Your portfolio is the showcase of your work, your skills and your potential for your future employers. The more time and effort you dedicate for a usable and nice-looking design, the higher are your chances for getting better account balance in the end of the month. So how can you make sure your portfolio is better than the portfolios of your competitors? How can you point employer’s attention to your works?
Creating a successful portfolio is easier than you think. Focus on simplicity, ease of use, hitting your objectives, professionally managing the project, and you’ll end up with a successful portfolio. In this article we’ll review 5 pitfalls that commonly plague portfolio design. Then we’ll cover Portfolio Tips that if carefully considered and well executed will deliver quality results for your portfolio.
Another easy way to repurpose your portfolio is to turn it into a website. If that seems like a big task, fear not. You can now create a sleek website with one click on Canva. Once you’ve finished your design, you can find Website in the Publish tab in the editor.
- Create an Online Portfolio Website with Crevado: It's super-easy to showcase your graphic design, illustration, art, photography, modelling or any creative work with our Online Portfolio Builder.
- The best way to create a good online portfolio is to start with a custom domain. That shows the world that you take your project seriously and professionally. Once you put your portfolio online, make sure you use high-quality images, and choose a high-impact image for the header of your homepage to grab people’s attention.
- Personal portfolio websites that are impossible to find on Google are mostly just a waste of your time and resources. Have Vision and Mission. Before you start creating your web portfolio, you should know your vision and mission, or at least the clear reason why you decided to create this portfolio in the first place.
You might be interested in the following related posts:
There are some common mistakes designers make in their portfolios. Let’s review these common pitfalls first to make sure you don’t fall into one of these traps.
Pitfall #1: Obfuscation
Clarity and focus should permeate your portfolio. With language don’t use twenty words when seven will do. Push your best content to the front. When possible place your important content above the fold. Avoid meandering in your language or paths in your website. Keep your portfolio to the minimum of levels deep, while still accomplishing your goals.
Over at Copyblogger there is an article that covers a simple list of writing tips from the man known for cutting out the fluff from writing in the early twentieth century. See the article Ernest Hemingway’s Top 5 Tips for Writing Well. Hemingway championed using short sentences, strong forceful language, and clarity. All principles that make for effective writing on the Web.
The Portfolio of Evan Eckard is an example of a website that promotes the work from the first page and Gets to it quickly.
In the article Creating The Perfect Portfolio author Collis Ta’eed offers portfolio advice from the perspective of a potential employer. One of his section titled Get to it on the reasons to limit the number of portfolio pieces you have and make finding your best portfolio pieces easy. A potential employer needs to review many potential applicants quickly. You are more likely to make the cut if your best work is promoted prominently. The Portfolio of Evan Eckard is an example of a website that promotes the work from the first page and Gets to it quickly.
Pitfall #2: Information Cramming
There is an issue of wanting to say too much in too little space when creating your portfolio. There is a balance that needs to be achieved with how many pages deep you have users clicking for more information and how much information you try to fit on a page. This is an issue to be aware of when constructing your portfolio.
The tighter you pack your portfolio the more likely it will appear cluttered. If you do need to put a large amount of information on a page see the post Grid and Column Designs over at Web Designer’s wall. It will give you some great ideas on how you can use the grid to your advantage when presenting a vast amount of information.
The article will give you some great ideas on how you can use the grid to your advantage when presenting a vast amount of information.
Pitfall #3: Overdoing It
You’re less likely to go wrong if you keep things simple and organized. You can apply this mindset to all areas of your portfolio. Less is more. The more you try to do in your portfolio the more chances there are for things to go wrong.
If you’re trying to showcase eighteen services you offer you’ll have less success than promoting a few prominently. If you show too many types of work or try to show too much work of any type than you’ll likely to drown the user. They won’t find your prominent pieces that show how great your work is.
Pitfall #4: Uncommon Navigation
Designers have an urge to stand out as unique. The last place to follow this urge is in your site’s navigation. It’s a matter of numbers. If a large number of people coming to see your portfolio will have difficulty navigating through it, your portfolio will fail to meet its goals.
On the blog Astheria in the post My Last Portfolio Sucked, Yours Might Too the author points out some excellent examples of navigation choices to avoid. In this article Kyle Meyer reviews 200 portfolios and points out the problems with using them. Navigation problems made up over 32 percent of the issues encountered.
This article presents some excellent examples of navigation choices to avoid.
