Certified portfolio advice: Sarah Jackson

We asked industry leaders to share their experience when it comes to making and critiquing portfolios.

Becoming CGD Certified is monumental in boosting any creatives professional career. Part of the process is preparing and submitting a killer portfolio of your work. We asked industry experts to share their experience when it comes to portfolios. 



Sarah Jackson, creative mind & owner at the Office of Sarah


Regrets I’ve had a few.
I always find it hard to look at my early work – the perfectionist in me can barely handle it, particularly my graduating portfolio (insert embarrassed grimace here). I went to school for design immediately after high school and my lack of life experience shows in my early work. If I had to do it again, I think I might have waited a few years, travelled, let life teach me a few things, before going back to school. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’m back doing my MDes (Master of Design) at the U of A: I just feel like I have so much more to say now! 

As amateur as I think my graduating portfolio was, in my first few years out of college I worked on a lot of personal, passion projects, and many of these projects are what won me my first clients. And you’ve got to mess up and fall down before you learn how to stand, so to all of you struggling with your skill sets, don’t give up! Keep working at it, find a good mentor or two, and start a personal project that you absolutely love working on.

Building a “good” portfolio.
The concept of building a “good” portfolio is problematic for me because judging what makes a “good” portfolio depends on what we decide equates to “good” design. It’s so subjective. This is something that I think the design industry in general needs to spend more time exploring, questioning and second-guessing. Forget what other people are telling you equates to good design: what do you think? I’m interested in working with designers who are using their brains. 

Stay away.
As much as possible, stay away from the stuff that you think is boring and unimportant. People hire you based on what they see in your portfolio, for good or bad, so create work that you enjoy building. Build projects that (from your point of view) have real purpose. For god’s sake, the world already has enough uninspired, un-passionate, irresponsible work! Create shit you like.

Take it from a pro.
One of my favourite designers (Frank Chimero) says that the best design portfolio feedback he ever got was “Needs more love”. I think this piece of feedback is so great, and really hits the mark on what’s missing in some of the projects I look at, both student portfolios and the design that fills our stores and streets (and some of my own past projects, for that matter). I’ve started using this phrase when talking to students and assessing design work in general. Take an honest look at each project in your portfolio and ask if it “needs more love”. Anyone can learn how to use InDesign or Photoshop. I want to see what YOU—your brain, experience, perspectives—are bringing to the project. I want to see that you care.

Beauty in the process.
Process. Sketches. Concept work. Sure, I want to see your solution, but I also want to know how you got there and why. 

Things that make me cringe.
A bad attitude.

Last words. 
To quote Frank Chimero - “Needs more love”.

Why I’m CGD Certified.
Getting critique and feedback is the only way we can grow as designers, and the CGD Certification process is fantastic just for that aspect alone. In a field where anyone and their dog can claim to be a graphic designer, a national-level certification can help set you apart.



CGD Certification

With CGD at the end of your name, you are able to more effectively establish your credentials and spark discussion with your clients about professional design. 

Find out how you can become certified.