Is Your Online Portfolio<br/>a Turn-off?

Is Your Online Portfolio
a Turn-off?

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As the man behind the curtain of, I see loads of designers’ online portfolio submissions. The good, the bad, the bold and the beautiful.

What makes a good online portfolio? Obviously, great design content is the first criteria, but sometimes amazing design work can be occluded by a poor online presentation. Here are some suggestions to help you show best.

Link me up. Yes, an online portfolio is now the industry standard. The site doesn’t have to be custom designed—Behance or CargoCollective is fine—unless you are positioning yourself as a web designer. That’s a no-brainer. If you designed (and even developed) your own site, mention it somewhere.

Curate the work. Go for quality over quantity. For young designers, we know design school is about developing skills, and some school projects end up being misses—aka “valuable learning experiences.”  Even experienced designers won’t have a track record of nonstop hits. If a portfolio site contains misses, it’s hard to discern whether you know the difference. You never really liked that old logo? No one else will either, so don’t show it.

Context is king. For every project, divulge the client’s business and discuss a couple salient project points: a challenge that was overcome, a goal that was exceeded, an insight that was gleaned. If the company is named something obscure like Xomie or Adadada, I won’t have any idea what they do—or realize how smart your design solution was—unless you tell me.

You did what? For each project, clarify your role. Was it a school project? If so, for which class? Was it at an agency? As an intern? Freelancer? What was your specific contribution? Most designers are going to be working on a team, so being clear about collaboration is important.

Broadcast the big picture. Methodologie has a communications systems design approach, so we like to see the building blocks of a brand design system or campaign. If you show all the pieces—logo, color palette, type standards, infographics, billboard—then recruiters can see how brilliantly they work together!

Present your process. Why not include a couple early sketches, throw in a bit of inspiration or share a concept direction that was not chosen? Maybe not for every project and don’t go overboard (and be sure to label it as such), but peripheral project work gives a glimpse into your design thinking and how you got where you ended up.

Accentuate the pixels. If you have interactive design work to show (and I hope you do), be sure to show it well. Provide screenshots of multiple pages to give a sense of the full site design or to illustrate interactive features. Show a sitemap and/or wireframes if you did them. If you can also provide a link to a live functional site, please do. Don’t show a website screenshot on an iPhone or iPad unless you designed it specifically for a tablet or phone device (or employed responsive design).

Share your story. Your site should be more than just a gallery of past projects, so include something about who you are. Don’t get too cute, too edgy or too personal. Don’t show your Instagram photos, your experimental artwork or your band’s latest music video—put that somewhere else. Keep the content professional.

Your slip is showing. Proofread. Carefully. Many times. More importantly, have other people proof everything on the site for you. Often we don’t see mistakes in work we create, so fresh eyes are the only way to ensure it’s accurate. Nothing can undercut your credibility as quickly as a typo.

In a nutshell, the best online portfolios provide an uncluttered showcase and key information about you and your best projects. (The same basic premise goes for résumés.)

John Carroll
John Carroll
Chief Operations Officer

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