4 Tips to Shape the Ideal Story for Your Architecture Portfolio

How do you tell your story?

We get this question from our community all the time, especially when practicing presentations and interviews. In this article we explore four strategies for every portfolio that will help you use the language to communicate your story in a way that connects with your audience.

Remember! A portfolio is a story about your work and how you have grown through every experience. You must be showing the audience those moments in your career that define how you can add more to the hiring firm. Your portfolio showcases your problem-solving abilities and how you reflect upon your successes and failures.

1. Highlight your top values

What words and images come to mind when you think about what you value most as a designer? Innovation, creativity, seamless integration between landscape and building, design excellence, meticulous detailing?

Choose 3-5 words and make sure there is at least one image for each of these words spread across different projects that helps to demonstrate these values.

2. Best work goes first

Curate 5–10 projects that align with the kind of work you want to be doing and the work of the architecture practices you like. Clarify what your audience seeks by checking for keywords (verbs and adjectives) in the job description and their website and accentuate how your expertise, skills and uniqueness exceed their needs. Strive for flexibility and tailor what you show to the people viewing it.

Remember, respect the time and attention of your audience. Go deep on a few, broad on the rest — quality is what matters.

3. Understand the story you want to tell before telling it

The story and narrative you tell in your portfolio can be as important as the work itself. Consider how your motivation, aspirations shape these narratives, what is highlighted or omitted from the content of a project, which contributes to it (i.e., designers/engineers), why I chose this particular project for inclusion — all have an impact. Consider all these points when you’re preparing your portfolio:

  • Do you know clearly what each project will highlight? (Design skills, software capabilities, different scales of experience, collaboration, overcoming challenges, detail drawing

  • You might have one project that you consider your best. This one should come first but make sure you also have a strong project to end on also.

  • Do all the images contribute to the story? Have you removed the images that don’t contribute extra information?

  • Does every project have detailed project information, including the most important part – your role? (Year, location, program, size, client)

  • Do you have at least one project that displays your software drawing skills and even hand sketching skills?

  • Do you feel connected in some way to the values you chose in all of your projects?

4. Make sure you are clear about what your role is

Importantly, know how to describe each project with the STAR method:

Situation: set the project context (where, when, who, how, why)

Task: what was required?

Action: What was your role in the project?

Result: what happened in the situation?

What about Storytelling?

For each project or image, what anecdote can you share? I remember a client once told me about how a particular project had helped her to feel more connected to her place of origin and another client explained how discussions during a community consultation has resulted in a change of habit and motivation around their work.

A project I once worked on had an incredible story behind it and every time I told the story in job interviews people felt more connected to the story rather than my role in the project! They could see how passionate I was about knowing more about, and connecting with people.

I was working on a memorial garden for a woman who had lost her late husband. The landscaper I was working with on the project was having trouble sourcing some recycled timber for a fence we had designed. He went everywhere to see what he could find and all the timber yards had nothing left. Until he finally arrived at his last possibility. When he came back to the site to tell the owner of the house where he had found the timber, she broke down crying tears of joy. As it turned out, the timber had come from the last dock in Melbourne where her husband had worked just before he died. It still gives me chills telling the story.

When considering your next career move, plan proactively and create Portfolios that include your best work. Consider looking into finding a mentor with Architect-USand improving your Portfolios with our Portfolio Plans and Career Advice Program. We provide coaching and personalized mentorship, so you can have a professional and experienced take on your next steps in your career, as well as a great team to confide in.


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