How to perfect your online design portfolio

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By Zoe Salido

In preparation for graduation, I felt that my online design portfolio was adequate in displaying my design aesthetic and range of skills. Through my courses leading to my present status as a graduating senior, I found that I lacked a strong portfolio. As a student, I learn through instruction, but also through my own mistakes. I have been taught that my portfolio itself is a design and must be functional in reflecting who I am as a designer.

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
– Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Inc.

There are a few main components that contribute to a strong online portfolio, which I learned through my own experiences, as well as through research and lecture.Below are some important components to be mindful of when organizing a web portfolio!

  • What do I use?
    • Pick a platform to build your portfolio on

There are so many different platforms to use, it can be confusing to pick the best one. I suggest using something familiar to you, it will give you a better chance of creating something more meaningful to you than if you had to struggle to compose your pieces. You also do not need to pay a ton of money to have a nice, professional portfolio. I suggest starting with sites such as Wix or WordPress, as well as some personal research.

 WHEN CHOOSING A WEB PLATFORM:

  •  Choose something you’re already comfortable with
  • You do not need to spend a lot of money
  • Many platforms have inexpensive or even free options
  • Site should be adaptable to different platforms
  • Consider that your audience will be looking from a phone/computer/tablet
  • Usability and functionality are key
  • Whose attention do you want?
    • Determine your audience

When putting together a portfolio, it is imperative to identify your audience in the first steps of your process. The reality is that there is an abundance of designers with an array of capabilities just like yourself. The key is to arrange a portfolio that shows a wide range of skills and the overall adaptability that you believe sets you apart from others, all while being mindful of your audience. Consider the recipient’s needs and requirements for the position. You may want to show different work if your audience is a large advertising company versus if it were a small design studio.

 ASK YOURSELF THE FOLLOWING:

  • Who will be looking at this?
  • Who are you designing your portfolio for?
  • What are their needs and requirements?
  • What skills are required for the position?
  • What pieces apply to what you are trying to achieve?
  • Identify which pieces best cater to the kind of attention you want
  • Why is it in your portfolio?
    • Make your choices meaningful

People are drawn to their favorite pieces, which gives them a reason to select them for their portfolios. But our fondest pieces may or may not always be entirely indicative of our ability as a designer. We may love a design because we put a lot of time into it, and perhaps it suits our individual aesthetic, but it is possible that it doesn’t necessarily serve a purpose.  The work you show should advocate for your transferable skills and your ability as a designer.

HOW TO CHOOSE PIECES WITH INTENTION:

  • Choose representational work
  • Be selective, pick pieces that show your skills and abilities
  • Select between 5-10 of your best pieces
  • Show a wide range of skills, detail, technical strength, consistency
  • Start off strong
  • Put your best work at the forefront of your portfolio
  • Curate your work
  • More is not always better
  • What does it all mean?
    • Communicate objectives + concepts

Beyond visually displaying your pieces, it is helpful to be able to talk about your work in a knowledgeable way. You can appear more confident in your design decisions if you are able to translate the objectives and strategies that lead you to the final pieces in your portfolio. A project brief is useful to communicate your goals and solutions for a specific project. This will help your audience understand the context and see the intention and thought behind it.

BE SURE TO COMMUNICATE THE FOLLOWING:

  • What were you trying to achieve?
  •  How did you approach the design / problem?
  •  Why did you make these design choices?
  • What can you do?
    • Choose pieces that show your skills + identity

The pieces in your portfolio should reflect a wide range of skills, and should show multiple dimensions of your work. A designer can seem two dimensional if they show the same types of designs (ex. Showing only poster designs or infographics). This is an opportunity to tailor your content to your intended audience and be productive in showing pieces in a way that speaks to who you are as a designer.

TO SHOW OFF YOUR PIECES

  • Emphasize variation and adaptability
  • Show an array of types of design *while still keeping audience in mind
  • Truly show your work
  • Remember your audience, but don’t be afraid to show other skills that you have (painting, photography, special projects, etc.)
  • Magnify details to show technical ability like spacing (kerning, leading) and structural skills  (use of grids, visual hierarchy)
  • Refine your layout
    • Make your portfolio design functional

Of course the design of the portfolio itself is crucial to your audience’s retention and acceptance of the information. The organization of your pieces, as well as any associated text, must be meaningful and clear. Your portfolio should be easy to navigate for your audience. If your portfolio is on a site with multiple pages, make it clear where information is located.

BASICS FOR CLEAN PORTFOLIO DESIGN:

  • Create a hierarchy of information
  • Make it clear where information is located
  • Design should be invisible
  • Solution of elements should depict the given information purposefully
  • Use your portfolio design to emphasize and accentuate your pieces
  • Organize images, titles, descriptions to be readable and legible

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