Lessons in Portfolio Design

Designing one's own portfolio is not easy. It's full of questions like "how do I want people to see me?" and all sorts of existential questions that can honestly be a bit of a drag. But there's a light at the end of that tunnel, and it's bright!

Designed in 2009, my previous portfolio looked like this:


Now, this portfolio had been working for me for many years in the sense that the recognizable brands and movie titles conveyed to clients that they could trust me to be professional and do good work. I didn't want to lose that. On the other hand, the recent work I had done for smaller clients was SUPER rewarding, and I wanted more of that work specifically.

In retrospect I made several key decisions. They may all be obvious in hindsight and pertain to many of the lessons I share in my Harvard workshops. But giving advice is easier than following it :)



Only show the work I want to do. 


Why did I enjoy working with smaller clients more than big brands? With smaller clients I get to work directly with the people whose project is their passion. The feedback loop is fast. There are less committees. We can go deep into what makes something exciting and figure out the best way to present that to the world. And I can create what feels like real value. 

So I encapsulated all of the bigger client work into a grid of logos on the homepage. It felt good and I could then skip showing that work. Time will tell if it is too vague.

And then I went and put my favorite 8 things in there, and left one movie work compilation entry, because much of that was fun and educational.



Talk about the work.

I think the impulse as a designer is to wow visitors with as much pretty images as possible. And if one's focus is purely visual, then that strategy makes sense. But as a designer, especially on earlier stage projects, you are not only defining the way something looks, but often also the voice, and sometimes the product. So conveying one's thinking is just as important as the visual work. People love hiring people who can help them think through their problems. 



Edit ruthlessly.

This is related to the first point. The temptation is to put EVERYTHING in there, even those drawings from figure drawing class. And it took some experience and maturity for me to realize that the portfolio is just as much about the client as it is about the designer. Fundamentally the client has a need to fill, and they want it to be as easy as possible, and making them look through a bunch of things is time consuming. 

The perfect balance is finding those few projects you love that demonstrate the skills the client needs.


Be myself.

Why not write in the same manner that I speak? I listened to a podcast sometime last year where a retired professional copywriter made the observation that we've been inundated with marketing speak so much that when it comes time to market ourselves we try to sound smarter, or cooler, or more professional etc. People are more interested in you, so why not talk to them like you would a friend?

In real life I use simple, sometimes slangy, language. Why not let myself swear on my own website?  



Those four principles are what I can summarize from the latest portfolio redesign. And I can honestly say that my portfolio now feels good. We'll see if it works business wise! 

If you have any questions on portfolio design, or anything else. Feel free to reach out!