Telling a story with your portfolio piece

Our digital design industry has grown exponentially in the past two decades, many of us, smart, passionate and curious people have managed to make a living on providing design services or developing beautiful looking applications and websites. But what we begin to see more and more is that our industry is slowly becoming over-saturated with an influx of more people getting into making gorgeous icons, slick interfaces that make the best out of minimalism.

To have a website with your portfolio pieces, a Dribbble or Behance account today, is a designer’s must-have; we want to showcase our work, our sweat over a pixel-perfect artwork in hope of getting more paid work, especially if you are a freelancer, but perhaps those efforts are not the key to appeal as “a promising hire” to potential employer:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs (The Guts of a New Machine, 2003)

If we look at most designers’ portoflio websites, we only see the finished, polished product , the veneer — a great website, branding piece, a promo video showcasing an app or a collection of well designed graphics.

But what, in my opinion is lacking in all those showcases are the case studies — the design thinking, the development process and the full journey right from the initial brainstorming/scamping all the way through iterating over a bunch of different concepts, finishing at the lovely polished product.

I think we are obligated to showcase our thinking, the way we got there, that’s essentially what we are getting paid to do for a living, we’re designers not artists and our showcases should be a bit more than just a gallery of fancy pictures and animations.

This reminds me quite vividly of the math lessons back in elementary school, do you remember those? Countless times some kid in the class got told off for “guessing” the answer, he got the answers right but never showed his workings so the teacher gave him unsurprisingly— 1 of 3 marks.

A conversation starter

Back when I was studying design at university, our teachers have put a great emphasis on having a portfolio folder, but unlike the folders you’d get fro any graphic design students, our stood out big time: they included sketches, wireframes and schematics. Why? It’s simple: to start a conversation.

When going to a job interview for a design/developer position our work screamed quality: we have visually explained our general thinking process in one glance and the interviewer was instantly asking us more details about this — it instantly sparked a deeper, much more informal conversation, something that definitely makes you stand out from the crowd.
Thanks to this, almost every student in our course has gotten a job in the industry — winning!

BTW, our portfolio document was the “CV”, the very last page in the folder had our résumé profile with all the work experience, education and contact details .

Your next website redesign

It’s almost this time of the year, when it’s really tempting to redesign our website for the upcoming year 2016, we can put a fresh set of colours and UI elements to present our work and I think this is the perfect opportunity to move over to case studies, to show the process of creating your design piece, here are my suggestions:

— Share the initial sketches, a case study shows is a record of concept’s development over a period of time, let’s start with the very beginning!

— Got any research data? If you have any data-driven design piece, like an infographic, put a link to the source for reference, if you can’t, explain in a brief paragraph how you utilised the information collated.

— Have a “room for improvement”. This is something I’ve been asked a lot on my university projects portfolio pieces: –What would you improve if you had more time to work on it?

One last thing…

If you are going to show all the workings, don’t re-draw your sketchbook pieces, I’m sure you will think they are imperfect and could do with some cleaning up, but trust me, the rougher they are, the better — it’s about the evolution of an idea into a designed thing not showcasing an art piece.

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