What should I avoid putting in my portfolio?
- School projects
- Downloadable resume
- Samples for a service you no longer offer
When it comes to your design portfolio, quality matters far more than quantity. Designers are often tempted to include every section they can think of, assuming their visitors will find the extra information interesting, helpful, or insightful.
But unnecessary or random content makes it harder to find the most important information. People may end up leaving your site without ever looking at crucial sections like your previous work, the services you offer, and how to reach you.
Not sure if everything on your site needs to be there? Read on to learn the seven sections designers should exclude from their online portfolios.
Including the activities you do for fun will distract visitors from the true focus: your professional abilities. They might assume you’ve added this section because you don’t have enough “real” work or experience.
To add some personality to your site without coming across like an amateur, rely on your bio.
Branding, package design, and illustration freelancer Grant Burke’s ‘About’ section is a good example.
Burke shares his path to graphic design, the lessons he’s learned, and his current motivation. Like many designers, he concludes with two sentences about what he does when he’s not working.
Unless you’re fresh out of school, keep these projects off your portfolio. They’re usually not an accurate representation of your current work, as hopefully your style and skills have matured since graduation.
Even current and recently graduated students should be cautious of relying too heavily on school projects. Freelance work more impressive, since it proves clients are willing to pay money for your designs. In addition, projects you’ve completed outside the classroom give potential employers a sense of what you can produce when working with external stakeholders and real deadlines.
A Downloadable Resume
Some designers offer downloadable versions of their resumes on their sites. This option clutters up the navigation without adding any value—after all, clients rarely (if ever) print out freelancers’ resumes, and full-time employers ask for resumes as part of the job application process.
That doesn’t mean you should leave out your work history entirely. Adam Chang, a freelance art director, designer, and illustrator, uses a grid-based icon format to display his client and agency experience.
Alternatively, you could add a timeline of the places you’ve worked.
Samples for a Service You No Longer Offer
It might be tempting to “show your range” by including every form of design you’ve ever worked with, but stick to the forms you presently use.
Why? Well, imagine in the past you offered branding and logo design. Nowadays, you focus on UI and UX design. Potential clients will see the “brand/logo work” section of your portfolio and assume you still offer these services. You’ll attract the wrong clients—or the right clients for the wrong things.
If you only include UI and UX work, on the other hand, those are the services people will hire you for.
Maybe you’re trying to break into a new industry or design area and don’t have any examples of relevant work. A good workaround is to design something for a hypothetical client; just make sure it’s clearly labeled as “Test Project” or “Experimental Work.”
Once you have a real project or two to show off, replace the fictional one.
A blog can do more harm than good. If you haven’t updated it in a few months (or more), visitors may assume you’ve abandoned it. And even if you publish updates frequently, you’ll still be judged on the quality of your ideas and writing style. An unpolished post might suggest to potential clients you’re not detail-oriented.
The takeaway: Add a blog to your personal site if you’re confident you can regularly write good content.
If you’re not sure about your ability to do so—but still want to write occasionally—create a blog on an external platform, like Medium, Atavist, or Tumblr. Link to this blog in your “About” or “Get in touch” section. Because it’s not on your main site, the stakes are a little lower—most people won’t bat an eye at, say, a lack of consistent posting or a rough-around-the-edges article.
Some designers include a list of their favorite visual assets, books, sites for inspiration, vendors, and other miscellaneous resources.
The problem with this type of section? It sends visitors away from your site. In addition, you’re not giving them any context on or insight into you: You’re essentially saying, “Here are cool things other people have made that I like.”
Finally, these resources will be most helpful to your peers. But the goal of most portfolio sites is to attract clients and employers. That means your target audience likely won’t benefit from this collection of links.
Hiring a new designer is always a risk. A Testimonials page can often mitigate some of your prospective clients’ concerns—if five different companies wrote glowing reviews of your work, process, and communication style, you’re less of an unknown quantity.
However, this strategy is only effective if you have several happy customers willing to write testimonials. A couple isn’t very convincing, as it suggests you can’t find any more people to cite. Nine testimonials would be a red flag as well if they were all generic or vague.
With that in mind, review your testimonials as objectively as possible. Do they enhance your reputation, or weaken it? If it’s the latter, skip this section until you’ve built up a solid bank of strong testimonials.
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