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Web Design Portfolio

Five Essential Elements of a Portfolio:

  1. Personality
    • They want to know what you bring to the table, quirks and all. Employers are assessing what you’d be like to work with, how you’re likely to get along with the rest of the team and how well you’ll represent their company. So what’s memorable about you, let that shine through and you’ll find your ideal position a lot faster.
  2. Design Thinking
    • Your perspective employers probably care less about kerning and color pallets than you do, what they care about is your process and the results you achieve.So spell out for them how you’ve solved problems on past projects.
  3. Range
    • Employers want to know that whatever you design for them and their customers is going to look different from everything else in your portfolio so you need to show them some range in order to demonstrate your capacity to give each client something fresh.
  4. Technical Skills
    • Employers are concerned with matching the right person to the right position and a big part of that involves assessing your skill level. Make it easy for them to evaluate that and you’ll stand out for the right reasons.
  5. Depth of Experience
    • No matter how skilled you are there are significant differences between a veteran designer who spent 10 years working in agencies versus a designer who’s fresh out of school. Clearly communicating your experience level helps employers put you in an environment where you’ll thrive.

Understand Your Audience

  • Remember this about your portfolio: It’s your prospective employer’s first impression of you.
    • It’s the first thing they’ll look at beyond your intro letter and resume. And they’ll be looking to see if it’s worth their time to talk to you.
  • Prospective employers are busy people who are probably trying to get through the somewhat grueling chore of hiring someone, so that they can get on with running their business and serving their customers.
    • They don’t want to sit through a slideshow, they don’t want to have to read a novel about every project you’ve done.
    • But they do want to see, as quickly and efficiently as possible, how you get results for them, and make them look good in the process.
  • Sweat the details. Don’t settle for okay when you could do better. Optimize the heck out of it. Make sure the pages and images load quickly.
    • Respect your prospective employer’s time and attention by giving them relevant info and anticipating their questions.
    • Do this, and you show people that you care not only about how good your work looks, but how good your audience feels.
    • Remember, employers care more about how much respect you show for their priorities, than how cutting edge or sparkly your designs look.
  • Your portfolio is the primary evidence you can present to convince people that you know what you’re doing and that’s often the deciding factor for perspective employers.
    • You need to demonstrate some substance to create enough trust to convince someone to hand you a job.
  • Even the most impressive portfolio will fall flat if it doesn’t cater to its audience. Ask yourself what prospective employers need to know to make a hiring decision and do that.
  • There are important questions you need to ask yourself when considering your audience:
    • How would you describe your dream job in four sentences?
    • When my ideal employers are trying to engage their audience, what’s the most important factor?
    • What’s the greatest value you can create for your employer?
    • What will make employers choose you over other applicants? How can you communicate that?

Convey Personality

  • Employers are, of course, looking for someone who can meet their needs and understand their market, but they also want to know who you are.
  • The perfect job isn’t just a good outlet for your skill set and your work experience, it’s also a position where you communicate well with your team, so let them see enough of your personality that they can get a sense of whether they’ll be able to connect with you.
  • Don’t be afraid to show who you really are. People are magnetically attracted to realness. They can smell it from a mile away even through a computer screen.
  • What are your strengths?
    • Visual Thinking: Perhaps you love to doodle during meetings and think visually, so what could you do with your portfolio to let some of that shine through? Hand-drawn graphics convey a lot of personality.
      • Eg. You could create some to illustrate your text or balance out your more traditional graphics.
    • Humorous Prose: Perhaps you like to make your teammates laugh. By all means, allow that to infuse your writing.
    • Information Analysis: If you’re a real info junkie, consider highlighting some key facts and figures using an infographic for each portfolio piece.
  • Here are a few questions to consider as you’re looking for ways to infuse your personality into your portfolio:
    • “What part of my work do I love best?”
    • “What kind of stuff could I do all day and never get bored?”
    • “What do I need to experience in order to feel like a project is a success?”
    • “What do my clients and colleagues thank me for?”
  • Where do you want to go?
    • What are your career goals? What’s your dream job? What do you see yourself doing professionally in the near or more distant future?
  • If the job posting really has you excited, it’s worth asking yourself why, and infusing that excitement into your portfolio design wherever you can.
    • What are some ways that you could structure your portfolio to highlight these common interests between you and your prospective employer? Even just conceptually.
    • The same principle applies to skill sets you’d like to use more often, or a change in environment that appeals to you. Maybe you’ve been working on your own and you’re eager to join a team. Maybe you’ve been wearing a lot of hats, but you’d like to specialize in a particular facet of your work.
  • The way you structure your portfolio, and the way you describe your projects, are both great opportunities for you to speak to the kind of work you see yourself doing more of in the future.
    • If your ideal career path doesn’t include a certain kind of work that you have performed in the past, there’s not much benefit including that kind of work in your portfolio because it sends mixed messages to prospective employers about where they might slot you into their team.
  • Focus as much as you can on the projects you were paid for and be sure to include as much of that real-world experience as possible.

