Written by Ben Mottershead
Creating an impactful portfolio website can be challenging. Especially when so many people are doing it in so many different ways. What do I show? How do I show it? I'm worried about coming across in the wrong way. It's undoubtedly a daunting experience if you aren't working in the digital design fields, and even then I see plenty of creatives who work in that area that make numerous mistakes when creating their portfolio.
A portfolio website isn't just somewhere to house your work. It's somewhere you can slice off your piece of the web to act as an extension of who you are. Imagine you're meeting people for the first time. You don't know them so you act respectful, you're clear about who you are and what you do, and then you let people discover the crazy side of you that only comes out at special occasions. A website is no different. People should know what they're getting and the key elements should be communicated instantly. The authenticity is what's created when you delve a little deeper and ties the whole site together.
What you're effectively trying to achieve from a website is to either win work or get a job. Most importantly when people view your site and then come to meet you they should be going, 'you're exactly what I expected'.
Anyway, here's some Glug pointers to help get you started...
It’s very easy to want to put all of your work on a website and show it off. After all, you put in a lot of work to make it. It’s important to remember though that you’ll almost always be judged more critically against your worst piece of work so only choose your best. Try to keep your work limited to your best projects. When you're a student this is more difficult but give yourself a number i.e 8 and swap projects in and out when better ones come along. This is a scary thing to do but it's more beneficial than throwing everything on at once.
While you can use you the website of your favourite studio to give you design and layout inspiration. Also, remember that a lot of these big agencies will acquire their work through pitching, existing clients and referral and as a result, it doesn't hurt them to throw everything they've created onto a site.
So many creatives ignore the significance of writing despite it being so prevalent on your website. The written word can inform, convince, persuade and tell a story. It's an incredibly valuable skill to master and one you should spend some time refining across your website. Tell the story a project in your case studies. What the brief, the problem and ultimately your solution. Why did you make certain decisions? Why did you use illustration or photography? Remember, most people will have never seen it before and it’s on you to take them on a journey.
Copywriting also gives you the chance to bring a consistent tone-of-voice across the entirety of your site. From your case studies to your about page, blog, or event you contact page. There are multiple areas of your website which can't rely on visuals and these are the places which present an opportunity to show off your personality and unify your entire online presence.
Now we come to the exciting part of the website. The visuals. It's really important to take your time with this process and your visuals look as good as they can. If they aren't communicating anything, lose it. Nothing says a lack of confidence like a website with 20-30 images per project when it only required 10. Every visual you include should have some kind of purpose, whether that be to showcase a particular technique, bring attention to a key area, or just show the work in the environment it was intended for.
Ideally, you will be photographing your work. We get it though. This can be very time consuming if you don't know how to do it right, or expensive to hire someone. If you feel you'd rather avoid either of these areas then maybe look at purchasing some premium mockups. Free mockups can be great but they become very generic, cheesy and commonplace after a while. Paying £10 for premium stationery, or signage mockup collection could be the thing which takes your website case studies from 80% to 110% and could be the difference between a well-paid job and staying home.
A few places you can find mockups are:
While it’s great to have a variety of work it’s also important to have a constant theme running throughout. Something which gives your work a hook. This could be the art of storytelling, art direction, branding etc this will make it easier to market your work with accuracy and clarity.
As someone who worked in design agencies for 6 years as a generalist designer the idea of specialising was lost on me and actually in today's world it's not as necessary. That being said it is good if studios or clients can see you're particularly good, or focus on a specific area. this doesn't need to just be something obvious like branding, animation, digital design. It can also come back to your process, how you develop a project, art direction, or illustration.
If you don't feel you're at a point to specialise then don't. Authenticity is far more important than just forcing a skill. However, you should always have that one thing up to your sleeve which you can use to drive home as a sales line on your site. What that could be is for you to decide.
This falls back into writing but not necessarily writing. A blog is a way for you to talk about other things outside of your practice which can set you up further as a thought leader. Business, Strategy, Culture. Use your blog as a way to truly discuss the things you believe in and show a reflection of yourself. It's maybe the one place on your site where you don't have the pressure of needing it to be super designed.
That being said it is important that what you put into your blog still reflects you in a professional light and while this can be WIP's, sketches, throw away thought pieces, or long-form content, always ask yourself 'will this add value to someone's life, or be a reflection of myself'. a blog is a great way to hammer home your tone-of-voice and personality but it needs to be used regularly. nothing looks sadder than a blog which hasn't been updated in a year, so only commit to producing one if you can create a post every 1-2 weeks.
The best thing about blogs is that you can share the content onto platforms like LinkedIn which may gain the attention of a potential client, or employer. This is why they're so powerful.
Be confident but not cocky. It's a fine line to tread but you need to look knowledgeable in order to gain the confidence and trust of the people viewing your site but if you go too far one way it can have detrimental effects and you can come across as arrogant and nobody likes someone who spends all their time being full of themselves.
Most important you need to be... well, you. You're unique and your life story has crafted you into the person you are today. Fill your website with yourself and be proud of it. If you're ever staying at your desk scared, or unsure of how to begin to put your site together just follow the above advice and create something which you'd be happy to explore. If you do that then you'll always speak with passion and enthusiasm and it'll feel more authentic.
So there you have it. A few quick tips and tricks to get your website up and running and communicating what you want in the right way. If you're currently in need of a website take a trip over to our Glug Club and pick up some great deals.
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