Online Portfolios

advice & inspiration

They say, a good portfolio is a designer’s best friend. But what makes for a good portfolio? It’s no secret that portfolios play an important role when designers look for a job or try to convince potential clients that they’re the best for the job. At the same time its utterly difficult to create and finish them. I took a look at what human-resource experts and other industry leaders have to say about online-portfolios.


Your portfolio should be a comprehensive professional and accessible presentation of your work. In the beginning it is important that you ask yourself what you want to achieve with the portfolio. I’ve chosen to focus on online-portfolios because they are extremely accessible and allow creative expression. Ambra Benjamin, Recruiting Manager at Facebook states that one of her favorite parts of recruiting is to click through an applicants online footprint, including their website [2].

Tara Townsley, Talent Aquisition Manager at PepsiCo Design & Innovation encourages students to create their own website and not use Behance. The company looks at how students can express their creative style and aesthetic through their website and sees it as an expression of who they are as a designer [3].

Other recruiters and design-experts look at it the same way. Rob Fitzgibbon, Sr. UX Designer at Wayfair invites us to think of a portfolio in the frames of a blue-water strategy. It is difficult to stand out if your work is surrounded by other peoples work (e.g. Behance, Dribble, DeviantArt). With your portfolio you want to be in the blue-ocean — an uncontested market space. He states along with Kate O’Connor, Business Development Manager at Onward Search, that its usually much nicer to look at something on a personal domain than on Behance or Dribble. Rob Fitzgibbon also adds that the domain and website tie into your personal brand as a designer. Its about how you choose to present your work to a hiring manager [4].

Lori Almeida, chief talent officer at Siegel+Gate points out that the difference between an average candidate and one they want to hire is the consistency, theme and clear voice with which they, the designer, presents their own brand [3].

There are multiple approaches and ways to create your portfolio. Depending on the job you are looking for (artist, UX Designer, Consultat, etc.), content and visual appearance as well as presentation of work might differ. But whatever industry, no matter if you are looking for research partners, jobs or potential clients, it is important to build your personal online brand. Try to think what makes you unique as a designer. What are the skills that you bring onto the table that others don’t? Once you came to the bottom of what your personal brand could look like, take care that you represent it coherently.


It’s all about you

On your portfolio, you somehow need to describe yourself to let people know who you are and what you’re capable of. When it comes to the page about yourself, I would invite you to think about it in form of a story or bio rather then a resume.

If you’re a designer, entrepreneur, or creative — you probably haven’t been asked for your resume in a long time. Instead, people Google you — and quickly assess your talents based on your website, portfolio, and social media profiles. Do they resonate with what you’re sharing? Do they identify with your story? Are you even giving them a story to wrap their head around?

Michael Margolis, author, consultant and entrepreneur is one of the frontiers of transformational storytelling. His background in cultural anthropology and passion for storytelling made him one of the first business storytellers. He wrote an article called “The Resume Is Dead, The Bio Is King” a few years back. I like to point to the article because what he has to say about writing a bio resonates with many things you should take into consideration when designing your portfolio.

To get started with it, Margolis provides 5 basic questions [6]:

1. Who am I?
2. How can I help you?
3. How did I get there?
4. Why can you trust me?
5. What do we share in common?

It is damn difficult to write about yourself. He suggests, opposed to think about your text as some sort of constructed persona that only trademarks your skills in unique value prepositions, to rather share what you really care about.

A compelling reason to tell your story beyond bragging to the world that you’re “kind of a big deal.” Embrace the holy-grail of storytelling: tell a story that people can identify with as their own — and the need to persuade, convince, or sell them on anything disappears.

For a better understanding about how to create your story i suggest you look at Michael Margolis short and inspirational article about writing a bio: 
The Resume is Dead the Bio is King

While CV’s and Resumes seem to have decreased in importance to hiring managers, they are still a common tool and used across industries. Consider to put together a brief CV and add it as a PDF download to your ‘About me’ page. This makes it easy for people to download and share your CV with their peers.

What about content?

The type of content you choose for your online-portfolio is up to you, though you should be selective and only showcase your very best work. Even more important is that you showcase the type of work that you can see yourself doing in the future. There is no point in showing tons of stuff that you did, but never want to do again.

Aside from your work, consider to showcase creative thinking outside your profession or education. Lori Almeida often looks at what designers do in their downtime, whether that is maintaining a blog, photography, drawing or any other form of creative inspiration. Recruiters such as Ambra Benjamin are also looking for personal projects. She wants to see what kind of things you are working on in your free-time and whether they aspire to your passion for the industry [2]. Just make sure they are relevant. Meeting friends, drinking beer or your occasional passion for dolphins might not be so suitable. Other things such as crafting DIY furniture might be more relevant.

Don’t be hesitant to show that you have done more than simply a design degree. Many design courses are multidisciplinary, bringing people with diverse backgrounds together. Experts such as Amber Atkins, head of global recruitement, IBM Design specifically look at multidisciplinary course work and a mix of skills such as traditional, web, human-centered design, UX and strategic thinking [3].

We are looking for strong craft, evidence of problem solving skills and systems level thinking, human centred focus showcased within the design process, collaboration ability and technical vitality and relevance.

The projects you represent should show a compelling design process from a project’s beginning to completion. Lori Almeida points out that they want to see your design thinking; every project you showcase should therefore have a brief, sketches, research, ideation and results presented [3].

