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Next Gen thinking – what we look for in an intern and junior designer's portfolio

David Nicholls 09 May 2022

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We’re always learning and developing our creative thinking at RY. Working with so many different types of personalities and skillsets is great fun and it’s a fantastic time to be in our team. So, when I was asked if I’d write a piece about what we look for in a new designer’s portfolio, I jumped at the chance.


I’ve tried to share a few insights and tips here that I hope you find useful. You are, after all, the next generation of our industry and we fully support you. That’s the spirit in which I’ve shared these thoughts.


Your ideas


There are about 30-40 creatives at RY. Each of us approach creative challenges in different ways and come to brainstorms with different ideas. Tip one: Ideas are golden. They come in all shapes and sizes, they’re the have-to-have in the projects you select for your portfolio. You can talk about your ideas like no one else can. You can talk about what you love about them, you can share your ambition for them, and you can be confident about how you brought them to life.


Tip two: Show some flexibility in what your idea can do. Say you come up with an amazing logo, how it lives on a building, on merch or on a business card is one thing. But showing how the rest of the brand language can flex and evolve, aimed at different audiences, using motion, social, digital channels, and tone of voice? That demonstrates (a) that you understand the industry you’re entering, (b) that you can be expressive in different channels using different media. You don’t need to show this flex on every project but demonstrating you can think this way will set you apart.

Your skills


How you execute your ideas is important. Tip three: Demonstrating craft in your work on its own might not win you a job at RY, but that coupled with great ideas is going to make you a strong candidate. A particular aspect of your design execution is something you can focus on during the interview as it shows care and attention to detail. I’ve met some wonderful art directors who are designers that can use colour like painters, others who can tell stories with their photography… whatever your creative strengths and passions, use them, show them and talk about them – we’re interested.

A small side note on skills. I’ve noticed a little CV trend in the last six months – sliding skills bars. It seems like a billion graphic designers have watched the same YouTube tutorial and been told to produce an infographic describing how well you can wield software. Don’t devalue what sets you apart by marking yourself 8/10 in your ability to use Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat. Rant over. (But if we meet, feel free to bring the subject up if you want a good laugh!).


Choosing a format


We’re open-minded about the format of your portfolio. Tip four: the format should be simple, quick and easy to engage with. We often get PDFs showing 5-10 pieces of work which is good. They can be easily emailed, shared and referred to so they definitely have a role. Websites obviously work too, especially if you have motion elements to share, though Keynote and PowerPoint are also good for that.  


The edit


Tip five: only include the very best work that you’re most proud of. If you have just four or five pieces of work, that’s okay. Only include work that you can talk passionately about and really believe in. By being discerning with your edit you give a clear indication of your opinion on what you think is brilliant.


Tip six: Ideally each piece of work in your portfolio should fulfil a slightly different role. The role of a particular project might demonstrate strength in a particular specialism (brand, packaging, editorial, digital, campaigning) or it might show a particular skill you enjoy (photography, writing, illustration, moving image) or it might be a piece of work that responds to a particular issue such as water security, climate change, diversity and inclusion or health and wellbeing.


Believing in you and your work


Your portfolio is ultimately a reflection of you. Every designer at some point has this realisation, and I’d bet every designer learns a bit of humility in that moment! But also, hopefully, a small sense of pride. That portfolio is yours and no one else’s. You’ve put blood, sweat and tears into it (and if you’re anything like me, one too many late nights and a frightening amount of coffee). So, believe in it and feel good about it. Know with confidence that no one else will have approached the creative challenges you’ve tackled in the same way. That belief will help when we first meet you at an interview. Tip seven: We’ll be looking and listening for that confidence and passion when you talk through your portfolio with us.


We can’t wait to meet you and hear you talk about your work. Applying for RY Next Gen. is a great opportunity for you to show off your thinking, and a great opportunity for us to learn something new. Best of luck.


David Nicholls, Design Director (Brand Engagement)


P.S. Tip eight: check your spelling (I know you know this – just watching out for you)