We talk about design portfolios a lot on this blog. But occasionally, we hear from people in need of a portfolio who are not designers: Writers, managers, strategists, and more who have great work, but don’t know how exactly to share it.
Compared to copywriters, for example, designers have it easy. When your work is highly visual, you can just add your images to a page in an artful way, write some captions, a few case studies and call it done. It takes more thinking to create a text-heavy portfolio that’s still engaging.
While it depends on your specific line of work, your projects and your goals, these tips will help you create an online portfolio that presents your work in the best possible way.
Avoid an image-heavy starting point
Trying to force non-visual work into an image-heavy template will leave you with a mangled site that shows how much you strained to make it. I’ve seen many an unfortunate portfolio like this. Most of them have random stock images on the page, disjointed and pixelated, in no way reflecting the creator or their work. Unless you have great images for your projects, try to avoid image-heavy templates or layouts for your site.
Do use all the resources available to you
If nice images do exist for your project, even if you didn’t create them yourself, by all means use them. For example, say you did the research for an app your company built. It’s perfectly OK to use images from that app to showcase your work. Even designers do this by using an app design with typefaces someone else created or photos someone else took. There’s no reason why a copywriter or account manager can’t do the same. Providing you include proper credit and make it clear what role you played in the project, those are your images too.
Or say you worked on the strategy for an athletic brand. You could use a standard marketing image from the company (someone lacing up their shoes, perhaps) as your preview image for that project. Feel free to use whatever marketing material gets the point across, so long as you focus the message on what you contributed.
If you think about it, the portfolios of a photographer, make-up artist, hairstylist and perhaps set designer are all the same. They all work together to create one image. In the end, this image is the collaborative result of all of these people, even though they all did something different to help achieve it.
Be careful about stock images
If you don’t have images for your work, you might be tempted to find a photo of someone scratching away with a pencil, clicking a mouse or shuffling papers on a desk to represent a project or message on your site. Don’t do it. That dates your portfolio to somewhere around Blackberries and Bluetooth headsets. Stock photos almost always look out of touch, unnatural and worst of all, boring. It’s better to have no images at all than an old-school stock image.
The one exception is Unsplash images, which are generally beautiful and more tasteful than your standard stock photography (and free, too). A thoughtfully chosen Unsplash image here and there can be a great solution if you don’t have images available for your work. Just don’t over-use them or use an image just because it looks pretty. Try to choose images that best represent the project or the idea.
Keep it simple & focus on the success story
Focus your site on what your visitors want to know and the story you have to tell.
Writers: What if your homepage was just a simple list with your best headlines in big, bold type? A strong headline already tells us what we want to know about you: That you can write powerfully, with control. That you can distill a message to its core and move people with your words (in this case, by making us click through to the next page to read more). Instead of trying to sell us with a long-winded piece of prose, do what you do best. Tell us the story.
Researchers and strategists: What if your homepage was just a list of questions – the challenge you were presented with or the problem you were seeking to solve? This immediately conveys what kind of work you do while creating intrigue. You can expand later with your full case studies, which should still be simple and straightforward. If we read about your project and your process and it feels simple to us, despite however complex it may be, that tells us a lot about how you think, communicate and solve problems at work.
Account and project managers: What if your homepage was simply your client’s names, with one sentence beneath explaining your most impressive feat for that client? Think about what your visitors want to see and zero in on that. They probably want to know how many clients you managed, the type of clients and projects, and your success stories. So focus on the key stats with your homepage (“grew the Snickerdoodle account from $1 million annual budget to $3 million”) and give us the other bullet points (as briefly as possible) in your case study.
Whatever kind of work you do, think about the most important story you have to tell. Tell that story from your point of view, in the most straightforward way possible, and leave out the rest. When you keep it simple, your entire website – from your homepage to your case studies to your page layouts – will be all the more powerful.
Bonus tips: If you can avoid it, don’t use a template for your site. A personalized site sells your work much better than a template. This is exactly why Carbonmade exists (I worked closely with Carbonmade on V4, their new product). It allows you to start with a base and fully personalize your site from there, instead of forcing your work into a template. It’s made for more than design portfolios – I’ve seen everyone from copywriters to makeup artists to managers use it. If you're feeling more adventurous and technically savvy, you might also appreciate Semplice.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!