Table of Contents
Your design portfolio is promoting you even when you sleep. Great portfolio has the power to bring you new clients. Great portfolio can take your freelance career and business to whole new level. Here, you will discover another four tips that will help you present your work in the best light possible. You will learn how to perfect presentation of your work, why your voice and story matters, how much talkative should you be and why it is important to keep your portfolio fresh. Without further ado, let’s begin.
Tip 1-6 in part 1.
Tip no.6: Perfect presentation of your work
Even the best work of your career can be destroyed in one moment. How? All you need is to screw up the presentation. Interestingly, the opposite is also true. Flawless presentation can take even average work to higher level. Fashion is great example to demonstrate this. When you take a look at some fashion ad or flip through fashion catalog, what will you see? In most cases, you will see beautiful models, great setting of the scene and perfect light. It is quite likely that you will not even notice the product. The scenery of the image will enthrall and absorb you.
Perfect presentation of your work requires perfect props
It is easy to find young designers using some stock images to present their work. The common practice is to find some free mockup, paste your work into it, export the image and publish it. Do you see the problem here? Since almost everyone is doing it, when you do it as well you can’t expect that following the same path will help you make your portfolio unique. The only thing this approach will help you achieve is being another person in the crowd. If you don’t like this idea, there is one thing you can do to prevent it from happening.
You need to get and use only props of the highest quality. If you are not sure about this, go back to the fashion example we used earlier. Do you remember? Beautiful models, great setting and perfect lighting. If you are not fan of fashion, think about Apple. Take a look at how they present their devices and software. Again, everything is perfect. You will never see any cheap props. When you think about it, is logical. Why would you spend tens or hundreds of hours on creating something just to jeopardize it all by presenting it poorly? The conclusion? Perfect work requires perfect props and perfect presentation.
Theory of perfect presentation put into practice
Let me give you a couple of examples. Our first example will be about graphic design. After week of work, you finished beautiful graphic. Next, you decide to put your work on a t-shirt and present it this way. You have two options. First, you can find free mockup or buy it from image back for low price. Second, you can go out and buy real t-shirt that will be the right fit for your design. As a next step, you will find the right place to shoot it. Lastly, you will ask one of your friends to wear it for you. Don’t forget to choose the right friend (best-looking).
The last step is to get the right light. When you complete all these steps you take a photo to create your own perfect mockup. After that, you might need to do some small corrections in your graphic editor. Finally, add your design, export it and publish it. I guess that I know what you are thinking about right now. The second option takes much more time and energy. What’s more, it may be also more expensive. Is it worth it? Should you spend all that time and energy on presentation? It depends. How great is your work? For average work, average presentation will be enough.
The biggest secret of perfect presentations on Behance
Let me give you another food for thought. Have you ever visited Behance? If not, I highly recommend that you do it right after finishing this article. Why? Behance is a great place for you to learn a lot about crafting perfect presentation for your design portfolio. When you visit this website, focus your intention primarily on case studies that are “featured” and case studies with the most appreciations. These will probably be the highest quality study material for you.
Anyway, I promised to tell you the biggest secret of the best presentations on Behance. So, what is the secret sauce? The best presentations and case studies on Behance, that will be featured and got the highest number of appreciations, take the greatest amount of time. Sorry, you probably wanted to hear something else. However, this is the hard truth you will have to swallow. A lot of the presentations you can see on Behance have probably taken as much time and effort than the actual design of the piece, if not even more.
Lessons from Behance applied to your own portfolio
What’s the takeaway you can apply on your own design portfolio? I think that the most important message is that it takes time to prepare perfect presentation of your work. Even if you have some special template for your case studies you will still have to spend some time on every study and work on the details. It is precisely these details that will determine success of your presentation. Let me give you a couple of simple tips for improving your case studies.
First, divide the whole publishing process into small steps. This will help you avoid feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Second, use multiple shots and even multiple formats. A lot of designers presenting their work on Behance, and Behance itself, recommend using between six and twenty images of your work in case study. Keep in mind that these images shouldn’t be duplicates of one thing. However, you can use different shots to highlight the most interesting parts of your work. In case of formats, you can take your portfolio on the next level with videos. Use these videos to show your design process or the work itself from different “angles”.
What if you are not fan of video or don’t want to learn how to work with this format? Then, you can use your sketches. You can also create simple GIF animations. And, what about publishing something you didn’t use? Sketches of ideas you decided you drop may be great material for creating unique case study. Remember that we all like something that is limited or somehow special. Another material for your design portfolio might be data from your research and behind-the-scenes photos. Lastly, use great thumbnail because it will be the first thing people will see.
