Writer’s Note: This is the first of a series of portfolio guides that aims to help those among our readers with the skill set that is featured.
A portfolio is a very important link between a designer and a client. It aims to impress a potential client by showing the designer’s work and skills. At Toptal, we screen a lot of web designers and review a lot of portfolios. Creating a top web design portfolio is by no means easy, even for experienced designers. We’re sharing our tips to help you create a top portfolio.
1. Content Is King
Most web designers are no strangers to the concept of content first. Content is king in web design, so why not apply that same concept to your portfolio? Make content the star of the show and focus on the quality of the message you are trying to get across. Try to avoid eye candy in the images you use and concentrate on engaging potential customers through the statement you are making. This is not to say you should neglect the images — after all, they will without a doubt attract clients and open a few doors — but the copy is likely to make you the ideal candidate for a job. Without great copy, there’s no top portfolio. As a result, you might easily appear less professional and the client could choose a different designer. Well-written content is your best chance to communicate your skills and expertise and sell your work to a future employer.
2. Take Your Target Audience Into Account
Another well-known web design strategy is not to think of yourself (the web designer) as the user. As you would with a web design project, think of your target audience and their wants, needs, and possible limitations. Put yourself into the shoes of the people who will be viewing your portfolio, find pain points and fix them. Help them understand the message you are sending.
Remember that a portfolio is about projects, so aim to find the right balance and remove everything that gets in a way of a clear, concise message. The goal of a portfolio is to showcase your work to potential clients and impress them. They need to find a quick and easy path to the information they want, so think of a way to provide just that.
3. Tell a Story
Engage potential clients by telling a story. For instance, explaining the process behind a project could come a long way. Showcase not only a finished product but also the way you solve real problems. This will help clients appreciate the time and effort invested behind the scenes and get to know you as a web designer. Explain your role in the project and mention the techniques and technologies used to demonstrate the value of your work. Your skills should be reflected in the images you provide.
If you were a member of a team, mention and promote the success of the entire team and the project, not only your role. Are there some detailed UI problems you solved which you can share? What deliverables were produced and why? Which of the major KPIs can be used to demonstrate project goals and success? Was there a part of the project that was not a success and why was that the case? Try to be objective and honest — not every step of the project is without flaws and no web designer is error free. Honesty might just be the best policy and it might impress clients. While you could do all this in a Skype meeting with a potential employer, why not save yours and their time and tell a story in your portfolio? It’s a definite win-win situation.
4. Don’t Make Your Clients Think
“Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug is one of the most famous web design books and, generally speaking, lessons in web design. Avoid being vague to let clients accomplish their task without hitting roadblocks. Make sure your work, as well as personal and contact information is easy to understand and digest. Present goals, results, and features in a direct and concise, intuitive fashion. If your project is live, make sure to provide a link to the website and let the client discover more. The browser is the natural environment for any website, so it only makes sense to let clients view your project in it. If the project is not online, maybe you can provide a link to a detailed case study, a front-end prototype, or a style guide. This might be your only opportunity to make a lasting impression, so invest extra effort.
5. Be Professional
The final tip may be obvious, but is by no means insignificant: be professional in your presentation. Assure clients you are not willing to gamble with the quality of their projects.
There is a number of ways you can do this. Here are a few:
- Use spell-check software to avoid spelling errors and come off superficial.
- Consider specifying the start and end dates to provide additional information and add to the credibility.
- Optimize images without sacrificing quality — no-one wants to see pixelated images, but no-one wants to wait for them to load, either. After all, we’re web designers and therefore no strangers to image optimizations.
- Be honest when stating your work experience and job title.
- Give credit where credit is due. If other agencies and team members were involved in a project, mention them and their role.
- Select only your strongest portfolio pieces — quality will always win over quantity and you may well be judged by your weakest work.
- If the project was a success, ask the client for a testimonial and add it to your portfolio.
- Ask peers for a review to find ways of improving your portfolio.
- Much like any website, your portfolio is never finished, so remember to update it regularly and keep improving it.
This wraps up our tips for creating a top web design portfolio.