Things I’ve learned from building my second personal website
Reflections after embarking down the winding road and dastardly daunting task that is the personal website.
This isn’t my first rodeo. In fact this would be the umpteenth iteration of my personal website — yet only officially version 2.0.0. As designers, I’d like to think, we’re extremely critical of the work we produce. And especially so, if it’s meant to represent the pinnacle of our capabilities or perhaps the golden standard by how our future work will be judged. I knew going in that I would want something clean, perhaps with a fresh geometric type, bold coloration and minimalist atmosphere. What I did not know, was how I might make all of that a reality without creating something extremely over-designed.
It all starts with type. That’s right: type.
It’s perhaps the most definitive and time-consuming decision any designer can make when determining how their identity is represented.
It’s way more than a web font for most of us.
Let’s face it. No-one likes those funky, massively designed and dime-a-dozen monogram identities, at least not for a designer. If you’re going to brand your name, nothing does that better than type — nothing.
There’s a ton of personality in type. With hundreds upon hundreds of choices from just as many foundries there is likely a type for everyone. The trend now leans to carefully curated serif + sans serif pairings and those retro, elegant little serifs are definitely on the rise. I tend to stick to the most proven, tried-and-true foundries and some of my go-tos are actually Google fonts.
Gasp! You can stop reading now.
I struggled here. I really did. I had Typekit working overtime. Thanks Adobe. It’s crazy but I wanted a type that no-one else had. For the longest time it felt like I had to prove to all the other designers out there that I knew more about type than they did, and that was so wrong. I knew nothing. I know nothing. I wanted to buck the trend. I didn't want my website to be another statistic for the “it” web font of the year - I’m looking at you Aktiv Grotesk. I reached some sort of epiphany when it dawned on me that it just had to work. That simple.
As you can see, I went with a single battle-ready font a la Google: Poppins. That’s what worked for me. Well, me and about 810,000 others.
Don’t assume your audience will know or understand designer lingo.
They get it, we’re smart. Some of us even went to school for this design thing. But that’s not why potential clients visit our websites. They don’t care that you can define product design. Yuck. Don’t ask, I can’t either though I’ve tried. They really want and need to see examples of what you can do for them and that’s where a great portfolio or even a few case studies will come in handy.
But what about trying to educate them on a few key subjects? Is there anything wrong with say… a client-friendly service menu? I think not.
That’s why my service menu, AKA disciplines, breaks down some key terms in more palatable, layman’s terms. A prospective client with a great idea for an app may not know the difference bewteen UI and UX. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain that one over coffee.
Yup. That reminds me. I need more coffee at this exact moment.
Keep it simple… and personal.
KISS. No, not those painted men in wigs turned reality stars. Keep your website simple in all the ways, silly. (I’m not going to call anyone stupid, even in my own journal.) It’s a fine line for sure. There were many times an idea for an additional feature or detail that, at the time, seemed exceedingly appropriate, would present itself only to end up clashing, confusing or cluttering the flow. I think we’re all guilty of this but especially if you’re anything like me and struggle with turning off when on a roll. Staring at the same details for hours at a time can make even the most thoughtfully crafted layouts seem like they need a little extra oomph.
Beyond reconsidering last minute edits, much can also be said for the value in transparency and personal truth. If you love coffee, say so. I did. I own an Italian espresso machine. I bleed caffeine and it’s part of what make’s me, me. It’s probably safe to assume we want our clients to like us, right? I mean, I know that I do even if they end up driving me nuts — which is fine.
I believe it’s called a personal website for a reason: it should represent your person and not just the dedicated professional you aspire to be. A lot of what makes us great is already there.
Pause for self-hugging.
Include that project you didn’t think was worthy
Circle back to self-loathing, critical-naturedness.
We’re all our own Eberts: Highly critical, passionate and devoted to the craft. So much so that we often discount great work that has the potential to spawn more success. Sure. There’s that singular aspect that’s off, the one thing you gave away to compromise, but it’s more than likely a great piece of work that deserves praise. In fact, the blow to your pride may be the only thing off about that entire project afterall. Include the project you gave months of your life to.
The project that drove me wild, pushed my limits and had me questioning my overall direction didn’t deserve a spot on the mantle? It definitely did. It’s now the de facto main attraction of the entire digital experience. If I’ve learned anything from countless minds and mentors over the years, it’s to be kind.
You have to be kind to yourself first.
Use the Google font.
Build the website without a logo.
Be honest and true to yourself.
Include the damn project.