Tip no.7: Express your own process and ideas
One of the best things you can do to make your design portfolio truly distinct and stand out is by making it unique to you. The thing is that you can always copy what some other designer is doing. Will it work? If it works for him, it will probably also work for you. Although, you should not take this for granted. However, this is not the right question you should ask. The right question is whether it will help you distinguish yourself. The clear answer is no.
It is quite logical. You can’t be different if you do what someone else is doing. Therefore, if you take someone else’s portfolio and copy from the top to the bottom, differentiation is out of question. About a year or two ago, something interesting happened. One designer, Adham Dannaway, built creative design portfolio by using photo of his face split into two halves. One half presented him as UI/UX designer, the second half presented him as front end developer. Soon, there was a plethora of other amateur designers bluntly copying his design portfolio.
Copying, stealing and uniqueness
So, you want to make yourself different. Should you, therefore, strive to create portfolio that is unique in every detail? In the end, this is what creativity is all about right? Well, this may not be necessarily the truth. In a fact, creativity is a lot of times, if not always, about connecting, mixing, merging and transforming different ideas and concepts. This is also one of the main ideas of the Steal like an Artist book by Austin Kleon. Still, we are not talking about taking one “packed” idea, putting it somewhere else and saying that you are the author.
When we talk about stealing from someone else, we actually talk about borrowing from many people. In Steal like an artist, Austin describes the same idea and approach. Let me put it this way. I want to encourage you to copy your heroes and role models. This means a couple of things. First, take a look at other designers you admire and borrow their ideas. Second, let your personal style and taste influence these ideas. This way, you can create something new and unique to you.
Creativity can be done right and also wrong
We already discussed that when you plan your design portfolio, you should focus on creating something that is unique. However, there are two approaches you can try. First, you can try to isolate yourself for couple weeks and try to create something no one else have done before. Based on the nature of creativity, this will often lead you only to desperation and depression. The fact is that nothing great was created by someone locked in one room.
Well, I probably said it wrong. So, let me correct it. Many things were created in solitude. However, those initial ideas, that led to the act of creation, were results of multiple interactions between ideas, concepts and people. You probably now what am I talking about, at least unconsciously. Think about some situation when you were solving some difficult problem. You had no idea how to solve it. You almost gave up. Then, you took a break. Maybe you read some book or article. Maybe you watched something, talked with someone, took a nap or just took a shower.
Whatever the initial trigger was, it was a catalyst for this chain of reactions that led to finding a solution to your problem. This is that moment of clarity creative people are often talking about. This is also why many creative people are often hesitant to accept any rewards or praise for their creative work. Deep inside, these creative people know very well that their work is only result of ideas that came from other people, not just their own mind.
Your own voice is key to building unique portfolio
The first thing you can do to infuse your personality into your portfolio is by sharing your unique point of view and philosophy. Don’t try to convince me, yourself or anyone else that you don’t have your own point of view. You are a creative person. This means that you have your own unique perspective on your craft, industry and also the creative world. There is no reason why you should keep it for yourself. Instead, write about it in your bio. Even better, make it you mission statement.
Great design portfolio is built on story
Second tip that will help you create unique design portfolio is sharing your story. Think about how you get where you are now. Do you remember all the obstacles you had to deal with? Think about all the opportunities you were willing to grab. Share your story about how you developed your unique point of view. You can also describe what convinced you to pursue your career. Was it some experience you had as a kid? Was it something you experienced later in your career? Don’t be afraid to talk about this. Along with your mission, you can also share your lifetime goal and vision.
Let your previous clients speak for you
Third, let your previous clients speak for you. Meaning, enrich your bio with details that demonstrate your previous career successes and connections you made. Many designers use their design portfolio to show testimonials or logos of their clients. You can also include links to articles press and publications you wrote. This can be a great way to demonstrate your skills and expertise. If you contribute to some blog or magazine, go ahead. Feature links to articles on your portfolio.
We often think that people don’t care about such things. This may be true. They may really don’t give a damn about the number of articles you published or to which magazines you contribute. However, this is not you are aiming for. You are not featuring those links in hope potential clients will take the time to read them. Chances are that you are writing about topics related to design or development and other disciplines your potential clients are not interested in. Instead, you want to show them you are the expert and know what you are talking about.
