The Anatomy Of A Perfect Portfolio Website
You're a designer and you've got a badass website. On that badass website lives your badass portfolio (or some semblance of one). But is your website really as good as you think it is? Let's run through the anatomy of a portfolio site that's perfect for your purposes.
Before getting to the actionable checklist you're probably anticipating, we need to discuss a few things. You're a designer, which means you've spent more time than you'll ever admit to choosing your website's typeface. You've asked your significant other to verify that the spacing between the navigation links is perfect. Three or four times. Oh, and don't get me started on the logo you designed yourself when there were one-thousand other important things to do. However, do you even know who your audience is? What's the purpose of your website? How's it converting?
Don't get me wrong: I'm stoked for you and your website, but I want to make sure that you're getting the most out of it. With some minor (or perhaps major) adjustments, your website can propel your career in ways you probably haven't even considered. I'll explain how you can take your website from "meh" to "Ah-meh-zing!" without 'redoing' your blessed portfolio.
Rather than covering technical tips on how to trim and touch up your portfolio, I'm going to touch on the topics that are often overlooked by designers. Yes, you're great at being creative, but how are your messaging, marketing and copy writing skills? You may be surprised to find that your audience's priorities and experiences with your website differ greatly than your own. And this could cost you. Dearly. Let's dig in, shall we?
Your portfolio site is basically about three things: your personality, capabilities and services. These items make up the overall message a visitor receives when visiting your website.
Let's begin with who you are! If a total stranger landed on your website and read through it, would she feel like she knew you? You've got a face, a personality, a passion for design and probably a bunch of cool hobbies that you and your audience have in common. Share these things.
Using myself for example, this is not personality: "I'm a down-to-earth person with a B.F.A. in Industrial Design who likes to solve problems. I'm passionate about design. I'm open to doing freelance work, so if you're interested, please send me an email at ... "
Using myself for example again, this is personality: "A well-traveled Mid-Western boy with the fancy title of Industrial Designer, I'm like a steroid for young and innovative startup companies. I bring a holistic approach to product development. I sold my soul to the devil in exchange for insane sketching skills. Send me an email today."
Demonstrate this by proving your skills within a portfolio. Include only your best work to show how good you are. Examples of how you react to challenges, technical and reasoning skills are a must. Finally, your sense of storytelling and graphic organization must be on point. We'll assume your portfolio is great for the sake of this article.
A list of the computer programs you use may be helpful to some of your technical visitors, but what about visitors who may potentially want to hire you? They care less about your tools and technical prowess than they do about what you can make or accomplish for them. For example, rather than saying you're the Zeus of Typography and InDesign is your lightning bolt, tell the mere mortals what you can do for them a la designing brochures, magazines, business cards, posters, website layouts, etc. If your goal is to get hired, you should make what you do clear!
Think of how hard it is to get traffic to your website or portfolio right now. You can't you expect those visitors to remember your website and visit regularly. Building an email list is your answer. If you produce regular content, decide launch a product or want to promote an event to a captive audience, you should build and maintain relationships through an email list. Mailchimp is easy to use and free for small lists. Give your visitors a reason to sign up for your mailing list and send them regular messages making sure you deliver value each time. This is how you build supportive relationships and a following of those who want to see you succeed.
Screen Size Optimization
Just because you're a fancy designer and do all your creative work on a UHD 5K monitor, it doesn't mean everyone who lands on your site will be on a similar device. It's easy to get used to designing within specific aspect ratios or sizes. I do much of my work on a 27" Dell Ultrasharp monitor. After visiting my website from my Macbook Air, I realized the webpages were too wide. I then course-corrected.
Now, I check everything on: my 27" monitor (256x1440), 13" Macbook, girlfriend's 7" Kindle Fire, 4.7" iPhone 6 and whenever I visit Best Buy, I hop on a 5K iMac to test each page of my website. I enjoy using Squarespace for my website platform because they do a great job of scaling and optimizing for each device. Finally, if you'd like to know what audience or size to focus on, check your analytics! Both Google Analytics and Squarespace offer statistics on what devices and browsers your website is being visited through.
Outside of just considering the screen or device your portfolio site might be visited from, you ought to think about how people will interact with your portfolio. Before I built a portfolio website, I shared my work with another designer. He said, "Oh, this would be great on an iPad if the images were full-screen and I could swipe left and right!"
After careful consideration and validation with others, I agreed. Despite being used to the common vertical scroll layout of common online portfolio platforms, I thought about how someone would flip through a book, left to right. How do we read in America? Left to right. Information flows easier horizontally on a 16:9 landscape image rather than vertically. These insights along with learning that nearly 30% of my visitors are on mobile devices impacted my decision to prioritize full-screen images and left-to-right swipe functions.
Perhaps the most important item on this list is being clear of the purpose of your portfolio site. Just like each page and project in your portfolio should serve a purpose, so should the pages of your website. Once you've decided what job you wish your website to do, it becomes much easier to make well-informed decisions and actually achieve your goals. For instance, if your number one objective is to get hired as a product designer at a fortune 500 company, then your website's copy and contents will differ from someone who wishes to be hired as a design consultant for non-profits or from one who simply wishes to grow a massive email list.
Having a purpose and then stating it as your mission will make you more interesting. It gives you a story. You're all of a sudden on a quest. It makes you more memorable and your website more shareable since people love stories.
Call to Action
Once you've designed your website to support and communicate your purpose, you should help visitors take action. Don't be afraid to offer a call to action (CTA). A CTA should be a nudge in the right direction. If your goal is to spread your work all over the internet, an option would be to make your portfolio the home page. Next, your CTA could be asking visitors to 'share' 3 pieces of your work on their favorite social network to receive a free how-to guide. A CTA shouldn’t be pushy, but encouraging.
What used to be reserved for nerds and angsty teens is now a mainstream media platform. Blogs make up for more than a quarter billion websites. People turn to blogs to get regular, current and relevant information. Blogging is a fantastic way to sharpen your communication skills, share how you think and add value to those who hope to learn about the skills you already have. Creating regular blog content gives visitors a reason to revisit your website. So long as your blog has a purpose that serves your goals (and subsequently, your readers’ goals), it's worth having. But like a new puppy, it requires regular attention; ignore it and it’ll do you more harm than good.
Of course, there's no such thing as a perfect website or portfolio since it's a very subjective thing. I have seen so many websites in which a designer has a bit of his or her work uploaded as tiny, low-res. thumbnails, a dreadfully boring about page and no personality. I don't remember who they were and never returned... probably not the result they were after. I want you to vow to never be one of those forgettable designers with a boring website. There’s no excuse!
Check out this list and see how your own website stands up. Where could you stand to improve?
- Your Personality
- Your Capabilities
- Your Services
- Email List
- Screen Size Optimization
- Portfolio Interaction
- Your Purpose
- Call to Action
If you're not sure how to improve your website, I'm offering consultations. Now's your chance to pick my brain for a whole hour. If you're interested in a one-on-one consultation, we'll hop on google hangouts and go through your website for 60 minutes. How we use that hour will be up to you. We can focus on portfolio development or website improvement or copy writing. It's your call. If you're interested, you can make a purchase here.