Building a Better Portfolio

7 points to help you get the type of work you want


 

This article is a modified version of a talk I gave during a Behance Portfolio Review Week at Vancouver’s UX Meetup. 

You’re trying to land your first design job or get more freelance work. But, before the job interview, before the phone call, before any meetings with future clients or potential employers, your portfolio is the first impression people will get of you as a designer. It is the online representation of your entire work experience. Your incredible talent and genius do not matter if you cant sell your skillset, and your portfolio does the selling.

Curate Your Projects

Let’s start off by curating your projects. Chances are you have only school work to show, or one or two client projects. It’s important that you spend some time thinking and planning exactly which projects you want to showcase. It matters because if you have too many different projects, your portfolio will seem disjointed and your work as a whole will lack a voice. Think of it as a merchant selling his wares at a market. If you see a stall with something like phone cases, tacos, and dog sweaters you’ll probably be like “I don’t get this” and walk away.

If you’re not sure about including a project, ask friends and colleagues for their opinions.

Quality of Work

While I was planning which projects to use in my own portfolio, I kept thinking back to John Cusack’s character in High Fidelity explaining how to make the perfect mixtape. He says, “You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch.”

You’ll want to start off with your strongest projects first. All your projects should match the quality of the first few as best as they can, since your entire portfolio is only as strong as your worst piece. If you’re unsure about the quality of a project, maybe you’re thinking it’s only good enough — consider removing it entirely. Also, and this is just me personally, I like to have a few stronger pieces near the end as well to make a delicious portfolio sandwich.

Use Case Studies

This is especially true for UX/UI designers, where the thinking behind the solution is perhaps more important than the solution itself. So, show your thinking. Include those sketches, user flows, brainstorming, experience mapping. People want to see how you approached a problem, and how you explored solutions. Don’t be afraid to include ideas that didn’t work, but explain why they didn’t work. And ultimately, present your results! Think about what goals you are trying to accomplish with your design.

Be Consistent

When I say consistent, I’m talking about the portfolio itself rather than the projects. The layout, background, typography should make the work feel like it belongs to the same family. Even things like image sizes and resolution matter. You want to avoid your portfolio looking like many different people put it together.

Simplify

Keep your portfolio clean by avoiding adding any unnecessary graphics, textures, patterns, or irrelevant photos to the portfolio itself. It’s fine to have a photo of yourself and some branding elements, but if your portfolio starts competing for attention with the work it is supposed to be showcasing, and you’ve got an instagram feed in the footer showing off the pizza you ate for lunch, then you should tone it down a bit. It’s important to remember that your portfolio is a vessel for your work, so the platform should almost be unnoticeable.

Optimize

There is a fine line between having big, beautiful, high-res images of your work and your site’s loading time. Always try to reduce image size wherever possible, because the faster your site loads, the more time people have to look at your work.

Keep the navigation on your site easy to use. The last thing you want is for someone to get lost on a page without any idea of how to view another project, or how to head back to the home page. Obviously, contacting you should also be easily do-able, whether you use a contact form and an email link.

Show Your Work

I’m a firm believer in done is better than perfect. This doesn’t mean you let your standards slide and produce a crappy portfolio. Always strive for the highest quality, but get your work out there. Don’t be afraid to let your portfolio grow organically. Even starting with one or two in-depth case studies and adding work as it comes is better than waiting until you have x-number of pieces. Try to not to obsess about every little detail otherwise you’ll be forever tweaking and editing your portfolio and you’ll die before anyone has ever seen your work.

Peter Komierowski

Peter Komierowski

Lead Experience Designer
Peter Komierowski

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