Pitfall #5: Visual Clutter
Consider the purpose of any decorative element you bring to your portfolio. If they fit your goals and compliment your work that’s great. Otherwise remove them. White space helps to give a professional feel to your portfolio. The more visual elements you try to push into an area the more difficult it will be to maintain a feeling of professionalism.
In the interview Where Visual Design Meets Usability - An Interview with Luke Wroblewski, Part II both page hierarchy and visual clutter are addressed. In the article he summarizes some of Edward Tufte’s teachings on avoiding superfluous data.
12 Principles of Effective Portfolio Design
Below you’ll find 12 suggestions which you can use to improve your portfolio or get it right first time when designing from scratch. Please keep in mind that some of these suggestions require patience, time and quite a lot of planning. However, it’s worth it. And the examples provided below show that one can achieve outstanding results with just following these 12 simple rules.
1. Define your Criteria and Strategies for Success
As with any project it will help you to clarify your goals before you begin. Once you know your goals then it will effect every decision you make about creating your portfolio.
Below are some common portfolio goals. Also, be aware that often portfolios try to accomplish more than one goal. Or, consider creating more than one portfolio that serves a different purpose.
- The Hire Me Portfolio focuses on getting you a job. If you are actively searching for a job then the current goal of your portfolio is to get hired. In this type of portfolio you can target the work you show to the type of company you want to work for.
- The Sales Generation Portfolio focuses on keeping a flow of work always coming in the door. The goal here is to generate leads. And move potential customers through your sales channel.
- The Reputation Building Portfolio focuses on building your name in the industry and online. This may take the form of an artist’s showcase. Or tie your work together with a blog on your portfolio site.
- The Networking Portfolio focuses on building relationships. There are many networks that have excellent portfolio building tools. They have some advantages to placing your portfolio on their website. Chiefly among them is to leverage the site space for networking.
2. Consider Using Multiple Portfolios
There are multiple reasons to have more than one portfolio. You may have more than one skill set that you would like to promote separately. You may want to create a portfolio that is targeted to landing a specific job and send it to a marketing director at a company. They’ll appreciate that. It saves them time and shows you really want the job. Even if it’s a one-page portfolio.
Even if you are filling the portfolio with the same work you will still benefit by having multiple portfolios within different groups online. Take the case of Nik Ainley, a UK-based designer and illustrator. He has multiple portfolios that all serve complimentary goals. He chose to participate in multiple portfolio-based communities to build his reputation and network with other designers.
He had a Portfolio on Behance. He’s involved in numerous groups there and has a large Inner Circle. And it prominently displays that he is available for Freelancing, Long-Term Contract, Full-Time Hire, or Consulting work.
Nick has a very popular Portfolio on DeviantArt. He’s been a member there since 2004. He has over 80 Portfolio pieces and over 1,000 comments on his work there. He has a lot of fans that have his works marked as favorites.
He is less active though he had a Gallery on CPLUV. His Portfolio on Depthcore is really good. This site features artists that have to be invited to contribute. So, the quality of work on this site is really high.
Overall Nik Ainley shows how you can benefit from having multiple portfolios online even when the work you are showcasing is similar in each portfolio. That is because you are taping into a different community with each portfolio you create. You’re meeting people, exposing them to your work, and making new connections by placing your portfolio within different communities.
Some portfolio communities to look at:
3. Target Your Market
The more you target your design to a specific market the more it will speak to the visitor within that market. If you are looking to land corporate clients in a conservative industry than present them with work that is clean, marketable, and looks successful. Don’t showcase edgy, grungy, or arty work unless that’s the market you’re going after.
In the article The Secret to Getting a Lot of Web Design Work the author has a section “Design the portfolio you think your clients want to see”. This is the point. Make your portfolio focused on your target market. If you’re trying to get clients then design keeping these clients in mind.
Consider this example: a web designer that specializes in designer Law Firm websites has a different target market than a company that builds Rock Band websites. The language, graphics, and approach such portfolios take will differ greatly. If a web designer has numerous successful Law Firm websites in their portfolio it will make it easier for a potential law firm client to choose them over another designer or design agency. Free second life money.
A designer is more likely to stand out by targeting a specific market. Their success rate at landing jobs in a specific niche and being perceived as an expert in that area will increase. Take a look at the Dan Gilroy Design Portfolio for an example of a website that successfully targets a specific market.
Having a target market in mind is essential to choosing your portfolio pieces and your approach to designing your website.
