Create a stunning, attention-grabbing digital design portfolio
As a Digital Designer, your most important tool when looking for work is your portfolio. I spent many years as a recruitment specialist in the digital creative industry and I’ve looked through hundreds of online portfolios. Some were stunningly brilliant, some were pretty damn average and some had the potential to be brilliant, but were let down because of usability issues or a poor interface.
I can't design your folio for you, but here are some tips for building a great digital design portfolio.
Design it yourself!
It can be very tempting to upload your work to a pre-built portfolio site such as Carbonmade, Krop or Behance, but it’s not really advisable. These sites are ok for photographers, copywriters or even print designers, but if you’re offering your services as a digital designer you should be able to design your own interface.
Similarly, WordPress themes can be a fantastic resource, but using one straight off the shelf is dangerous. When I was looking at portfolios, I was always amazed by how many people used the same theme and passed it off as their own design - not a good idea!
The work is the key
Your visitors are coming to your site to look at your work. Whilst blog posts about what inspires you or the latest snippet of php wizardry definitely have their place, don’t let them obscure your actual folio. Ideally you should have examples of your work on the front page of your site and a very clear link to your wider portfolio. Or you could just launch straight into the folio on the front page. However you do it, make sure the work is accessible and obvious.
This follows on from the above really. I’ve seen some very creative, off-the-wall portfolios and some of them have been superb, but others got so lost in their creative concept that they forgot about their users. If I can’t find the link to your portfolio page easily, I’m not going to spend ages hunting for it - I’ll just move onto the next folio instead. Make sure your interface is easy to use and that your navigation is clear and obvious.
How to present the work itself
The interface is one thing, but how you present the content itself is also very important. Do you take screenshots and crop them? Do you take photos of the work on screen? Do you paste your PSDs into a picture of a macbook screen? There are lots of approaches you can take, just make sure you’re consistent throughout the site.
You should also consider what information you’re going to provide with each portfolio item. I suggest a list of the skills you used and your involvement in each project (ie Design, Developement, Wirefrmaing, Branding etc) as a minimum.
How much to show?
Thought on this vary, but I’d say quality over quantity is always the best marker. I’d rather see 4 or 5 really good projects than 1 good project hidden amongst a wealth of mediocrity. You’re the best judge of the quality of your work and we all know that some projects just don’t come out as well as others - be critical and cull the ones that don’t make the cut.
Blogs can be a great way of showing potential employers a glimpse of the person behind the work, but there are some things to remember:
- Keep your blog section and your portfolio section separate. Using the same loop to display portfolio items and blog posts is messy and eventually the creative work gets lost amidst the written posts.
- Make your posts relevant. A blog on your portfolio is not the same as a personal blog - only use it for writing about design related subjects.
- Remember your audience. People who are visiting your portfolio site are most likely interested in employing you for a project so make sure blog posts are free from profanity or news about your drunken exploits etc.
- Be knowledgeable. Use your blog posts to show off what you know about the industry, latest news, new technology etc.
- Update it regularly. There’s nothing sadder than the sight of a beautifully designed blog that hasn’t been updated in over a year. If you don’t think you can make the commitment to updating it regularly (once a month at least), don’t do it.
If you’re offering coding as part of your skill set, you should take care that your portfolio is well built as well as well designed. The first thing a prospective hiring manager with some knowledge of HTML/CSS etc will do is check your source code, so make sure it’s clean and try to ensure it validates with w3c.
You should also consider what technologies you use. At the time of writing this article, HTML5 and CSS3 are the buzzwords about town, so showing you can code using those languages would be a huge advantage.
Commercial vs Personal work
One of the complaints from new, aspiring designers is that they can’t get a job without a portfolio and you can’t make pieces for a portfolio without a job. It’s nonsense. If you don’t have any commercial experience, you should use personal projects to show off your skills - whether it be a custom skin for your personal blog, a website dedicated to your cat or a Flash animation of a crab playing football, put as much work in as possible that shows your talents.
Even if you have a wealth of commercial work, it’s often nice to have a personal project or two in your folio - it shows that you engage with design outside of a professional capacity as well as within it.
Look at other peoples’ sites
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with looking at other portfolio sites for inspiration (although there’s a HUGE amount wrong with copying other peoples’ sites, of course!). Lists of great exemplar sites are ten-a-penny on the internet and a quick google search should give you loads to look through.
Obviously there’s a fine line between taking inspiration and blatantly ripping off someone elses’ design, so make sure your work is always your own. However, it’s incredibly useful to look at how other people have approached the challenge of creating a portfolio site and even identify some common themes.
I hope the above guide has been useful. If you’re looking for a job in Digital Design at the moment, you might want to check out my guide here.