5 tips for creating your first digital design portfolio

At our 2009 Open Studio event I gave a short seminar about first time online portfolios. Here’s a recap of the points made:

UPDATE February 2011: As a result of this post I’ve now written a book on the topic. Creating Your Digital Portfolio: The Essential Guide to Showcasing Your Work Online is now available. Check it out…

Here’s the original post…

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel (unless you’re looking for work
reinventing wheels)

image

A lot of effort is spent building portfolio sites from the ground up. Unless you’re specifically aiming to show off your ability to design and build a portfolio site (and are confident you can do this in a way that competes with the free industry standard options available) you might consider using some easier options to save time and assure a usable, professional presentation.

Here’s just one example of an off the shelf solution to the portfolio problem: Create your own free portfolio with bells and whistles at Krop’s Creative Database: www.krop.com/creativedatabase

Another simple option is to take advantage of the browser scroll bar. As long as the work is clearly displayed there’s nothing really wrong with a long scrolling page for displaying content. Works for blog posts all the time. Here’s an example: http://samegoes.com/ 

2. It’s about the content

What do these two objects have in common?

image

Aside from the fact that both of them are contexts for the presentation of visual communication, they’re both relatively minimal. Again, unless it’s really important that you demonstrate an ability to redefine the packaging your work sits in, remember the advice of erring on the side of minimal so the content jumps out.

(One exception to this that comes to mind which works well is the portfolio of a digital senior creative we’ve worked with where you have to play pong and then choose the correct holy grail from the fakes to enter the portfolio. :-) It works because the nature of the intended role is one of redefining the rules. And it was well executed. Risky but good.) 

3. Edit and organise

There’s a natural tendency to want to include everything you’ve ever done. Sometimes a review can be going well and then one piece triggers a feeling of ‘wow, how did that wind up in here? It was going so well.’ Edit your main portfolio down to your strongest work, even if it’s not that many pieces. It’s always acceptable to have additional categories off the main area (additional albums, essentially) for displaying backup examples if the reviewer wants to drill down.

Consider leading with your strongest work and wrapping up with your second strongest to start and end with best impressions.

image

4. Know your objective

Know what type of work you’re going for ahead of creating your portfolio so you don’t wind up with something lacking focus. It shows.

imageKnowing your objective will also help you identify your intended audience which will help you make decisions when you edit your work, and when you choose your presentation platform.  

Think of your portfolio as a stage. The moment before it’s reviewed is like the moment before the curtain opens. Your audience really doesn’t know what to expect.

In this context, here are three example objective and material pairs to consider:

  • Objective work: interactive design = work to display: screen mockups
  • Objective work: ideas and art direction = work to display: sketches and rationale through to finish output
  • Objective work: illustration = work to display: illustration in full and detail views, both in and out of context

5. Get the metadata right: what was the brief and what was your role?

It’s important for reviewers to know A) what the problem your work is addressing is for any given piece, and B) what exactly your role on a particular project was.

image

It’s best when this information is clear, concise, consistently structured and easy to scan.

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Feel free to comment if you’ve got any questions or ideas on these tips.

Here’s a related blog post from ANidea: 10 Tips for Landing an Interactive Design Job

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UPDATE February 2011: As a result of this post I’ve now written a book on the topic. Creating Your Digital Portfolio: The Essential Guide to Showcasing Your Work Online is now available. Check it out…

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