4. Make Usability a Top Priority
Navigation is a top consideration as a user being able to view your portfolio is of paramount importance. See the point about Uncommon Navigation above. Some other considerations are using web standards. This is especially true if you’re looking for a job as a web designer today. Read this article Five steps to a better design portfolio by Jefferey Veen. In it he discusses some issues around best practices in your portfolio in relation to how you will be perceived by a potential employer.
Also, don’t discount the search bots. Work toward better Search Engine Optimization. The blog at SEOBook is a rich resource on this topic. Good SEO will improve the ability for potential clients to find you through the major search engines.
5. Utilize the Right Technology
If there are technologies inherent in your job description then it may make sense to build your portfolio with that technology. Sure Flash is cool, but is it right for your website. Probably not if you’re a logo designer. Though if you’re trying to land a job as a Flash Designer at a top notch Interactive Design Agency like Story Worldwide than its the right choice.
The New Media Designer Portfolio of Mathew V. Robinson presents an easy to use navigation. Essential to the success of a Flash site, it’s fast loading. His portfolio is highly usable and looks great.
Consider maintainability when deciding on technologies. Simplifying your portfolio as much as possible will ease the time you’ll have to spend on upgrading or making changes to the website. You should consider how easy it is to add and remove portfolio pieces.
The easier it is the more likely it is you’ll update your portfolio on a regular basis. Jamie Gregory has an simple, elegant, and effective one page portfolio. He would have no trouble adding or swapping out pieces from this portfolio.
Choose between creating a static site or utilizing a CMS (Content Management System). One page portfolios are really easy to update and a good way to quickly show your best work. You’ll also have no issues with navigation, as there is only one page. Though there is little flexibility there and you’re not leveraging some additional features that content management systems have for promoting your work, like having a blog.
6. Plan Your Portfolio Project
One of the key ingredients to creating a successful portfolio is to approach it like you would a client project. Manage this project as professionally as you would any other web project you take on. Set aside the time needed to achieve the goals you’ve outlined for the portfolio. Make sure you set up deadlines so that you have key targets to hit.
7. Narrow the Scope and Type of Work Promoted
Your portfolio should be limited to the best work you will promote within the scope of your goals. If you are taking on website redesigns then your portfolio should consist only of that, not logo designs or print work that you’ve done. If its not the work you’re targeting than don’t include it. You will be more successful.
Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain redesigned his website 31three back in May of 2007. Before doing so he used to have print and logo designs in his portfolio. In the redesign he clarified his target market by focusing on assisting developers with design. His current portfolio only presents website and interface designs he has created because that is the type of work he is looking for. This portfolio is very successful on many points and has been referenced in many articles throughout the blogosphere.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t do logo or identity design. He does do that, but he’s recognized that logo design is not why people come to him. They come to him for website designs for new or existing sites and logo design may be a part of the package.
Certainly some designers or firms will have mixed bag portfolios. The more types of work you do successfully the greater challenge you’ll have in promoting that work. When possible keep the work on display to a minimum. Displaying 10 of your best pieces of work is often better than displaying 50 good pieces.
8. Provide Adequate Contact Information, Documentation, and Explanations
Contact information should be easy to find and in the case of contact forms they should be easy to use. Prominently place this kind of information. The Hicksdesign Portfolio has contact information displayed well on every page.
It helps to build confidence with your target market to clarify your role in the projects you present in your portfolio. If you designed the website, but someone else coded it, then state that. If you did everything then confidently declare that as well.
The Portfolio of Cameron Moll employs this strategy on each portfolio piece.
Providing case studies gives a deeper view into your process. Once a potential employer or client has narrowed down their list they may come back and start to take more time with your portfolio. Case studies will show how competent and thorough your process is. David Airey does a good job of providing easy to find case studies on his portfolio pieces.
Client testimonials are effective for persuading those that visit your site that you will deliver on your promises. It increases the level of professionalism when tastefully incorporating testimonial into your portfolio. David Airey has an article titled The Importance of Client Testimonials that has useful information on this subject.
9. Present Your Work Within the Confines of Your Goals
Your work needs to stand out foremost in your portfolio. If your portfolio site design overpowers the work on display then you’re not likely to meet your site goals. Consider carefully every visual element you add to the design. When unsure shoot for simplicity.
10. Infuse Your Personality Into Your Design
Nick La has a portfolio design that shows his design style and interests. The unique background illustration stands out. It doesn’t interfere with the usability of the site, but it gives it a beautiful wrapper. For some this would be too much and interfere with the work being presented. Though the work presented in his portfolio works fine. He sets the portfolio pieces against a solid white background in a strong column-based design. The work presented fits with the style of the sites background illustration. Pulling off this kind of personal infusion into the design of your site is difficult to achieve.
