Portfolio Design Tips

In the past couple of months I’ve gotten involved with hiring designers at Automattic (which is a pretty new and kind of weird experience for me). I’ve seen enough portfolios that I’m starting to get a feel for what’s effective and what misses the mark. Here are some tips:

Optimize your images

Don’t make me wait. Your images should be high-quality and retina-friendly, but they also shouldn’t take forever to load. If your design tool of choice doesn’t do the optimization for you, there’s a bunch of free tools you can use to whittle down your file size without losing too much quality. I want to see your big, beautiful portfolio examples, but I don’t want to have to wait for them to load forever.

Make your projects easy to browse

Should be intuitive, and yet… I’ve reviewed so many portfolios where it’s not easy to go from one project to the next. Simple navigation, whether it’s a grid of projects or even just a Back / Next link at the bottom of your project, is enough for me.

If you worked on a project with others, clearly state your role

Design is often collaborative. That’s awesome. But if you’re showing projects you worked on other designers (or art directors, etc.) try to be as explicit as possible about what part of the project you were responsible for. Don’t make whoever is viewing your portfolio try to guess which part is yours and which was done by someone else.

Write case studies

Show me your sketches and your process. In my opinion, the worst thing you can do is just throw a bunch of screenshots or mockups on your site with no sort of explanation or guidance. What were the project goals? Did you accomplish them? What was your process like? Why did you make these decisions? It doesn’t need to be an essay — even a paragraph is fine — but it needs to get me into your head and see the project from your perspective. A couple screenshots isn’t going to do that.

Remove your older projects

I’ve seen a lot of work from 2011-2013. It usually looks outdated, because it is. Just cut it. If you’re worried about not having enough work, spend more time on your recent examples and work them into case studies. Older or mediocre designs bring down the overall quality of your portfolio. It’ll be stronger without them, I promise.

I know this is probably kind of ironic, given I haven’t updated my own portfolio in quite some time and it’s pretty sad and outdated. I’ve honestly been thinking about redoing my site and removing my portfolio in favor of just my blog — but that’s a topic for another time.

PS: Automattic is hiring Product Designers and Marketing Designers!

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