Express Design Thinking

  • Good design solves problems. It’s not just decoration that is making things pretty, especially when we’re talking about commercial Web design.
    • There are specific goals your client wants to reach. Your job is to support them in meeting those goals.
    • So employers aren’t just looking for people with a good eye, they’re looking for people who know how to solve problems.
  • It’s much easier to train someone on technical skills than it is to to train them on becoming a better listener or problem solver.
    • The value of having someone with great problem-solving abilities on your team cannot be overstated. Not only does it mean you can entrust projects to your designer without having to manage every step of the process, but it also increases your trust that those projects will be completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
  • If you really want to impress a prospective employer, show your work process.
    • That is, walk them through the steps of how you arrived at your final design concepts. Employers want to see not just the final result, but how you got there.
  • Showing your work process demonstrates that crucial quality: the ability to listen.
    • When you outline the goals of the project and how you went about achieving them, you show employers that you know how to focus on the client’s priorities, and that your approach can be tailored to each project.
  • Another reason that showing your work process appeals to employers is that it shows off your creativity.
    • Potential employers can peek into your creative process and answer questions like:
      • How original were your original concepts? What sorts of directions did you consider?
    • By showing them that you’re capable of coming up with several different concepts or approaches, you say a lot about the depths of your creative resources.
  • A benefit of the show your work approach is that it shows the inner details of your work process:
    • When do you like to gather feedback?
    • How do you incorporate that input?
    • Are you the kind of designer who sketches a whole bunch of ideas on the back of a napkin before refining your concepts, or do you prefer to go straight to digital?
    • Are you a content-first kind of person, or do you start with a strong visual? What kind of research do you typically do?
    • Do you thrive on collaboration, or are you more of an introvert?
    • The answers to these questions convey a lot of information to a prospective employer right off the bat. When you let them see how you work, not just the final polished product, you’re giving them great insight into what it might actually be like to work with you. And you don’t have to limit showing your work to the stuff that made the final cut either.
    • Paths Not Taken: If there were some initial ideas or concepts that you rejected, you might consider including some of those in your portfolio.
    • Rejected concepts actually provide a lot of insight, both into your creative mind, and also into your problem-solving process. You can explain what you liked and didn’t like about them, what you thought worked and what didn’t. You can talk about how they were received by your colleagues and clients.
    • All of this is another way of showing your work because it demonstrates not only that you’re open to trying things that might not succeed, and also that you’re open to learning from those mistakes and collaborating to create something that’s more effective.
    • Write about any elements of these early designs that you ended up incorporating into later concepts. This is a way to show that you care enough to keep improving and aren’t content just to go with the first good idea that comes into your head.
  • There’s also imperfect work: These are projects that might not meet your every standard and that you might not choose to include in a public-facing portfolio or submit to a design competition, but if you can explain why they didn’t make the cut, you can often provide some insight into how you work that an employer could find helpful.
    • Obviously, you don’t want to include a lot of these in your portfolio, but there are several opportunities here. You can talk about what you’d do differently next time. You can describe the factors that contributed to the project coming out this way.
    • Whatever the factors were, there’s value in describing what they were and showing an employer that you have the capacity to adapt under those circumstances.
    • And even if the only source of the imperfections was you, showing that you’re capable of learning and growing from project to project is also a really good thing.
    • The fact is being able to talk openly about things you might do differently next time is actually a sign of a really strong candidate.
  • Showcasing ompromises is also important. This may be one of the best things you can include in your portfolio.
    • Examples of times when you had to compromise your ideal design for the sake of pleasing the client or resolving technology limitations. While you might feel less than great about how these compromises affected your design, it’s a given with commercial design that we often need to make compromises, and your ability to roll with the punches is a huge asset.
    • Perspective employers will appreciate knowing how you manage compromise during a project. That way they can get a sense of how well you adapt to changing circumstances, as well as how you manage the relational aspects of design work, which are such a huge component of the job.

Demonstrate Range

  • Show prospective employers that you’re flexible, creative, and adaptable to different kinds of projects, styles, audiences and brands.
    • The bottom line here for prospective employers is, “Convince me that if I hire you, “you can handle anything I throw at you.” They want to know that you’re going to be valuable to them beyond a single project, that you’ll continue to generate creative solutions and fresh visuals time and time again.
  • When it comes to hiring a full-time or even part-time team member, they’re generally looking for someone who can handle multiple projects for different audiences.
    • So how do you show range in your portfolio? Of course quantity counts for something here.
    • You need to include several projects that show variety. And that illustrate how you take a custom-tailored approach for every client.
  • And remember to look at your project list through the eyes of a prospective employer because while you might feel that you can show a broad range of styles with just a few projects, an employer might see a sameness to them that you’re not seeing.
    • Don’t be shy about paring your portfolio down to the projects that show the greatest contrast. Select your portfolio project with a critical eye, and make sure they don’t look too similar.
  • This where you might get into making compromises: Say you’ve got a project that you weren’t going to include because it represents a type of work that you don’t want to do anymore. But it’s in a style that doesn’t show up anywhere else in your portfolio.
    • You might want to hang onto it until you’ve got something fresh to replace it with.
  • Beyond the visual style, range also includes the types of clients you choose to represent in your portfolio so be sure to include projects from a cross section of client types, sizes, and industries whenever possible.
    • This is particularly important if you’re seeking a position with a design agency that works with a variety of client types.
    • It can also be a good way to demonstrate range in any portfolio. When employers, particularly agencies who are vying for contracts with different types of clients, are looking for designers, they’re going to be most interested in hiring someone who’s comfortable working with a wide range of clients and producing a wide range of deliverables.
  • Jot down three or four types of clients you serve. Then, consider the services you offer. Let’s say you do logo and branding, website design, and online advertising. To showcase your range, ideally, you’d include projects that illustrate each of your core services within the context of each of those three or four client types you described.

Convey Depth of Experience