Doing this well makes your portfolio not only memorable but remarkable! Nick La achieved tremendous success with his portfolio for N.design Studio. Being remarkable in the design of your portfolio often means bringing to fruition the personal design taste unique to you that has been cultivated over the years.
Seth Goden has some excellent points about being remarkable in his post How to be remarkable. Here is a quote from the post “Remarkability lies in the edges. The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult.” This is a good point, but there is a huge risk involved in that pursuing the remarkable edge you ride right off the cliff.
Carefully consider how you will blend your remarkable personal elements into your portfolio without sacrificing usability and without misaligning the balance between the prominence of your portfolio and the design of the site itself.
11. Promote and Leverage Your Work
There are many techniques for promoting your portfolio. Consider joining professional online communities and networking with other community members. We’ve already looked at some communities that you can place a portfolio on. Place a thread in a design forum about your portfolio. Submit your design to gallery websites. Almost any technique that can be used to promote a website can be used to promote your portfolio.
Add a blog to your website. The more traffic you can pull to your website the more exposure your portfolio will receive. Dan Cederholm was an early adopter of this technique and achieved fame with his blog Simplebits. His portfolio resides successfully on the same site.
Leveraging your work involves linking to it when you send emails. Include a link to your portfolio site in your Facebook profile or any other community you belong to. Infuse your portfolio site within your communications and your online identity.
12. Develop Your Long-Term Portfolio Goals
It always helps to have a view toward the future. Your portfolio needs are likely to change many times as you develop different projects over the course of your career. Though even looking at the whole of 2008 and not only at the next week can make a big difference in the choices you make when creating your portfolio.
Putting it all together: a successful portfolio finds that perfect blend of your personality, prominence of work, simplicity, and ease of use that makes your portfolio stand out from the crowd and achieve your goals.
Not sure which portfolio format to use when displaying your work? The big options are print, PDF, or a website — here’s where each gets you.
A graphic design portfolio is a compilation of a designer’s work, both personal and professional, in an easy-to-view format. But portfolios are so much more than neatly organized images of projects — they encapsulate a designer’s personality, styles, and skills. With the help of unifying colors, tasteful typography, tidy layout, clever copy, and high-quality images, you can not only convince future clients or employers to hire you, but also forge your own personal brand that sets your work apart from millions of others. A portfolio is an absolute must-have for any graphic designer; think of it as a visual resume and an illustrated memoir, showcasing your talent and telling your story of growth and change as a designer.
So, you know how important a portfolio is. But how do you actually make one? Choosing a portfolio format is easy, but choosing the right portfolio format for your needs takes more work. Do you design your own print portfolio, or do you create an online version? Do you simply attach a PDF to your job applications? Or do you do all three? There are advantages and disadvantages to using print, PDF, or website portfolios.
Read on to learn the ins and outs of each format and how to get started with them all.
First on the list of portfolio formats is print. Print portfolios are typically professionally bound books. They contain important pieces that represent your work in a tactile, hands-on format.
There is a lot of work that goes into creating print portfolios; the time, effort, design, money, and patience involved in building out your own print portfolio speaks volumes as to who you are as a designer.
Pros and Cons of Print Portfolios
Print portfolios offer many benefits. If done well, a print portfolio can set you apart from other designers. Creating a print portfolio demonstrates thought, effort, and knowledge of the world of paper, print, and layout design. As such, bringing a print portfolio to an interview has the strongest effect on future employers.
As with any portfolio format, designing for print has its downsides. Creating your own portfolio book is very time-consuming. You’re not just uploading your work into a website builder; rather, you’re artfully arranging your work to appeal to potential clients and employers. Because none of the portfolio work is digital, it can take longer to fully update your print portfolio. In addition, designing multiple print portfolios can be quite expensive over time. While print portfolios are very high in quality, the book itself can be fragile. Mishandling this work of art can reflect badly on you as a designer.
How to Get Started on Your Print Portfolio
Creating your own print portfolio is much more arduous than building a PDF or website. The combination of paper weight, color, typography, design work, layout, and composition that goes into a print portfolio is a labor of love.
Before setting out on your print portfolio-making journey, take some inspiration from creatives you admire. Get an idea of how they approach layout, color, and composition, then interpret it in your own ways. Research is key for any successful design project; it is especially important in the design of your print portfolio. Sketching or creating mock layouts is a great way to jot down your ideas for your portfolio book.
