This post stems from a tweet I picked up by illustration wallpaper site Poolga’s JC, an online friend and art-director based in Barcelona. He mentioned how difficult it could be to appreciate the work of some creatives owing to the poor design and treatment of their online portfolios. Coming from someone who spends much of his time trawling through portfolios and hiring artists, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to look deeper into this issue with his help.
Having knocked heads and discussed some ideas together, mainly with JC’s eye-opening input, we have compiled some of the main issues that add to as well as detract from great online portfolios. The post is split into rights and wrongs.
Be mindful of your target audience. Ask yourself the question: “Who is this portfolio site aimed at?” Knowing this, whether it is aimed at potential clients or art-directors, will help clarify exactly how you present your portfolio site. Be aware that the majority of visitors will want your work to be accessed quickly and easily.
Make your best work visible from the start. If you are an illustrator, have your best piece clearly visible or at least easily accessible from the homepage.
Be honest. Try not to embellish facts and details to look more impressive. This will come back to bite you eventually. Have a portfolio that truly represents your work and who you really are.
Be descriptive. Explain clearly and concisely everything that is appropriate to write about (see this post for writing well). This doesn’t mean waffling needlessly about your work, your interests and your background. Give enough information to create a picture of the kind of person you are and describes your work with detail and clarity.
Be mobile phone compatible. Viewing portfolios from a phone like an iPhone is becoming more and more prevalent. JC views a great deal of work from his iPhone, and will likely skip over portfolios that don’t ride well in mobile format. Here’s JC’s comment on iPhone mobile compatibility:
‘I’ve seen that generally they work better with blog-like layouts because thumbnails might end up being too small on the iPhone’s screen. I don’t have much experience with other mobile platforms, but most art directors I know have an iPhone.
Creating an iPhone version of the site is a good solution as well (a la Poolga). Sites with lots of thumbnails could consider organizing them in a list format, so that they are more viewable on a phone.’
Make your work shareable. JC uses the example of an art-director wanting to share samples of the work they see with a client or other members of the creative team. Make it easy for people to email links of specific images, for example, or to be able to copy and save images and other files from your site.
You might also want to consider adding social networking buttons to your portfolio so that it can easily be shared amongst everyone, even going viral.
Have professional and accessible contact information. Include a physical address. People like to know where in the world you are and this will add credibility to you. Include your agent or representative details if you have one. Make sure it is obvious from the homepage exactly where the rest of your contact information is.
Showcase your work in context. Whenever you can, display work you’ve done in the way it was published. For example, if you created an illustration for an advert, you can present an image of the final ad including the illustration in its entirety. Not only does this allow for people to see your work in its applied context, increasing the confidence in your prospects, but this will add value to the work you present.
Be clear and simple. Don’t make the process of viewing your work any more complicated than it should be. The best portfolios are those that display all they need to without being excessive. Clarity means that your site is easy to navigate and avoids clutter. Think zen!
Have your work easy to keep up with. People perusing your stuff might not be looking for your style for their projects right at that moment, but they may need you in the near future.
Make it easy for potential clients and so on to follow your work through enabling RSS subscription, creating a small blog that people can subscribe to, having a Twitter and Facebook account linked to from the site and having a mailing list to sign up to.
Categorize your work. As well as breaking your site down into relevant and distinct pages, consider dividing up the work you showcase according to category, perhaps into separate pages. Categories like ‘editorial’, ‘advertising’ and ‘personal work’, make it easier for prospects and art-directors to distinguish between the types of work they want to see.
Never updating your portfolio. Try to keep your site fresh and ‘buzzing’. It looks unprofessional if nothing changes in a long time. Updates also benefit the way your site gets indexed in search engines, as Google loves active websites.
Small thumbnails. Taking the guessing game out of opening portfolio pieces is recommended for the sanity of people browsing your work! Avoid a page full of tiny thumbnails that, when clicked, take a long time to load. If you do use thumbnails, make them large enough, so that users get a feel for them before clicking on them.
Being trigger-happy with your window settings. Most web surfers prefer having control over the windows and tabs that are up on their screens. Avoid having your page maximize itself, and cut down on pages that pop-up in separate windows.
Use low quality images. I get put off sites that contain images with low resolution, or appear blurry. It looks unprofessional and is a shame to downgrade work that otherwise might have appeared nicely in higher quality.
Make sure images and other files strike the right balance between resolution and internet load time. Save images for the web through editing programs like Photoshop or Gimp.
Using Flash for the sake of it. Some flash sites are well designed and work well for the purpose of the site. More often than not, using flash on a site is unnecessary and overly ostentatious, often proving plain annoying. Other problems that come with flash sites include not being able to link to individual pages from elsewhere, not being compatible with many mobile platforms, including the iPhone, the site taking up the whole screen, the back button dis-engaging, non-selectable text and non-selectable images.
Watermarking images excessively. Placing large watermarks on images etc just makes a portfolio look ugly and tacky. Your true audience, those that care about the work you produce, will be unlikely to steal your work. It is those people who your site is for. Unfortunately it is almost inevitable that your files can be copied if someone really desired them. The good thing about the Internet, however, particularly if you have a following, is that stolen work will likely be reported.
If you must use watermarks, a small signature on an image can be ok.
One last thing…
Provide the option to browse further. Design your portfolio site, if you can, to cater for both people who are skimming your work, and for those who want to delve a little deeper.
This means having a simple opening page with easily accessible work straight away, but also having pages that provide further detail, including testimonials and awards, blog updates, archives, your about page and interviews. Keep these visible, but out of the way of visitors who first arrive.
What does everyone think? Have we missed anything glaring?
Be sure to sign up to the mailing list to get your free book and unique weekly tips.