top of page
  • Writer's pictureArchontia Manolakelli

Architecture Portfolio Design Guide.

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

As final submissions and upcoming job hunts are fast approaching for many students, it is that time of the year when questions about portfolio design, job applications and CVs start to become more of a focus. This month’s article will therefore be a bit of a departure from Environmental Psychology, to talk about portfolio design and things that can help improve presentation and graphic communication.

Archontia Manolakelli example portfolio layout for architecture with cover image and full page project information arrangement.
images by Archontia Manolakelli © 2022

To avoid copyright issues I will be using my own portfolio to illustrate some of the points discussed. However, the principles I will be talking about can apply in various ways depending on your preferred visual representation style, something that is a matter of preference - i.e. don’t get too hung up with my choice of colours, fonts, layout etc. instead, focus on the general ideas behind what is being described.

What is a portfolio?

In a nutshell, your portfolio is a way to demonstrate your capabilities, passion and character when applying to design schools or companies, and showcase your skills, experience and value you can bring to a potential employer or client.

Archontia Manolakelli outlined aims of portfolio designs, including describing a project, clearly communicating ideas, telling a story, showcasing designer identity etc.

Although the overall aim of a portfolio is usually largely the same, mainly around communicating skills, interests and ideas, as architects and architecture students we make various types of portfolios across practice and academia with slight differences in focus. To illustrate this better I have put together the following list of examples that includes, but is not limited to the following:

  • Academic portfolios can vary vastly depending on the university and sometimes module of study; I have worked on 5 page portfolios to 200 pages ones during my time in academia. For this type of portfolio make sure to refer to the course requirements to determine if the output is more along the lines of a competition board (e.g. A1, A0) or a standard report (e.g. A3, A4), as the layout and level of detail to be included will be different. Their main aim is to showcase quality and range of work in relation to specific course requirements.

  • Job Applications or University Admissions Portfolios are portfolios submitted as part of job applications or university admission processes and are usually on the shorter end. They aim to showcase individual design style and personal character, as well as a range of skills and project experience relevant to the practice or university the candidate is applying to. Their main aim is to convince the recipient that you are the right candidate for a professional role or university course.

  • Master Portfolios are usually lengthier and more detailed, and include a variety of projects a designer has worked on over their career in practice and education. They serve as an easily accessible record to draw upon and are usually edited down for job applications, university admissions and interviews to showcase different skill sets in more depth.

  • Online Portfolios are often used to attract clients as a form of advertising or an easy way to showcase work and build an online presence as a student, young graduate or recently qualified architect. This can be in the form of a website, blog, video, or uploaded document that is sharable and accessible through a service such as Issuu, Behance etc.

  • Work-winning Portfolios support design proposals for upcoming work through relevant experience and expertise. These types of portfolios are usually very targeted and are submitted as part of work-winning competitions or processes.

Defining a “Brief”.

Before you start designing your portfolio, it is important to think about some background information in order to create a “brief” for yourself, especially if there isn’t one provided for a specific purpose. This is more of a way to focus your energy on including the right information, in the right way, for the right audience. Here are some questions to help you:

  1. What is the purpose of your portfolio? (e.g. job application, building online presence)

  2. Are there any specific requirements for it? (e.g. size, length, word count, deadlines etc.)

  3. What information will your portfolio need to communicate or highlight depending on its purpose? (e.g. design skills, technical skills, software skills, practice experience, creativity, teamwork, specific sector or design stage work etc.)

