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Self-Initiated Work: Creating Portfolio Pieces

Often times designers and other creatives use school work in their first portfolio. This is a good place to start but you have to know it is often seen over and over by professionals looking to hire. If you want to stand out of the pack, you need to create some self-initiated work to bolster your portfolio. This article will help you come up with ideas you can use when creating portfolio pieces


Finding inspiration in your Passions

One of the best pieces of advice I can give any creative is to be authentic, and that means be true to you. If you’re struggling to come up with ideas on what self-started project to do, start by looking at your interests outside of graphic design. For example, I’m a fan of fantasy and science fiction books and movies, which often leads me to reading about different authors. This led me to written works by C.S. Lewis outside of his Chronicles of Narnia series. Reading some of those ideas gave me ideas for a photography series that was fun to shoot and plan. Look into your own interests, be it TV, books, fashion, music, cars, the choices are endless. Find something that is fun for you to think about and use that to base your project around.

Finding inspiration in your Goals

One key thing to keep in mind when creating self-initiated projects is to figure out what type of design work you want to do. There are the classics of web, print, logo and branding, but you can also find niche markets where you can also go into. By finding out what type of design you want to do, you can start creating work to showcase that niche. If you want to build websites, designing brochures, while great for print, might not help you get a job designing websites. Always be aware of what your goals are and then practice and refine your skills in service of that.


Now I know a lot of you might be thinking that you have your passions and goals in mind, but you are still at a loss for actual projects to give yourself. I’ll give you a few ideas here to help you get started.


Pick a brand you would like to work for, like Nike, HBO, or Apple. Pick your dream job and pick one of their products to rebrand and create a whole campaign to rebrand and sell. Create a new logo, tagline, website, digital and print ads, magazine spreads, and any other idea you might have that you think a company like this would use to market and sell their product. Create one unified theme and brand for this product or service throughout each different piece, because part of establishing a brand is making it recognizable on different platforms. I will go over more in depth about branding in a future article.


Pick something you want to build a website for, even if don’t buy the domain and hosting, and start building the same website on different platforms. Create a free WordPress practice site and then recreate the website (the same topic and content) using Wix, Squarespace, Adobe Dreamweaver, and Adobe Muse. Create a website by using just HTML, CSS and PHP if you can, and start learning these programming languages. By showing that you can adapt the same content to different platforms will show potential employers your versatility in web design and content management systems (CMS). Add different features and different plug ins and see what is the easiest and most efficient system for creating different aspects of a website, whether it be posting articles, setting up a shopping cart, or just showcasing a portfolio.


A great project for print is to create a “magazine” about one of your passions. For example, if you’re a movie fan and there is a movie that is coming out that you’re excited for, create a magazine dedicated to that movie. Look at magazines at the supermarket or bookstore for inspiration on how you want to setup and format your own magazine. And actually GO to the bookstore to look at magazines, because your desired media is print and part of that experience is to pick up and feel the paper, so looking at stuff online, while great for researching, won’t give you the same inspiration as actually holding a magazine in your hands.

Another side of print is creating marketing material, or print collateral. This project is similar to the branding aspect in that that you can pick one product and create print marketing material for this product. This can include business cards, letterheads, brochures, flyers, and posters. Create your own images and practice your copywriting skills as both of these skills will help you in the future.


Packaging is a little more complex to start self-initiated projects if you don’t know the basics of package design, like creating a dieline for example. However, there are plenty other aspects you can start, like creating packaging labels and images. There are templates out there as well so you can start to become familiar with different assembly of packaging. Some project ideas for this would be to create packaging for a product you have and love or create your own product and packaging.



You can easily create self-initiated projects if you apply some critical thinking to what you want your portfolio to showcase and start building work that compliments that skill. Find something you’re passionate about, be it a goal or an interest, and start building multiple designs about that project and create multiple projects! Have fun with this because there are no stresses about grades or clients expectations with these projects.

One tip when working on these projects is, even if you can’t afford to print or publish these projects, is to mock them up on images to show what they would actually look like printed or published. If you created a website, take screenshots of your site and then Photoshop that onto an image of a computer screen. If you created a magazine spread, place the images and copy over an image of a magazine to allow the viewer to see what this would be like printed. Doing that little bit extra will make a big difference in your portfolio and often times you will need to show mockups to your employers too.


Thank you for reading and if you found this information helpful, make sure to subscribe for more helpful tips and updates on how to be the best designer you can be!