“In writing, you must kill your darlings,” is a legendary piece of writing advice that’s been attributed to the likes of William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde and Eudora Welty.  It’s a phrase that, no matter the origin, that has caught on because it’s difficult to take a critical eye to your own best work – and the advice doesn’t just apply to writing.

Killing your darlings is just as difficult for designers.  This is especially true when it editing your portfolio. Here’s our best advice for taking the anxiety and frustration out of killing your darlings and ending up with your best portfolio yet:

Get Specific

Your portfolio is your best marketing tool.  It’s your visual resume.  When someone looks at a resume, they typically only glance it over.  The same is true for a portfolio.  You only have so much time to convey who you are and what you do, so get specific.  Kill, baby, kill.

  • If you have training in both print and digital design, but only want to work on websites, don’t highlight your print work.  Avoid including work that misleads a viewer to what type of projects you’d like to work on in the future.

  • Don’t forget that your portfolio is only one place to showcase your work.  You can also share other projects that don’t make the cut on other platforms.  Try Dribbble, Instagram or your blog for other work that you’d like to have people see, but isn’t a priority.


While you might have to eliminate some of your favorite projects to get specific, don’t forget to personalize. Your bio and any other content on your site should create a clear and concise overview of who you are and the type of work you excel at.  While the best portfolio sites let the work speak for itself, your personality can also shine through in your personal branding, copywriting and any other Easter eggs you choose to include.

Show Process

While you know your work inside and out, your audience doesn’t.  The best recruiters, clients and design teams will want to see your process, not just your final work.  Showing process is not only a way to personalize who you are, but it can help showcase how you solve problems and think about a project brief.

  • If the project was part of a collaboration, it’s a huge red flag if other project contributors aren’t mentioned. Clearly describe your role and properly credit and link to other people on the project team.

Make it Professional

Finally, as you look over your work ask yourself if your portfolio reflects that of a student or a professional?  A common mistake for design newbies is to showcase too much student work. As soon as you have client work that rivals a student project, make sure to update your portfolio.  Act like a professional, not a student.

Did you know that when you sign-up for one of Designlab’s courses you’ll not only get new work for your portfolio, but also a mentor to give you feedback so you don’t have to work alone? Read about Designlab’s talented mentors that work directly with Designlab students.

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Meghan Lazier

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