Imagine for a moment, if you will, the following scenario…
You find a graphic design job that sounds really exciting and, best of all, you think you might be perfect for it. You’ve done similar work before, you’re experienced with all the software listed in the job description, and you’ve got the links to prove it.
You fire off your CV and Behance profile, and… nothing. You don’t even get an interview.
It’s frustrating when you don’t get a job role or book a client you know you’re perfect for, but we’ve got news for you: you’re not the only great designer out there. You’re competing with dozens of applicants for every project, so you need to stand out.
A bespoke design portfolio website will go a long way towards showcasing your talent, but it also gives you the opportunity to set yourself apart from the crowd; it gives you the opportunity to convince the hiring manager or client that you are the best person for the job.
Your portfolio needs to stand out, but it also needs to make sense
Okay, so a caveat before we start talking about how to make your portfolio website unique: it still needs to make sense.
Don’t lose the ‘story’ of your work by throwing too much creativity at it. If you’re competing with multiple designers, the decision maker might not have time to do anything other than skim your site, so you need to make sure you communicate your work clearly. Choose an easy-to-understand structure for how the work was developed: what was the challenge, solution and the result? Remember in Maths class being told to show your workings out? The same is true for your portfolio. Outlining your process is just as important as showing the end product.
It’s also important that you have a logically structured website navigation so visitors can easily find the information they’re looking for. Keep all of the most important stuff in the top-level nav too. For example, don’t bury contact information in the second or third level of a ‘mega-menu’.
You’d think this would go without saying, but it’s amazing how many portfolio websites we’ve come across that don’t include testimonials from clients.
Perhaps it’s because designers often think the work speaks for itself. After all, design is all about visuals, right? A prospective client or new employer can see for themselves whether the work you’ve produced is of a high quality.
What your work examples don’t say though is what you’re like to work with, how reliable you are at hitting deadlines, and whether or not the client was actually happy with the finished designs.
We’d recommend including a quote from the client on every single piece of work you feature in your portfolio. If you didn’t get one at the time, go back to them and ask if they’d be happy to provide one, or put their name to one you write for them.
It’s also worth encouraging people to leave reviews on Google, Facebook or wherever you have a digital presence.
Carefully curate the work you showcase
It might be tempting to include everything you’ve ever done on your portfolio website, but this isn’t always the best option.
You want to demonstrate a breadth of skills and experience. If you’ve done three very similar projects for different clients, even if they’re all amazing, are they really adding anything further to your portfolio, or just padding it out?
You can also curate work based on the client specification. Take a look at the job description or project brief and think about what work you’ve done that best showcases your suitability for the role. You can then publish or unpublish case study pages based on what’s most relevant. Note that this will only be an option if you’re applying for one thing at a time.
Of course, you might not be in the position to pick and choose which work you present, particularly if you’re in the early stages of your career. Don’t be afraid to include examples of non-client work, such as personal projects or even stuff you worked on at school or university if it’s good enough. Again, just make sure you include your thought process alongside each piece.
Looking to niche?
If you’re a more experienced designer who’s fortunate enough to be able to think about the sort of work you want to be doing, not just have to do to pay the bills, your portfolio website will need to reflect this niche. In this case, all the work you include should be related to that specialism, whether that’s particular types of clients or particular design styles/techniques.
A common mistake designers make is focusing so much on promoting their work that they forget to promote themselves.
Be human. You’re selling yourself just as much as your work.
A dedicated ‘About Me’ page or section on the homepage will help hiring managers and prospective clients to understand the sort of person they’ll be working with — your story, background and passions.
Think of this as a little bit like your CV (although it’s worth including a download link for your PDF CV too). Include a timeline of your work history, skills list and proficiency levels with certain software.
However, remember that this section should be concise, so avoid writing a 2,000 word life story. Keep it relevant to your career, but don’t be afraid to inject a little personality.
Start a blog
Your portfolio is intended to show off your ability, but a dedicated blog can showcase your thinking.
Your articles might not even be read during an application process, but its presence demonstrates that you’re an expert in your field.
Blog content is also a great tool for promoting your website and services online. You can post them to your social media channels and get yourself in front of companies that aren’t even looking for a graphic designer then and there, but might be in the future.
Fresh website content is also key to search engine optimisation (SEO), helping your website to rank for some relevant search terms and boosting your organic traffic.
For you to be successful as a freelance graphic designer or with job applications, you need a portfolio website that’s going to help you stand out from the competition.