Have courage to show your human side
The last tip you can use to enrich your portfolio with personality is to expose your human side. Allow others to see that there is a real human being behind those shots and all the zeroes and ones. We very often either neglect or completely ignore this more human, and sometimes less perfect and polished, side of our portfolio. One of the most common reason for doing so is that we are afraid of exposing ourselves to the world because it would make is vulnerable.
It is a paradox, but being vulnerable is indeed one of the best things we can do in order to distinguish ourselves. There are a couple of reasons we can use to support this claim. First, only handful of people are willing to that. This already makes vulnerability rare and, therefore, more special. Second, only when you trust yourself and have sufficient amount of self-confidence you are willing to expose yourself. This will make you look much more reliable.
The third reason is that when you share your hobbies or interests with the world, you are making yourself more approachable. When we build design portfolio, we often focus solely on presenting our work. The downside of doing so is that we may seem less approachable and relatable. Sure, you want to look like a professional. However, that doesn’t mean that you should build a wall around yourself that will block people from getting too close to you. People want to know they are talking with real human. Make your bio more personal. Make it more approachable and relatable.
Tip no.8: Keep the talking short
Unlike this wordy article you are reading, the text in your design portfolio should be brief. There are some creatives who would love to publish some that looks like an essay or manifesto about themselves. They also love to use many phrases that seem like borrowed from dictionary of business phrases and buzzwords. There are just two small problems with these phrases. The first problem is that no one believes these phrases. A significant number of clients would never buy that crap even from well-established design agency. So, why do you think you are different?
We all, or at least many of us, want to make ourselves look bigger because we think that this will help us look more professionally. Is this truth or not? Well, it is both and neither. How other people perceive you can influence the credibility you will have as professional, but only to some degree. The rest of your credibility is determined by something else. This something is your design portfolio. More precisely, it is the work you showcase. One picture is worth thousand words. The same is true for your work. Nobody will believe you are professional if you don’t demonstrate it.
The paradox of agency … Why it might be better to be small
The second problem is that by making yourself bigger than you might be shooting yourself in the foot. When someone is looking at your design portfolio, it is high likely that he or she knows you are a one-man business. And, believe it or not, there are many clients who want exactly that. They don’t want to hire some big agency. Clients don’t want to pay army of designers or developers. They just want to find one person capable of creating great design work. So, think twice before you try to make yourself look bigger than you are because it may discourage some potential clients.
If you don’t believe that, just take a look at job boards. There are thousands of people looking for freelance designers. What’s more, even companies are sometimes hiring freelance designers to work on smaller projects. If these individuals or companies wanted to hire agencies, do you think they would look for freelance designers? The conclusion? Again, think twice before you will fill your design portfolio with catchy business phrases and trying to make yourself look bigger.
Too much information is dangerous … keep it short
Anyway, we are now in a difficult situation. On one hand, I encouraged you thorough this article to talk about yourself and make your bio more personal. On the other hand, now I’m going to encourage to cut the talking short. Is it possible to achieve both? Yes, you just have to think about and maybe plan your bio on your design portfolio. What I would suggest is that you prepare a short list of things you want to feature in your bio. This is step number one.
Step number two is to think about one or two short sentences for each item on your list. You can also briefly address multiple items in one sentence. This will probably work best for your hobbies and interests. There is no reason why you should spend five minutes talking about how much you like drinking tea, coffee, reading or doing some sport. Potential clients don’t need or even want to know all that. Briefly mentioning these things will do the job. Then, move to topics related to work, but keep them short as well.
Write what potential client wants to read
When you are writing the bio for your design portfolio, you also have to keep in mind that it must be something potential client will want to read. What does it mean? It’s great to show your personality and human side by talking about yourself, your points of view, hobbies and interests. However, this say close to nothing about the benefits potential client will get in case he will decide to work with you. This is what potential client will want to know the most.
Therefore, it is important to reserve some space, at least one sentence, for describing these benefits. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything lengthy like an essay. If you want, you can simply enumerate these benefits. Put them all in one or two sentences. You did the same with your hobbies and interests, so you know what to do.
Tip no.9: Keep your portfolio fresh
This last tip may look like a no-brainer. When I started in web design, I heard this advice relatively often. I thought that it was no-brainer as well. However, I soon realized why all those people were repeating this advice. The fact is that it is sometimes difficult to regularly update your design portfolio and keep it fresh. You might have experienced this on your own skin. You have simply too much work to do or too many projects in progress and there is no more time left for your portfolio.