  4. What audience will it reach? (e.g. company directors, academics, laypeople / clients etc.)

  5. Will it be presented digitally or physically?

  6. Will you be there to present it or will it be reviewed in your absence?

Archontia Manolakelli key parameters of defining a portfolio brief. Things to consider include the audience eg clients, architects and laypeople, the aims and context eg architecture competition, interview portfolios, university applications etc, and level of detail eg construction drawings, conceptual drawings, visualisations, technical documents, BIM etc

If you don’t yet have a specific purpose for your portfolio but would like to prepare ahead of time, I would recommend starting a master portfolio so that you can quickly use it when required at a later date. On a side note, I wish I was given that advice earlier as it would have helped immensely at times when I needed to have something ready for an interview or presentation at short notice, but had to pull together incoherent information from various project files. In recent years I have stuck with A3 or letter size layouts for printed portfolios, or standard screen resolution for digital ones for convenience as these formats are fairly flexible and easy to adapt to other arrangements.

Designing your portfolio.

Now that you have determined the specific requirements and aims for your portfolio, here are a few things to consider as you are getting started with putting together your portfolio design:

- A portfolio is a design project in itself.

A good way to approach portfolio design is to treat it as another design project. Follow the brief you set for yourself based on the requirements and adopt a similarly iterative process to the one you would use for any architecture project you have worked on.

Archontia Manolakelli example of portfolio information page layout, including project type, university / company / competition, title of the project, short description, date and role of the designer

- Time management is important.

A portfolio should not be an afterthought following the completion of a project or course. Some of the highest quality outcomes can be achieved by setting time aside, to plan, research, make decisions, outline, and deliver your goals. When you have given yourself the time and space, it is much easier to make considered decisions.

Archontia Manolakelli example of portfolio layout design with grid lines using Adobe InDesign. The page is divided into segments to place different drawings and design elements

- Visual presentation strongly affects legibility and perceived quality.

Whether we like it or not most people, and especially architects, are visual beings. Therefore the quality of visual presentation in a portfolio is an important aspect. Style is of course subjective and dependent on your unique skills and interest, but following some basic principles of graphic design will help showcase your work better by creating consistency and hierarchy across the information presented. Adobe InDesign is a good software to work on, or learn, for this purpose as you can use it to set up your templates, create master layouts and make swatches of your colour scheme that are easily editable across the document. It is also an industry standard that is often listed as a requirement for job applications, at least in the UK.

Archontia Manolakelli principles of graphic design that can be used to design architectural portfolios. Listed: colour, scale, contrast, alignment, proximity

Retaining a uniform style with regard to layout, typography, colour schemes, and rhythm of your portfolio makes it easier to read through and feel like it is made by one person with a consistent vision and approach. Try to avoid including disjointed pieces from various projects with different styles and colours, or if you do, design elements within your portfolio that can help tie them together into something more coherent. It is ok to edit your work after it is completed to align it with your overall portfolio presentation if you are including multiple projects.

Archontia Manolakelli example of portfolio colour scheme and typography design for basic layout elemtns

Picking a colour scheme for the overall document is suggested as it will guide you to stay within a certain range of options that will help you retain the same style across your portfolio. Pinterest is your friend when it comes to colour schemes, but an easy / safe way to achieve this is to pick neutral colours and an accent e.g. black, light grey, beige and teal.

Archontia Manolakelli aspects of design to consider in an architectural portfolio. Including colour scheme, typography,, layout, hierarchy

Similarly, allowing for “white space” in particular, or areas in your layout that are not filled with images or text, is something many young designers struggle with. Focusing on a few good images or diagrams rather than including the maximum amount of information cluttered in one page is generally a good idea.

If your portfolio is printed, keep the main text between 10pt-12pt as this is the standard size for many printed publications. You may want to consider a selection of no more than two or three fonts to highlight titles, subtitles, main text etc. as using too many different fonts can become distracting; I have definitely fallen into that trap before thinking I was making my presentation more interesting.

- Showcase a range of skills, experience and expertise.

Include a variety of skills and expertise in a range of media, not only what you consider your primary strengths. This could include conceptual designs, diagrams, hand sketches, technical details, photos from site, photorealistic renders, digital software skills, physical model-making, sculpting, photography, illustration, video etc. Don’t be afraid to rework parts of projects after they have been completed or alter the narrative you are presenting to highlight different aspects. You can also tailor the ratio of the content presented depending on the purpose of your portfolio and its recipients, e.g. if you are applying to a practice with a strong technical focus a choice of high quality technical drawings may be more important than showcasing a large number of conceptual sketches.

