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, Art & Design

On the 7th July Strelka Institute held for the second time its annual Portfolio Review. Our board of experts gathered in the yard of the institute to share with the audience their verdict on the quality of portfolios submitted this year. Some of the common mistakes were mentioned and aspiring architects were given advice on how to increase the competitiveness of their portfolios. The editors of attended the event and prepared a special guide for creating portfolios listing all the Dos and Don’ts and offering practical advice.


Looking through dozens of portfolios on a screen, especially the really long ones, can be quite exhausting, and more often than not the examiners prefer to print out the submitted files. However, many candidates do not realize this and send in portfolios with no margins, long captions under the photographs and images that spread to the very edges of the page. Such formatting might look fine on a screen, but creates a negative impression when the file is printed on paper. Moreover, some of the candidates instead of creating a separate file choose to post their portfolios on various websites. This should be avoided because it makes it impossible to download them.

Missing personal details.

This might sound surprising, but quite often candidates forget to include such important details as their name, qualifications, date of birth, employment history, etc. Meanwhile, it’s very important for the experts to know whether you created your project at the age of 15 or at the age of 25. Also, always give your full name, not just the initials, so that you can be addressed appropriately if invited for an interview.

Not enough information about your projects.

Many candidates prefer to focus on the visual side of their portfolio and fail to provide a detailed description of the project. You need to mention when was your project devised, was it completed or not and were you working alone or in a team. If you were working in a team, you should specify your contribution to the project.

Portfolios that are too long.

The admissions office receives and reviews dozens of applications so make sure yours is not too long. Do not write lengthy descriptions: they should be brief and to the point. One line per slide is enough. 500 characters is too long.

Texts that are not proofread.

This is a common problem with any type of portfolio. Always check your texts for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and typos. If possible, ask a spell-checker or a friend to proofread your portfolio. Misspelt words and bad grammar create an impression of a half-hearted attempt, which will not please the examiner who might be reading your portfolio late at night.

Portfolios without a conclusion

We all remember the rules for writing an essay: it should always have an introduction, the main body and a conclusion. These rules also apply when you are compiling your portfolio. Introduction is the basic information about you; the main body is the overview of your projects. And the conclusion can include some additional information or repeat some of the details from the introduction.

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A bit of advice from the Strelka Institute experts:

Always keep in mind why you are submitting your portfolio and who is going to read it. It might be a bad idea to include a photo of you in a swimsuit when applying for the position of an architect. This would mar even an otherwise perfect portfolio.

If you decide to provide the information both in Russian and in English, create two separate files so that the examiner wouldn’t have to read a compilation in two different languages.

Your file shouldn’t exceed 5 MB. This is an optimal size that allows to download and view your portfolio quickly, for example while sitting in a café. If you decide to include a lot of projects, at least make sure you are within the 10 MB limit.

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We do not recommend creating your texts in Photoshop. This program is more suitable for images, not texts. As a result, the examiner won’t be able to copy the name of your project to look it up on the Internet and you won’t be able to insert hyperlinks.

By the way: make sure that all your hyperlinks are active. This will speed up the process of reading for the examiner and will most definitely give you extra points.

Pick only the best images. Do include pictures of the models of your designs. Pay specific attention to all the captions: they often get mixed up or are not well formulated. Nuances such as these may prove crucial in creating an overall impression.

Include only the best of your works: there’s no need to mention all 300 of them. The examiner will look up maximum 10 projects. The projects you choose to include must be characteristic of your style and should reflect your professional interests. The expertsdo not necessarily need to know that you have a part-time job as a photographer or that you went to an art school.

If you do have a lot of projects, create an exhaustive list online and provide the link in your portfolio.

Do not forget to erase all the unnecessary technical documentation from the images and plans.

Don’t put too much effort into creating a unique design for your portfolio, especially if you are not a professional designer. Just make sure that you create a coherent template and use not more than two different fonts.

The contents of portfolio should always come first, not the design.


List your projects chronologically starting with the most recent. Always mention the year so the expert can see how you developed professionally.

Preferably use pdf. – it’s compatible with most of devices. Don’t forget: portfolio and CV are not the same thing! Do not put CV as the title of your file – this will put off the experts. CV is only a part of your portfolio.

Do not provide too many contact details: the examiners do not need to know your flat number or your Skype nickname (especially if it’s a silly one).

Do not include a scanned version of your diploma, language proficiency certificate or any other additional accolades like your art school prize. If necessary, you can bring those documents to the interview.

Be careful with jokes and humour. After looking through 80 portfolios late at night, the examiner might not appreciate your ironic joke about sleeping being your favourite pastime ever. Especially if you send your portfolio 2 hours before the deadline.

Do not postpone sending your portfolio until the very last moment. Only 20% of applications arrive on time, the other 80% are received right before the deadline. This irritates the admissions office a great deal because the application period is always long enough for everyone to submit the portfolios on time. Send your application early: this will leave a good impression and, more importantly, it will allow the experts to study your portfolio in more detail.

Be as precise, as concise and as convincing as you can. The ability to formulate your thoughts in a coherent way is just as crucial as having a long list of projects. The quality of your portfolio is the evidence of your professionalism and that’s what the experts are looking for. Good luck!