As a result, there is a significant number of designers who start to ignore this advice. I was member of this group as well. What about you? Are you also “proud” member? Then, you have a serious problem. Why? Because as the time goes, the situation is getting worse and worse and your design portfolio is getting more and more outdated. And, when a potential client visits your portfolio chances are that you will not hear from him. Instead, he will look for someone else.
Two sides of updating your portfolio
If you want to stay competitive, you have to keep in mind that your work doesn’t end with creating great design portfolio. This is just a beginning. After that, you will also have to regularly take a look at it and update it. This means two things. First, you will add new examples of your work. This will show potential clients that you are getting better and your skills are up-to-date. Second, you will also remove old work you are no longer satisfied with. Your design portfolio should not be a drawer you fill with everything you’ve created so far.
This is another mistake some designers are doing. They will take literally everything they created through their career and put it on their portfolio. Although it is still better than showing nothing at all, it is definitely not the best practice. One characteristic of every great design portfolio is that it is curated. Meaning, every piece presented there is carefully considered and nothing is left to doubt. If something is not good enough, you will not show it. This is one thing masters know very well – show only your best work. So, if it’s not good enough, remove it. Don’t wait. Do it immediately.
Transforming portfolio update into a habit
One of the best things I would recommend that you do, is to take portfolio updates and transform them into habit. What I mean is that you should make it a part of your workflow. Every time you finish some project or work, remember that it is not complete until you publish it on your portfolio. Keep in mind that this applies only to high-quality work because you don’t want to fill your portfolio with weed. If your latest work is not good enough to present you and your brand, improve it or delete it. Start again and make it better this time.
There is a couple of theories about how long does it take to form new habit. According to this great article by James Clear, the average time it takes before some behavior becomes automatic is around sixty six days. About two months may look like a lot of time. However, we should remember a couple of things. First, this time span is average. Some people can form habits much faster while other people will need more time. Second, time it takes to form new habit is also determined by the difficulty and complexity of new behavior.
Make every step as easy as possible
What is one of the best ways to transform portfolio updates into new habit? You can make the process as easy and simple as possible. First, break this process into smallest steps you have to make from finishing your work to publishing couple shots on your portfolio. Second, with each step, look for any and every chance to make it even easier and simpler. Third, try to find out how to automatize at least some of these steps. Remember that automation is your friend, not enemy.
Automation of tasks is nothing new in web design. For example, many web designers and developers are using task runners such as gulp or grunt. Another example of automation are actions and scripts you might be using in Photoshop. Use the same approach for updating your design portfolio. Let me give you couple of examples. You can create special templates for shots of your work. You can create Photoshop actions for customizing these shots.
To take this process of automatization one step further, you can create system that will take care about publishing and sharing your work on social media. Choose whatever approach will you suit you the best. Just remember that it has to be reliable and work in the long-term. If you create a system you will have to check to make sure everything is work as it should, you didn’t help yourself at all. You are basically where you were in the beginning. Again, keep it simple and automate it system you can rely on. This will help you transform regular portfolio updates into habit faster.
Your design portfolio as dynamic organism
I have one last thing about keeping your design portfolio fresh you should know about. The secret of best portfolios is that they are never static. Instead, think about your portfolio as dynamic organism. It is constantly changing. As you grow and evolve through your career, your portfolio should grow and evolve as well. Meaning, as you create new and better work, you should make publish it on your portfolio. Just remember that you have to also focus on careful curation.
Closing thoughts on creating killer design portfolio
That’s all for today in this second and last part of this series. Let’s quickly recap what you’ve learned today. First, perfect presentation of your work requires perfect props. Use primarily custom-made, high-quality mockups and don’t rush it. Perfect presentation takes a lot of time and you have to polish every detail. Second, the best way to distinguish your portfolio is by expressing your unique process, ideas and points of view. Remember that your own voice and the story of your life is key to building unique portfolio. Have the courage to show your human side.
Third, keep the talking short. Contrary to many popular opinions, it might be better for you to stay small. Many clients are looking for freelance designers. They don’t want to hire big agencies, so don’t act like one. You should also keep the talking short and get rid of business jargon. Think about your potential clients. What would they want to read? Fourth, make sure to regularly update your portfolio. If you want to catch interest of potential clients, you have to show your best and latest work. Show that you are growing and evolving. Show that you are still in business.
The last thought I will leave you with is to be always opened to learning. There is infinite number of things you can learn. Have the courage to leave your comfort zone and even the borders of your discipline. If you are graphic designer, give it a shot and try coding. If you are developer, try to design something. It will open your eyes to new possibilities. It will also give you deeper understanding of what the people you are working with have to handle.
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