Introduction & Some Housekeeping
Over the past year and a bit, I’ve invited students who wish to pursue a career in level design to email me for portfolio and CV feedback. In an attempt to save myself and any future student seeking feedback some time, I’ve decided that I should collect a few of the trends I noticed in my outbound feedback into a single, public space. My hope is that someone (maybe you, dear reader) who doesn’t feel comfortable emailing me directly might read this and learn something from it.
I have 3 minor house keeping items to get out of the way first, before we begin.
First: I owe Robert Yang credit for this idea because all I am doing here is piggybacking off his fantastic blog post about making great design-focused portfolios. Click here to read it. I strongly recommend reading it because Robert has linked to several portfolios that demonstrate best practises with respect to portfolio structure and presentation.
Second is that what you’re about to read is mostly my personal opinion. If you were (or currently are) a student in any kind of game design course, you may have had instructors or professionals tell you things that contradict what I’m about to say. Trust your gut.
Third and final point: even if you do most/all of the things I’m advising you to do, it won’t guarantee you a job. My goal is simply to help you present your portfolio and CV information in an efficient way, reducing the amount of friction between the person who wants to hire you and the key information you are attempting to present to them.
On Structuring Your Portfolio
- If you can afford it – and there’s no shame if not – I’d suggest hosting your portfolio with a provider like Squarespace, for the following reasons:
- You can get free trials and there’s always a promo code to save on your first X months as well. Do some googling and you can find these promo codes.
- You get to choose from a bunch of slick templates so you don’t have to fuss over the graphic design elements of your site. (And you can still tweak stuff under the hood if you’re a web dev wizard too!)
- Most, if not all, of the templates work on desktop, phone, and tablet browsers!
- You can purchase domain hosting so that your site name will be easy to remember. Something short and simple like “yourlastname[dot]com” is much easier to read and remember than something like “wixsites.portfolio.yourname[dot]com/home”
- You will also gain access to an email account that comes with your domain, so you can have a nice email on your CV that looks like this: “yourfirstname@yourlastname[dot]com”
- If you have extra cash to spend, you can also purchase cool top-level domains so your site URL ends with things like [dot]party or [dot]pizza instead of [dot]com. Just some food for thought.
- The absolute first thing people need to see when landing on your portfolio is your work. If the first thing anyone sees is a gigantic personal logo or an “About Me” page, I’d suggest that you immediately focus on reworking your site’s structure to ensure someone sees your work before anything else.
- Minimze scrolling by using smaller thumbnails that expand to larger images if the user is interested.
- It helps a lot if each of your projects has the following information:
- If applicable: a link to a distribution platform like Steam or Itch.io where someone can download and try it.
- The year it was published.
- The studio/company or team you worked on if you were part of one.
- Your role and a brief description of what you owned and did.
- What editor/tools used to make it. I’d recommend placing a small logo image as well.
- Some screenshots and a brief description.
- If your work is in 3D: detailed top-down maps if you have them.
- If your work is in 2D: detailed area maps if you have them.
- If you have time, I’d also recommend doing a brief (3-5 minutes) walkthrough video as well, with some (written, voiced, or both) commentary from yourself. Talk about some challenges you faced and how you overcame them. Host this on YouTube and embed it.
- If applicable: embed or link to a video trailer for the project.
- On a “Projects” or “Professional Work” page, order your projects chronologically, from newest to oldest, so the viewer can see your progression as a designer.
- Separate your personal work into a different section, such as pages like a “Blog,” “Game Jam Projects,” “Mods,” or maybe over to an entirely different site. (This is not to say that your personal work isn’t valuable.)
- On the top of every page, make sure your contact email is visible at all times.
- Make a “Last Updated: [date here]” footer on your site, visible on every page, that lets someone know the last time you updated anything on your site. You can even include details of what changed, if you'd like, and link directly to it.
- Have separate “Contact” and “About Me” sections so that someone seeking further contact information (maybe you have more than one email address, for example) knows exactly where to find it. You can still double up on contact details on your “About Me” page or ever have a link there that sends them directly to your “Contact” page.
- On your “About Me” page, think about what’s most important about you as a designer and list that at the top. Where you currently live, what languages you speak, and what aspects of design you practise are far more important than your hobbies or what type of music you listen to. Organize your page as such. I want to know all of the things that make you a well-rounded person too, but only after the pertinent details.
- Have an embedded CV for recruiters who aren’t allowed to download anything.
- Have .PDF and .DOC versions of your CV for recruiters who do download these things. If you can only do one of these, have a .PDF version of your CV.
- Keep your portfolio’s design simple, clean, and easy to navigate above anything else.
- Consider accessibility with respect to colour blindness when deciding on a colour scheme. Test with a tool like Colour Oracle or a web extension that can simulate various types of colour blindness.
- Playtest your portfolio. Write down a few “discovery” objectives for someone to find (your email address, the year your first project was released, an important detail from your “About Me” page, download a PDF of your CV, etc.) and ask them to find them on your portfolio without any help. Collect their feedback. Were they able to accomplish the objectives you set for them? Go back and improve your site if you can.
- And, most important: relentlessly test your portfolio on a desktop browser, a smartphone browser, and a tablet browser. If your portfolio is unreadable or in any way unworkable on any of these platforms, fix it immediately. Not everyone is going to view your site on a desktop. You might also want to show your portfolio when all you have is your phone on you!
On Structuring Your CV
- Have a CV hosted on your portfolio site. Some students don’t have this on their portfolios and it’s a bit concerning.
- At the top of your CV, link back to your portfolio site.
- If your CV is longer than a single page, consider revising immediately. I’ve seen CVs from designers who have 15 years of experience (and tonnes of shipped projects, various educational accomplishments, awards, and honours) and they still manage to fit everything on to one page. You can do it too.
- List either your “Projects” or “Skills” at the top. Consider the cliché wherein “recruiters only spend an average of 6 seconds looking at a CV,” and make it so that they cannot miss the most important stuff since it’s right there at the top.
- Don't forget to list spoken languages and your fluency with each if you speak more than one!
- Do not put your picture or a headshot on your CV.
- For your personal safety online: omit your phone number and home address. (List what city you live in but no further than that.) If and when a recruiter needs any of this information, they can ask over a private and secure form of communication.
- Do not bother to list things like “great communication skills” or “team player.” Save the space on your CV and save anyone reading time. People will gauge how well you communicate during an interview and they will know what kind of team player you are once you get the job.
- If you’ve published anything on or have been interviewed for sites like (but not limited to) Gamasutra, 80 Level, or the GDC Vault, make sure to include it on your CV.
- Proofread everything three times and then hand it to someone else to proofread. Make sure that you’re consistent with things like grammar and punctuation.
Thanks for reading! I hope some of these points help you in building a better portfolio and CV. If you have any feedback for me after reading this, whether you’re a student, a recruiter, or a practising industry professional, please do not hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d also appreciate you sharing any great portfolio examples, advice articles, and so on. I will update this post and credit you for any improvements or additions to it.