Your Online Portfolio: 5 Steps to Awesomeness

As designers, showing work in an online portfolio is a must-have. Potential clients want to see visual examples of your projects. After all, they are hiring us to create stunning designs, and they need to see what we’ve cooked up in the past to know if we’re a good fit for their project. You’re probably thinking, “That’s all well and good, but, how many projects should I include? Which ones should I choose? And, what’s the best size for the images?” Here are answers to those questions and more with these five steps to take for an awesome online portfolio:

1. Select projects for your portfolio

Creatives often ask me, “How many projects should I include in my portfolio?” The answer: it depends. There’s no one right answer for the number of projects to include in your portfolio. If you are just starting out, then you’ll probably have only a handful of items to include. In this case, a good rule of thumb is 6–12 projects. I happen to really like using 12 projects because it divides nicely into 3 or 4 projects per row.

If you’ve been in business for a while, then you’ll most likely have more than 12 projects to include in your portfolio. If this is the case, consider the following:

  • Choose projects that show off your awesome design chops.
  • Choose projects that your target market will best relate to. (If you are marketing yourself as a packaging designer, do you really need to show the website project you did for your neighbor?)
  • In that same vein, choose projects that are in similar industries to those you’re pursuing. (I love to work with creatives and stylish companies, although I’ve done work for medical offices and real estate agents in the past. I don’t include many these projects in my portfolio because those aren’t the industries I’m actively targeting. Although, if I happen to do a kick-ass, super creative design for a medical company, well then I might just include that.)

2. Categorize projects in your portfolio

If you have quite a few projects to show, arranging your work into categories is a great way to organize your portfolio. Categories can include projects, industries, or both. When you give the viewer multiple ways to find the types of projects they are looking for, you create great user experiences and happy visitors.

I recently designed a website for Kristin Murphy Design. They specialize in packaging fun products for the pet, toy, giftware and specialty food markets. Naturally, we categorized their portfolio by projects and by industry. Projects fade in and out depending on the category that’s clicked.

3. Create images for each project

Alright, you’ve selected the projects to include in your portfolio and sorted them into categories. Now it’s time to collect those images. Since we don’t want hefty-sized images to clog up your server, I recommend saving images at:

  • JPG or PNG / RGB / 800 pixels wide @ 72 dpi

This way, on your responsive website, the image can be nice and large on a desktop screen and still shrink appropriately when viewed on a smaller device like a phone or tablet. Aim for a maximum file size of 300kb per image and your viewers should have no trouble accessing your images.

4. Write a description for each project

At the very least, include a little text about the project such as the client name and what you did for them. Keep the information simple and spell out any acronyms that the general public wouldn’t know. You want your viewers to have some context about the project in addition to the associated images.

5. Add & update projects

Now to the fun part: updating your portfolio on your website! My absolute favorite CMS (content management system)—see how I spelled out the acronym, CMS, in case you didn’t know—is WordPress. Originally built for blogging, WordPress now powers over 60 million websites. I use a handy plugin developed by my buddy Ben Kaplan which makes adding and updating projects a breeze. Check out this video which shows just how easy it is:

What do you think? Did I leave anything out or do you have a tip you’d like to share about online portfolios? Leave it in the comments 🙂

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