Many designers and firms use a descriptive structure along imagery with headlines such as ‘the challenge’ which describes the specific design challenge or problem that the project adresses. ‘The solution’ is where you write about the process and how you got to your results. The final section is ‘the results’ which shows what your design contributes to. A result does not need to be a final/implemented product, you can also describe the value it brings to the design field or the academic contribution of your project. What hiring agents are looking for is the sense-making and process of your work.

Essentially recruiters are looking for a demonstration of your thinking, skills, quality of work and work style. Lynn Teo, currently VP of Digital Marketing at CA technologies has formerly reviewed 1000+ resumes and portfolios. She points out 10 things to remember when building a portfolio for a specific company [5]. I’ve tried to take her advice into consideration when developing these 3 key-considerations for designing online-portfolios:

1. Audience
Who is your portfolio targeted to? Make sure to curate your content towards your target audience. It depends on what position you are looking for and the type of company (industry, start-up, tech, production, etc.). You can do this by assessing the work of some of the companies you find interesting. Check out their UX footprint and types of projects for inspiration.

2. Projects
Start by presenting your strongest work. After-all you want to sell yourself. Then present a couple of projects that showcase your versatility. These projects might be described more loosely to invite for a dialogue. Deep dive into some projects selectively. Always reinforce the role you had in each specific project.

Think about how your project contributes to a greater problem and with it, demonstrate your special powers. These could be things like analytical skills, business savviness, user advocacy or e.g. result oriented work. Show how you got to informed design decisions. For a designer the process is in focus for the majority of a product development lifecycle. Explain how e.g. ethnography, personas, user-journey maps, wireframes and testing / iterative design have informed your design decisions. When you describe your process, you might want to consider to add a picture from that workshop you did or from the white-board sketches you’ve made.

3. Your role
Again, your Portfolio is about you! So it is really important that you are specific about your role in a project. Describe what you were responsible for in a project. Highlight deliverables and partners, identify activities, artifacts and show where you’ve collaborated. It is extremely interesting to a hiring manager to see what you’ve done in a project that included other collaborators. Credit the people you’ve worked with — nearly no design project is a one-man-show.


Design considerations

When it comes to designing your online portfolio, try to be careful on how much you stylize the website itself. Experts such as Behance’s Chief Designer, Matias Corea suggest to keep the website design simplistic and let the work take centerstage [5].

Simplicity in the interface and visual design of your website will push your work to the surface, where it should be.

When users come to your website they should find the information they are looking for as efficiently as possible. We all know the frustration of searching for some information on a cluttered and overloaded website. So try to be as consistent as possible. Don’t use multiple fonts or link-colors across your page.

Great advice about all the basics and best practices on web-design and development can be found here: developers.google.com
You could also look for a website solution or inspiration here: myportfolio.com and here: onepagelove.com. Btw, there are many more portfolio solutions and providers. Just give it a google.

There are three core pages you should think about. There is obviously the portfolio page where you provide an overview of the different projects you’ve been involved in. You should also consider to make a subpage about you, to let people know who you are. In case you provide freelance work you could consider to add a page about your services and what you do.

Some countries demand an imprint as well as privacy information on every website. Thats the case for e.g. Germany. With a little effort you should be able to find out whether that applies for your country too.

Portfolio imagery

In the above we learned a lot about content in general. Once you’ve found out how you want to describe your projects its time to select images that could accompany the written description.

There are multiple ways to show an overview of your projects. You can try to get some inspiration from some of the portfolios on the links I’ve mentioned above. Usually there is a form of grid or gallery in which different projects are represented with imagery, a headline as well as an explanatory paragraph. On the portfolio page, you can put some effort in designing a cover image for each of your projects. Those may be stylized. Make sure that the images as well as headlines and paragraphs are engaging, so people actually want to look at the different projects.

Once we go into the separate project pages, its suggestible to use multiple images that tell the overall story of the project. You can start out by showing the overall outcome but then dive into some images that represent the process. You can use any image that represents process and project well. Those images may be sketches, workshops or prototypes. If possible, use high quality photographs, each image on your website becomes part of your personal brand, tells a little bit about you and your approach to work.

Getting in touch with you

The contact page is fairly simple. Just include the contact information you are willing to put on the web. At least you should have an e-mail link so people can write to you with a simple click. Some people also use contact forms. This is something you can do, but definitely not a must have.

You could consider to provide links to your social accounts. Personally I prefer to only use my LinkedIn account. I’m not much of a tweeter and my Facebook profile is private. Though you can count on hiring managers looking at those profiles. In regards to LinkedIn, make sure to bring it in line with your new brand , CV and add a link to your portfolio. Often hiring agents are proactively looking on professional networks for potential candidates.


That’s it

So, look at the portfolio as a narrative of your skills. Your portfolio is perfect for selling your personality and communication skills. Be aware that anybody in a hiring position has to look at multiple candidates and portfolios. So keep your portfolio clean and brief; ask yourself with any project you want to show: why is this important?

Creating a portfolio is all about defining who you are as a person and a designer. It should show why you are good at certain skills and that you can communicate your experiences in a compelling way. Your portfolio should be an ongoing project and nothing you quickly try to throw together when you need it. Constant curation is key.

I hope this article was helpful or at least gave you some sort of inspiration and motivation to get started with your online portfolio. If you have any questions, you are welcome to get in touch with me.

Lennart Schlüter
lennart@ls-digital.com