In Regards to Portfolios and Presentation

It's important to display your work if you say you're a designer, as well as what your expertises are, and how you present yourself. When I look at other young and talented designers, I look for their portfolio, it's an absolute essential. However, I notice there can be some cases where I the work isn't there on show, and find it hard to take interest in someone when I can't see their work.

Recently, The Worst Portfolio Ever came to surface, including a blog post explaining Alex Cornell's intent behind the website. I will say, I do understand his frustrations and while some I can agree to, some of his points seem to be more subjective; there may be some things that are quite repetitive in portfolios right now, but I've never had a problem with a colophon explaining someone's tool set or resources used in their projects nor is there a problem with someone displaying their skill set. These can relate to the portfolio and the designer in their own right, it's good to know what someone shows as their personal strengths and interests, or what tools they're experienced using to achieve their goals.

One thing that did hit home though, was the display of a portfolio. There's one thing I see on some young designer's websites, and that's the lack of a portfolio. To me, this can say a lot, and while there are some interesting takes on this, I think it's essential for anyone to easily access your portfolio if they're interested in visiting your website for your work.

Never make the user go searching for your work somewhere else

If someone visits your website because you're a portfolio, that's the first, if not the one of the first few, things they should see. If someone's there for your work, it should be within the first few clicks. Don't make the user have to crawl around to find content on a third party website or keep your work more than a few steps away.

I could care less if you’re an avid coffee drinker or that San Francisco is a sunny place. I just want to see your work. Right away.

Alex Cornell on The Worst Portfolio Ever

It's all fine and well if you have a Dribbble profile or have pictures on Instagram, but why send users away from your website when they're there to find your work? The user journey there is arbitrary and should be kept internally. Content is king, as they say, and your portfolio is one of the primary elements to your own website, if not the primary element. It's all fine and well if you also write and are involved a good online circle, but if the portfolio isn't there, it's hard to take an interest, especially if the work can't be seen very quickly.

Presentation is down to your own personal preference

Having said all that, it's important to keep an open mind on how you present your work. This is entirely subjective and can say a lot about the designer, their interests and their skills. However, it's always important to remember there's nothing wrong with something simple, broad and to the point. Employers and clients want to see how good you are at what you do, and a little bit of finesse can go a long way.

I've often read the gripe that people shouldn't pose a phone or Mac at the camera to display their work, though truthfully, this is down to personal taste and reasons of presentation. It's not the boldest approach to presentation, yet it is interesting. It's not anything new, but it's not wrong either. Jack Smith's Portfolio is a strong example of this, and I like this portfolio.

There is also no wrong with displaying a Dribbble feed as your Portfolio, especially if your Dribbble profile is mostly filled with polished works or even strong revisions. Process and working style can be expressed throught your onlline portfolio as well, and there's nothing wrong with that. Give an insight of your process and your style.

Get that Portfolio ready from day one

If you have a new, full website and the portfolio isn't there, I begin to lose interest. I don't see the point of publishing your website when the portfolio isn't finished, let alone why I should come back tomorrow or next week. Content is very important, it's what people are there to see. Again, writing about design is one thing. Providing examples of your style and proving your passion for what you do, right from the first day, is another.

If your strategy is to display your work, and get employment or clients from being a designer, a portfolio is necessary from the very start. Never mind linking to other services or your social media profiles, or your writing, get that portfolio done. If it's not there, when will it be? Never mind saying you will get it up soon; displaying your work is a high priority, especially if you are a young, new designer.

In support of those who don't have a Portfolio

There are cases where designers don't have portfolios, but, the difference there is designers with a lot of experience and their works are well known. Elliot Jay Stocks, being a strong example. While he doesn't strictly have a portfolio of work, he has published work that is known to the industry, as well as speaking material and strong writing from all of his experience.

When someone is reknowned for their works, intelligence and commitments in the industry, a portfolio becomes a different priority. What if they're more known as a design writer and not a just designer, per se? Then the priority shifts to being known as a writer about design, visual intelligence, and methods. When you're established and have a lot of experience, people may know you more than being just a designer, and something more specific.

Present your work, and do it well

If you are young and still fresh in the design world, get that portfolio going. However, things like writing and collaboration are also good to know. I cannot stress it enough how important it is for people to easily see your work, very quickly. It can make a lot of difference and can say a lot about the designer you are, and help you with your work. Present your work, intelligence, and methods well.

Written by Iain MacDonald

Iain MacDonald is a Web Designer and Developer from Glasgow, Scotland. He likes clean code, functionality, and vibrant design. You can find Iain on Twitter, Dribbble or at his Website.

1 Comment

  1. Iain Campbell said on February 2, 2014

    Bar charts showing (alleged) skills are the bane of my life. I’m sick to death of seeing these things on portfolios and CVs of other designers. These charts, along with a plethora of social media icons and extended twitter bios just come across as window dressing/ filler to make said site look a real honest to god portfolio siteā„¢.

    Your work is what makes your portfolio. Simple as. My background is print and I can understand print designers having poor web design skills but the idea of a web designer using some pre packed design solution really does’t sit well with me. In much the same way I’d be wary of letting a dentist with rotten teeth lose on my gob.

    Totally agree with what you’re saying about designers without portfolios; these are folk who have already proven their chops in the industry. You’d hardly give Paul Rand grief for not having a bunch of logos on his site if he were around today.

    Oh and don’t get me started on whacky anecdotes about how many coffees you’re on per week or how many were consumed for project X. It’s been done to death and no bugger gives two shits. Content (valid content) is king!


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