Archontia Manolakelli example of architecture portfolio page with variety of drawing types including plans, sections, elevantions, architectural visualisations, 3D details / technical details, sectional perspective, site plan / masterplan and drawing information

- Provide some project background and highlight your role

Include brief explanations of the projects and highlight your role in them, but keep the text to a minimum. This will help make clear what expertise you are trying to showcase by including that experience through examples of hands-on application. The text I am showing below is on the longer side given that it comes from my master portfolio. It is put together with the assumption that I will not be present to explain what the project is about, so more background information is included for clarity.

Archontia Manolakelli example of project description in an architectural portfolio outlining title, dates, short and long description, university / company, collaborators, RIBA design stage, location, type eg commercial, residential, materplan etc, software used, university atelier / unit, and supervisors

- Ask for feedback when possible.

If you have access to people who can help you by highlighting things that don’t make sense, look too cluttered, are unclear etc. don’t be afraid to ask for their feedback and support. One of the best ways to learn and improve is to be open to constructive criticism, something architecture school is excellent at teaching us.

As a note, there is a difference between criticism for the sake of criticism and constructive criticism.

  • Criticism with no intention to help someone tends to only focus on the negative aspects of the work without providing useful feedback for how to improve or what the expectation is. This can sound like statements along the lines of "This isn't good enough / This is bad" but with no followup to help you understand what "bad" means in the person's mind or suggested resources to help you improve or understand what you are doing wrong.

  • Constructive criticism can look very similar when it comes to identified flaws, but there is more specific feedback that is intended to help you understand what is wrong and how to change it. In this case constructive feedback may sound like "This isn't good enough, because (reasons). You can have a look at this (tutorial / example of work / resource or reach out to x person to help make it better." A lot of the time constructive feedback also tends to be worded in a softer, more considerate way, but this is not always the case, depending on the person delivering it.

For those who aim to give feedback in a constructive way, a good approach is to deliver your thoughts in a sandwich of positive-negative-positive comments, where you aim to create a balance of highlighting what is good and what is not so good with specific guidance as to why you think that is the case and how the person asking for feedback can improve in a tangible way.

For those asking for feedback, I can understand that sometimes it can be disheartening to hear that your work is lacking in some way, but it is very important to be able to hear other people's views on what you can improve in order to progress. If you have identified that the feedback you are receiving is indeed constructive and helpful rather than just dismissive, it helps to remember that a criticism of your work is not a criticism of you as a person, and that the fact that you now have feedback of what you can do to improve, empowers you to take action and to continue moving forward and getting better at what you do. So this is all a positive and essential process for you to grow professionally and personally. :)

Closing thoughts.

Designing a portfolio is always a fun exercise, with a few things to consider along the way. In this article I discussed some aspects of creating a successful portfolio including putting together a brief to outline goals and aims, and highlighting potential pitfalls during the design process. If you take anything away from this, it is the following three things:

  • Prioritise quality and clarity over copious amounts of information

  • Understand your audience and what the aim of your presentation is

  • Set aside time to put together your portfolio

If you are currently looking for a job or a place in your preferred university course, I wish you all the best and I hope this article has been helpful! :)

Best wishes,



Archontia Manolakelli is an Architect and interdisciplinary Design Researcher based in Manchester, UK. Her commitment to designing more comfortable, inclusive and sustainable places using an evidence-based approach, led her to discover Environmental Psychology back in 2016. Since then she has continued to further her knowledge on this wonderful field through the study of psychology and approach to professional practice in architecture.


Hello. Thank you for stopping by, I hope you have enjoyed your reading! If you have any questions or feedback on this article, please don't hesitate to drop me a line on LinkedIn or via email.



bottom of page