5 Ways Your Online Portfolio Can Suck

By: Wes McDowell | October 27th, 2011 | no comments

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You may be a brilliant graphic designer. So why is your online portfolio anything less than brilliant? There are many common pitfalls that designers typically fall into when designing their online portfolio, all of which are avoidable. The trick is to identify these problems whenever they arise and beat them into submission. Kind of like “Whack-a-Mole” for the digital age. Here are some things to watch out for:

1. Too much information

There’s an old adage that says “leave ‘em wanting more.” Including every single assignment from design school is overkill.
Quick Fix: Identify your best 10-15 pieces. Ask others for their first impressions when you’re trying to decide, if you find it hard to choose.

2. Distracting Site Design

While its true that your site should in some ways function as a portfolio piece in and of itself, it doesn’t live up to its purpose if it distracts from the other work. Showing restraint and good taste in your designs is just as much a part of being a designer as being creative is. All the creativity in the world won’t save a design that is simply not appropriate to its mission. In this case, your mission is to highlight your work. So you should let your work be the star in your portfolio.

3. Confusing Navigation

So you have a visitor on your site. But if they don’t know where to go next, or how to find what they are looking for, they are just going to leave.
Quick Fix: When it comes to navigation, be crystal clear. Use plain language, this is not the place to be cute. Also, place your main navigation in a prominent spot on the page. Studies have shown that the top left is by far the best place to put it.

4. Clichéd Copy

Many designers put so much emphasis on the visuals on their site that they completely neglect the words. Remember, people will hire you based on the way you communicate. There are so many trends that I am seeing right now that waaay too many designers are using. How many designer pages have you seen lately that have some variation of this in very large type:

“My name is _____ and I like to Design Things”?

While that may have been considered cute a few years ago, we can safely say that it is officially played out. A few other over-used phrases that I have noticed include referring to yourself as a “rockstar,” “ninja,” or “guru.”
Not-so-quick fix: I recommend visiting many designer portfolios and take notice of what others aren’t doing, and do that. It pays to be an original.

5. Out of Date Content

Does your portfolio show your best work up to and including today? If you haven’t refreshed your online portfolio in a while it isn’t living up to its full potential. The whole idea here is that as your talent and your work gets better and better, so should your portfolio. If you didn’t design it to be easily updatable, adding new content, (and taking out the old) can be a cumbersome, tedious process, but you would be wise to take the time once a month or so, to make it as current as it can be. This doesn’t mean that everything must be brand new. God knows I have some pieces on my site that are several years old, but I keep them up because I like them, and they stand the test of time.
Not-so-quick fix: If you are planning a redesign, or planning on designing your first online portfolio, I highly recommend using a content management system, such as WordPress. It makes it super easy to switch pieces in and out as needed, keeping your site minty fresh at all times.

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