of work inspires you, we will now use some free resources to get you started on creating a few projects you can put into your design portfolio without any experience. 

The resources in this list below are called brief generators and they are all free to use. A brief generator is a tool that gives you random prompts for creating projects similar to how a company, agency, or client would in a real working situation. Brief generators are great to use because they save you time from thinking too long about what it is you should make. Below is a list of free brief generators that I recommend using to start creating projects for your design portfolio.

When using these brief generators, try not to rush through and finish these first initial projects as quickly as possible. Take your time and continue to reference the inspiration mood board you put together in step three. Take note of the assets and imagery your favorite companies, agencies, and designers created in their work. In a way, try to replicate their work. Yes, I said “replicate” their work. That doesn’t mean copying their work 1-for-1 but instead, trying to learn by repeating some of the work they did. You can learn more about this process in this amazing book called “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative”. I recommend it to everyone as it summarizes what we are trying to do in this step of building your design portfolio without any experience. 

By the end of this step, we are aiming to have anywhere from 4-6 completed briefs in the area of design you’ve chosen. This will give you some options to choose from in the next step as you begin to assemble the first version of your design portfolio.

Time to assemble your first version of your portfolio.

5. Assemble Your First Design Portfolio

Finally! You have made it to the very first phase of actually assembling a design portfolio without any experience! In this step, you are going to use a free portfolio website to get your newly created design projects into a design portfolio format. You can learn more about all the 11 free design portfolio websites I recommend and how you should pick one here in this article. To start building your design portfolio without any experience in the fastest and easiest way possible, we are going to use a website called Behance. Behance is a website owned by Adobe and was created for designers and creatives to share and publish their work. Behance makes it easy to build your design portfolio and that is exactly why we are going to use it. Now that you have 4-6 completed design projects using the brief generators, you are going to want to select your 3 favorite projects. These should not only be the projects you enjoyed the most working on, but they should also be the projects you think best represent the quality and style of your work. If you are unsure of how to organize your projects in Behance, take a look at the list above of all the areas of design and reference projects from those categories. Uploading a project to Behance is simple and takes only a few steps. Below I have created a list of tips for uploading your design project to Behance.

Tips for Uploading Design Projects to Behance

  • Make sure to title your design project correctly. 
  • Make sure to include a brief description of the project at the top of the page. The description should at the very least include who the project was for, some of your thoughts about the problem, and why you created the design solution you did.
  • Try to include at least 5 images in your project. Of course, you can go over this amount but if you are just starting, 5 images is a great start.
  • Don’t forget to fill out all the extra details Behance provides in their upload process. It helps get your project seen by more people!
Reach out to friends and family to create more work for your design portfolio.

6. Reach Out to Friends, Family, and Community

So now you’re done, right? You have your design portfolio on Behance with your newly created projects from the design brief generators. What else is there to do? Well, building your design portfolio without any experience doesn’t stop there. Now is the time you are going to take your first step out into the real world as a graphic designer! Yes, you are now ready to start seeking out real design work. What I mean by real design work is, that you are going to find projects and briefs that are determined by “clients”, or better yet, friends, family, or your local community. Yes, it is time to let your network know you are pursuing design as a career. Starting with your friends, family, and local community is a great way to get the experience of what it’s like working as a designer. It is probably worth mentioning that these projects may not all be paid projects and that is ok! That means less risk and more opportunity to learn. Now, this may sound frightening for some so don’t worry, I’m going to give you a few tips for how you can do this below.

Tips for Finding Design Work with Friends, Family, and Community

  • Figure out what it is you want to offer i.e. logo design, website design, social media marketing campaign, etc. This will help you set expectations in your discussions as you offer your services to your network.
  • Decide if you would like to put a limit on revisions. This can help you from spending longer than you would like on projects especially if you aren’t being compensated for your time.
  • Start with reaching out to your local community first. Places like non-profits, schools, and local stores are great places to start. The owners most likely are super grateful for your help as this is something they usually aren’t able to afford while running a business.
  • If you are in a situation where you would prefer to be compensated for your time while working on these projects, set a price for the first project and then raise the price for the next project. You can use the first project you completed as an example of your work to help move the conversation along.
Keep your design portfolio updated with new work.

7. Update Your Design Portfolio

After completing some projects within your local community and your personal network it is time again to update your design portfolio. Add those new projects to your Behance profile, but this time try to add more information about the process of working with the clients you found. Including details about what you offered the client, why you chose that specific client, and how the process went, can all be valuable information to include in your design portfolio and helps to build up your experience as a designer.

Once you have work in your design portfolio, time to apply for new opportunities.

8. Apply to Jobs or Search For More Clients

Remember in step one where we defined our goal as a graphic designer building their portfolio without any experience. Well, now it’s time to apply that goal to this step. Now that we have a design portfolio with projects we created on our own as well as some real-world design projects. It is time to start applying for full-time jobs or if you choose to be a freelance designer, find new clients. Everything that you have done up until this step has not only helped build your design portfolio without any experience but also gain you valuable experience as a graphic designer. 

Next Steps

As you continue to grow in your career as a graphic designer, working on new and exciting projects, and expanding your professional network, your portfolio will continue to grow and evolve. After you go through step 8 of applying and searching for new opportunities, consider building a design portfolio on your website. While I discussed in this how building your design portfolio without any experience using Behance for now. It is always valuable to own your URL and create a design portfolio that expresses your personality, style, and design vision on your very own website. If you are interested in learning what websites to use to do this, check out the “Build Your Own” section in this article here.

Also, if you don’t know where to start and you’re looking for a little extra help, consider signing up for a free 1-on-1 creative session with me where we can go over any questions you have and put together a list of actionable steps for you to get working on your portfolio. You can sign up using this link here. As always, you can also find me on TikTok and on Instagram for any other questions you may have. See you in the next article!