Once you’ve got an idea how to approach your print portfolio, gather all of your best pieces, and be especially critical of your work. Arrange them in Adobe InDesign and get to working. Creating your own portfolio book is not something that you’ll finish in only a few days; give yourself time to build out your work to make sure the portfolio is the best representation of your work.
A cross between print and web portfolios, PDF portfolios have started gaining momentum over the past few years. While they’re typically a lesser-known portfolio format than the more-popular website or print portfolios, PDF versions are not inferior by any means.
Pros and Cons of PDF Portfolios
PDF portfolios have both advantages and disadvantages. Unlike print portfolios, PDF portfolios are easier to update or tailor to specific audiences. They’re also easy to distribute via email or file-sharing. This format also comes in handy when you’re unsure of the reliability of the network connection; you can easily store PDFs on your laptop or tablet for easy access if you’re meeting with potential clients or employers.
In addition to the advantages of file-share-ability, PDF portfolios also showcase layout ability, color combinations, and typography design — much like a print portfolio. If you’re using design software that you already have on your computer, then making your own PDF portfolio is very budget-friendly. There’s no need to worry about paying for print, book binding, or hosting.
The disadvantages of having a PDF portfolio are few and far between. Due to the nature of PDF files, there is a lack of interaction design. Viewers can’t flick through the pages or click on images to reveal more info. But this lack of interaction doesn’t equate to a lack in personality — you’ll just need to predict how users will want to interact with the document and take care of those design needs at the outset. PDF portfolios also run the risk of file size issues, image compression, and pixelation. Before sending your work via email, be sure your design work is displaying in a high resolution.
How to Get Started on Your PDF Portfolio
You typically design PDF portfolios using layout software, such as Adobe InDesign. But before you start creating your PDF portfolio, always get some inspiration from other creatives. Look around Behance or other design inspiration sites for a glimpse at how other creatives approach designing a PDF portfolio.
Create A Digital Portfolio online, free
Due to its layout abilities and its capacity to handle multiple files at a time, Adobe InDesign still remains the best software for creating portfolios. The application features master pages, grids and guides, text layout options, image effects, and much more.
Due to the nature of the world of graphic design, almost all creative work gets posted on online platforms. Website portfolios are gaining popularity as more and more designers are diving into digital design. Creatives of all disciplines, from typography to illustration, are hosting their own websites to display their work.
Pros and Cons of Website Portfolios
The advantages of a website design portfolio easily outweigh the disadvantages. One of the best parts of having your own website is that you can tailor its appearance, navigation, layout, and more to your specific needs. Not a fan of the typical grid-based layout? You can easily find a theme or conjure up a layout that speaks to you. Another benefit of a website portfolio is that they’re easy to update. All you need to do is add another project, import the images, and build out a description.
Website portfolios are also readily accessible and easy to distribute, making it effortless to send your professional work out to potential employers and get your name recognized. Many web hosting services allow you to add sections, tabs, and more to include relevant information, contact forms, and links. As with any website you frequent, visitors can view your portfolio website on any screen size — from phones to large computer monitors. This means your creative work is available to anyone with a simple click.
Create An Online Portfolio
While web portfolios are chock full of pros, there are also a few cons. As with any website, you will need a reliable network connection. In addition to that, the costs of hosting a domain name and keeping your portfolio website running can be expensive. While there are some cheaper options out there, the services are often limited.
How to Get Started on Your Website Portfolio
If displaying your creative work on a website makes the most sense for you, then there are many ways to get started. There are a variety of web hosting services, from WordPress to Wix to Squarespace to Adobe Portfolio. Many of these services offer trials where you can experiment with the website builder before fully committing.
Which Graphic Design Portfolio Format Is Best for You?
Create An Online Portfolio Website
Picking the best format to display your creative work can be daunting. Do you invest in a print portfolio, design a PDF portfolio, or build out a website portfolio? The simple answer is it depends on the nature of your work.
While it’s always ideal to have an online web portfolio at your fingertips, the other two portfolio formats typically depend on your specific industry. If you work entirely with interaction, web, product, or UX design, then having a website portfolio and a PDF portfolio is ideal. If you primarily work with print or layout design, it makes sense to have a high-quality print portfolio. The field you work in doesn’t just apply to the projects you take on but also to how you present yourself and your work.
As with anything in the graphic design world, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. The best practice is to find two formats and stick to them. Having a website portfolio is best for exposure and interaction, and having a PDF or print portfolio showcase your layout, composition, and typography skills.
Cover image via Georgejmclittle.
Looking for more tips on getting noticed as a designer? Check out these articles: