I was recently adding some new work to my design portfolio website when I thought back to the very first portfolio website I ever designed. I spent hours trying to come up with the perfect design and organizing all of my projects only to redo it year after year. After spending 8 years in the creative industry, here are some tips I’ve come up with that have helped each time when building my portfolio website.
To build your design portfolio website quickly you will have to make sure you stay focused, organize your work ahead of time, and not let perfection get in the way of finishing it.
While this can sound easier than it seems, I believe it is better to take a deeper dive into each of these categories. In this article, I will share 10 actionable tips that have helped me each time I’ve built my design portfolio website.
Give Yourself A Deadline
Setting aside some time to build your design portfolio website can be a drag, especially if it hasn’t been updated in a while. At the beginning of each year, it is almost like an instinct as a graphic designer where I feel the need to redesign my website. As a designer, I want to continue working with new clients in all different industries and believe it is important to stay current with any design trends especially when it comes to your design portfolio website. Building your design portfolio website can be a monster of a project when you are your critique. I have found that setting a start and end date for building your design portfolio is key. Otherwise, it can become a never-ending project and hinder you from winning new clients. If you are spending all of your time adjusting pixels and changing typefaces, you’ll lose out on valuable time you can spend networking or marketing yourself. In addition to setting start and end dates, allotting time to your design portfolio website as if it was a client project will help as well. It can even make the project more fun! I have found that challenging myself to manage my time wisely between personal projects like a portfolio website and client projects has made me a better designer overall.
Organize Your Projects First
Before diving into a rabbit hole of typefaces, colors, fancy mockups, and page layouts. Collect and organize all of your projects first. While the look and feel of your design portfolio website are very important, the content that you will showcase is a higher priority and the most valuable piece of your design portfolio website. Design elements like typefaces and colors can be viewed as two pieces of bread that will make up the tasteful sandwich that is your design portfolio website. We all know that the key to an amazing sandwich is what goes between those two pieces of bread which is why we don’t want to spend all of our time focusing on the bread. Your design portfolio website will need to include lots of imagery, live examples, detailed descriptions, and any project results to show off your experience. Without the filling of your sandwich, you will leave anyone who visits your design portfolio website scratching their head wondering what it is you do exactly. This process can take some time but it is time well spent. Believe me! Bulking together parts of the process like this can help speed up the process rather than approaching your portfolio website one project at a time.
Tip For Gathering All Of Your Work
Try to think of each project you want to display on your portfolio website as a template since each project will most likely use a similar website page layout to start with. From there we can objectively say that each project will have at the very least a description of the work that was completed and several images to follow that description. I usually aim for anywhere between 5-10 images depending on the size of the project. With this starting point in mind, you can start to organize all of your projects at once and knock out each piece without having to stress too much.
Pick The Right Platform
After you’ve collected and organized all of your projects with descriptions and imagery. It’s time to decide how you are going to build your design portfolio website. If I think back eight years ago to when I built my first design portfolio website, the platform choices were very slim. The options included WordPress, which I still use today. Early versions of Wix, which were awful and came with that lame URL for free account users. And Behance or Dribbble, since they were the free options. Fast forward eight years later to today and we have a buffet of options that can help you build your design portfolio website pretty quickly. Below I have listed a few portfolio website builder platforms with brief descriptions and my personal experience that I think are great options for designers, illustrators, photographers, and creatives alike.
- Behance - Behance is still a great free option for any designer or creative. Behance is a website owned by Adobe where creatives from all different sectors, display and showcase their projects. While I have my design portfolio website, I also have some of my projects listed on Behance. The main reason why I think Behance is a great solution for design portfolio websites is that there are a ton of business owners and agency owners that use Behance to find talented creatives to work with. Having a built-in audience for your design portfolio is extremely valuable and in a way helps market your work. I know designers and creatives that use Behance as their number one platform for getting new clients. Uploading projects to Behance is easy. You can insert text wherever needed for descriptions and then simply add images and mocks of your work to tell a great story.
- Adobe Portfolio - Adobe Portfolio is another product owned by Adobe but this is only free if you have a subscription with their creative cloud service. Adobe Portfolio is a platform that utilizes pre-determined portfolio templates to upload and display your work. This takes a lot of the time and effort needed when trying to design your design portfolio website. While this isn’t a bad thing by any means, it also means that you will have less flexibility when it comes to crafting individual pages on your portfolio website. The other pro with using Adobe Portfolio is that it resembles more of an actual website rather than a project showcase like Behance. Adobe Portfolio is relatively new to the market but already has made a huge impact for creatives who are looking to get their design portfolio website up and running quickly.
- Squarespace - Squarespace is regarded by some as a creative’s best friend. It offers a wide variety of customizable templates that are pretty flexible allowing you to customize them to your liking. I have built a few websites using Squarespace and I must say that Squarespace has done a superb job of making it as easy as possible. Again, knowing a lot of friends who use Squarespace today to showcase their amazing work, I cannot say anything bad about it other than it does cost money to use. Currently, the personal plan starts at $12 a month and goes up from there depending on what it is you need but all the features that Squarespace offers are worth it.
- WordPress - As I mentioned before I have used WordPress since I graduated from design school, which was eight years ago. Jeez, it seems like decades. This is mostly because it was one of the only viable platforms at the time and I was pretty experienced using it. WordPress has come a long way since then and developers have built integrations specifically for those who need to build a portfolio. I use an add-on integration called Semplice which is focused on portfolio websites. There is also another integration that I have heard good things about called Elementor. The integrations allow more flexibility and customization which is what we creatives are usually looking for. Both are fairly straightforward to use but require you to pay for them. You can find a WordPress template around the web that will be suitable to build your portfolio website without using these integrations but they may require a little bit of code knowledge to get them to do what you want.
- Webflow - Webflow is something that I started using a few years ago for client projects and recently have decided that I will start to build my new design portfolio website using it as well. I do want to make sure I mention that Webflow does have a learning curve to it that can be a little intimidating if you aren’t familiar with website development. Although Webflow makes it simple through their library of tutorials and resources, I suggest Webflow for designers and creatives that have a little more experience.
Show Your Personality
This is the fun part! The joy I have found in creating a design portfolio website is coming up with a unique design that showcases my personality and style. As a designer, I find that my taste changes pretty much every year which is why I tend to update my portfolio website so frequently. I find new exciting typefaces or a color palette that inspires me and want to experiment with them. I want to try and push the limits and see how I can make it work for me and what better place to do that than on my portfolio website. It is something you have full control over so why not take advantage of that? Design choices such as typography, color, and layout are all important pieces to your design portfolio website. I touch on this in my article about the 3 important elements you need in your portfolio website’s header here. It can impress potential new clients visiting your website which can lead to new projects. Adding your personality to your design portfolio website helps you stand out which is invaluable as we enter a new virtual way of working. After working as a designer for 8+ years I believe that your skill level or expertise in certain aspects of design can only take you so far. The other parts of the equation that can take you to the next level are things like your personality so make sure you inject as much of it as possible into your design portfolio website.
Outline Your Ideal Client
If you’re like me and consume a ton of design content through platforms like Youtube, Tiktok, and Instagram then you may have heard the phrase “niching down”. This refers to the idea that design is a very broad topic and you should narrow your focus down to sub-topics or categories within the design industry. For example, instead of just presenting yourself as a designer, maybe you have an interest in designing for Twitch streamers or restaurants. You can then present yourself as a designer that specializes in helping online streamers create assets for their Twitch streams. If you love working on restaurant projects you could do the same and present yourself as a designer who partners with restaurants to build unique brands that stand out from the crowded food industry. This idea begins to touch on visualizing and outlining your ideal client. When you know who you are trying to sell your services to, you can begin to cater your offerings with language that will help your customers understand that you know what you are talking about. I’ll admit this is something that I have found myself lacking at times but now after revisiting my portfolio website, I know this is something I need to have on my design portfolio website. Not only will outlining your ideal client help you tailor your offerings to clients. It will also help by improving your searchability for when those potential new clients are looking for someone with that specific experience. Your design portfolio website is indeed a showcase of your experience but it is also a powerful tool that expands your reach of clients on the web. This is where we get into topics like SEO which we will save for another article later on.
List Your Services
As I mentioned in the section above, once you outline your ideal client you’ll be able to better understand what that ideal client will be looking for when they need to hire a design partner. This is the part where you spend some time ideating what is the most important suite of services you can offer to them. Think of this as the menu for your design “restaurant”. Imagine a potential client visiting your design portfolio website, they’ll be presented with a clear list of services they can choose from making it easier for them to contact you. Now just because you are listing your services doesn’t mean you are forever bound to only perform these exact services. Just like most restaurants, there can be room to expand and customize these items on the fly as needed. Think of this list of tailored services as a starting point. And let me repeat, these should be services that the majority of your ideal clients will need. If someone happens to sign up for the exact service you listed, then great! But this list of services is also a great conversation starter that can lead your client into partnering with you and potentially even expanding the scope of work they want. As an example, since COVID landed, most restaurants have had to implement a way to have their food delivered to customers. One of the services you can list if you specialize in working with restaurant owners could be designing a website that makes online ordering easier. There are a ton of different ways you can tailor this list of services once you have your ideal client outlined. The most important part is to take the time to sit and think hard about what services are going to be most fulfilling for you to work on and the most valuable for that client.
Include Your Prices
Continuing on the menu metaphor train, when you look at a menu what usually accompanies the menu items? The PRICE! Yes, this might sound scary. To list prices on your design portfolio website can seem like a completely insane idea. Who would ever do that? This wasn’t an easy mental hurdle to get over but eventually, I said to myself “what do I have to lose”? On one hand, clients could visit your design portfolio website and be completely turned off by how high your prices are(if they are). On the other hand, including your prices on your design portfolio website can help you filter out clients that are below your budget minimum. When you include prices on your design portfolio website you establish a price point at which your design services start. You also save yourself time by eliminating the need to have calls with potential clients that don’t reach that minimum. If a potential client contacts you with an interesting project but is slightly under your budget, you can simply adjust as needed. The most valuable result of listing prices on my design portfolio website is without a doubt giving me back the time I would spend on 30-minute introduction calls with clients that don’t have the budget in the first place.
Tip for Pricing Your Design Work
If you’re just starting as a designer and don’t know how to price some of your services try pricing hourly and add in the cost for any meetings, reviews, and overhead expenses. Deciding on your prices can be an ever-evolving process and it’s not uncommon to update these frequently. After every project, access if you delivered more than you were actually compensated for and increase your prices gradually for the next project. Another exercise I have used during client projects is keeping track of my work time using a notion template I created. If you use notion you can grab my template here. In my notion timesheet template, I’ve included sections for inputting the date and time of each working session completed. Once a project is finished I add up all of the hours and divide my budget estimate with it. This helps me understand what my “hourly” rate is and if I should increase future projects. Download my free notion timesheet template here.
Have you ever wanted to buy something online and spent more than 20 minutes researching and reading through every possible review out there? After reading those reviews was your purchasing decision affected at all? This is what we refer to as social proof or testimonials. Reviews of the product or service people purchased and how they liked it. You see examples of this all over the internet. E-commerce sites like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart use these to encourage customers to make that purchase. You also see examples of this on sites like Yelp or OpenTable where people review their in-person experiences. The testimonials and reviews on these websites are no different from how you can share your client’s experiences working with you on your design portfolio website. Creative and advertising agencies alike all do this today to help their clients feel more at ease before handing over upwards of five figures worth of budget to partner with them so why shouldn’t you? While including testimonials can help new clients feel more relaxed with the idea of working with you. They can also show the level of experience you have in your area of focus. I mean, it’s not too often that I see a well-built out testimonial section on a design portfolio website. Building a foundation of trust with your clients is important and testimonials are a great tool to use to do so.
Tip for Getting Testimonials From Clients
Asking clients for testimonials can feel super cringy but it is necessary for building a strong design practice. Something that I have found that has taken that warm anxious feeling out of the process is by creating a super quick survey using Google Forms. My client survey currently has 8 questions which are a mix of multiple-choice and text fields. I can probably update my survey to include fewer questions as the more you include the more likely it is for your client to not complete it. Whenever I complete a client project, I invite the client to fill it out so I can then use that information on my design portfolio website. This has made it easy for both me and my client to complete. I went ahead and created a template survey that you can download for your personal use. You can start using it today by visiting this link here.
Make Yourself Available Everywhere
On the first few iterations of my design portfolio website, after I was designing each page and crafting all of my project case studies, I would finish each website off by putting together a “simple” footer. This footer would usually include the links to my social channels, Behance, and my email. My thought was that by the time anyone visiting my site got through the bulk of the content they could then find my email at the bottom of every page. At the very very bottom! Looking back at this now I believe this is the wrong approach. Your contact information is another important piece to your design portfolio website. This is how potential clients will get in touch with you to work together. Why would you want to hide that information all the way at the bottom? The answer to this dilemma is to make yourself available everywhere on your design portfolio website. Nowadays, links to your social profiles where you could share progress images of work are super valuable. This helps paint a better picture of who you are as a designer. Those links should be sprinkled all around your portfolio website. And sure, you can have text links all over but I say get creative with it! Approach these calls to action as unique sections in between important information. Beyond links to your social profiles, let’s not forget about your email. In this new virtual world of working, email is the number one way of getting in touch. I would go as far as to say that an email link should be on every page in some way, shape, or form. But wait! Imagine taking it one step further. What if you could skip some of that email small chat and include a link to schedule an introduction call? Wouldn’t that be faster? For example, in the navigation bar at the top of my website, I include a link to schedule a call. This link appears on every page and takes clients to my Calendly account where they can schedule a call based on my calendar availability. This is pretty effortless and reduces the amount of back and forth a client has to have before they can potentially work with me. I talk about this concept more in my article about the three elements you need in the header section of your portfolio website that you can read here.
I cannot stress this tip enough because it used to be something that I was guilty of. And may still be. Proofreading your design portfolio website is critical. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back through my portfolio website only to find a myriad of spelling and grammar mistakes. This may just be me, but spelling mistakes are a no-go. I mean c'mon, we are designers and creatives. We are the ones that care the most about the small details! Sure, no one may ever visit your design portfolio website and notice how amazing your spelling and grammar are. But you can bet your bottom dollar that people will definitely notice any mistakes. I believe that spelling mistakes can give the impression that you don’t review your work and when working with a client, that is crucial. It not only speaks to just your design portfolio website but can also overlap with how you conduct yourself during client projects. Imagine working with a client on a branding project and misspelling the client’s company or service! If you don’t proofread your work you can end up in a sticky situation that can lead to wasted time going back and forth on revisions only to waste your time. Proofreading your design portfolio website is a good practice to start implementing in all parts of design practice.
“Perfection is the enemy of progress”
Don’t Let Perfection Stop You
There is a saying that I heard recently at my job that I think lends itself well to building your design portfolio website and it goes like this. “Perfection is the enemy of progress” and I couldn’t agree more. The one variable that can turn a week of updating my design portfolio website into a multi-month monster of a project is myself. And it has before. As a designer and also my own client, I can be super critical of my work. Trying to make everything perfect down to the very last detail can increase the time you spend building your design portfolio website. While taking everything discussed in this article into consideration, getting a version of your portfolio website out for clients to see is more valuable than not having anything at all.
If you are working on your design portfolio website and you don’t know where to start, reference this article to help get you started. No matter what stage you are in building your design portfolio website you can sign up for a free 1-on-1 zoom portfolio review with me. During my reviews with creatives, we go over your work, the design of your portfolio, and how you can improve with some simple but actionable steps. No matter what stage you are in, together we can help you get your design portfolio website done! You can sign up for a free 1-on-1 zoom review using this link here. Good luck!