Tips for Designing Your Digital Portfolio


In the world that we live in, there is absolutely no reason to not have an online profile if you are in any industry that involves work that can be shown off. Not only is this the best way for others to see what you are capable of without having to physically be there, but it also is the best and easiest way for you to show off your efforts. If you’re serious about display, it’s vitally important to get your work online like many others have already done.

The problem is that most people don’t understand that like any other presentation of your work, there are things that you should and should not do. Unlike a physical portfolio that you have complete control over the circumstances of its display and can comment extensively on your efforts, putting your work online in a digital format doesn’t allow you that control. Instead, it’s like leaving your portfolio out where anybody can find it and being unable to even see who’s looking.

With that in mind, there are some ways that you can be sure that you’re getting the most out of your digital portfolio. Here are a few tips to help you along.

Curate Your Work

There is absolutely nothing that says that you have to provide everything you’ve ever done online any more than you would have to put it all into a physical portfolio. The purpose is to show off not only your best work, but give an idea of the range of skills that you have. That’s why it’s important to not only choose your best work to display, but also to choose things that pinpoint certain skills and demonstrate why you are competent with those.

So, start by thinking about the kinds of work that somebody in your field is likely to want to see. If you’re a painter, choose various styles or schools that you think are your strongest and choose one or two examples of each to put up online. You can do the same with mediums. If you’re a writer, showcase a number of genres in fiction or subjects in non-fiction. If you’re focused on a particular genre or topic, show off various ways in which you approach it, highlight long or short pieces; find a way to make yourself look dynamic.

Focus your portfolio on a message if you can. Try to build a narrative about your work with what you’re showing off, whether it’s music or clothing. What do your efforts say about you and the time that you put into them? You can very easily build a brand for yourself whether you mean to or not just by what you decide to put online, so choose carefully.

Pay Attention to Design

The design of your website will be heavily influenced by what you want to show off. If you’re a Realtor who wants to provide a list of the best homes you’ve ever sold, your website will look a lot different from the musician who wants to put samples of their best songs up. The musician’s website will look different if they play rock or Big Band. That rock musician’s website will look different if they play alternative or metal. You get the idea.

So, before you even start, think about your audience and what they want to see in a website. What sorts of imagery do they tend to enjoy? What fits with your particular idiom? Will your work look like it fits on this page, or will it clash stylistically? If you’re a sculptor who favors clean, straight lines in his or her work, then a website covered in curved designs and a generally “circular” feel wouldn’t be appropriate.

Regardless of what the theme or feel of your website is, though, you want to make sure that it is as simple as possible. Complex websites tend to take attention away from online portfolios. While it’s tempting to try to add Flash animations and a many-branching tree of a design, the more difficult it is for people to find and look at your work, the less likely it is that people will find and look at your work. You never know what you put up there that might catch somebody’s attention, so make sure it can all be found quickly, easily and with as few clicks as possible.

Add Context

As I mentioned previously, you won’t be able to stand there and explain your work to people as they’re examining your website. Most of the time, you won’t even know they’re looking. That’s why you have to provide a little bit of context on the page in order to give people a framework with which to examine your stuff.

For every work that you plan to display, create a title for it and a short paragraph describing your process, the themes of the work, or something relevant that will give viewers or listeners a better appreciation of what they’re experiencing. This should be no more than three or four sentences and give a general idea of why this piece is particularly important.

Avoid the temptation to write another work just describing that one. It’s very common for creative types especially to want to talk about their work; it’s a side-effect of being passionate, but it can quickly bore an outsider. Let them quickly read something that will help them “get” what you’re saying, then let the work speak for itself from that point on.

Create a Simple Biography

Works can be very powerful, but if you’re creating an online portfolio you want people to know who you are. That’s why it’s important to include a short biography and ways to contact you if somebody is interested in your work.

First, choose something about your work that stands out, and use that to frame your bio. If you’re a painter with a particular style that is different from others, explain the events in your life that led you to develop it. If you’re a jazz musician, explain how you came to love the genre or playing music. Create an origin story for yourself that furthers the theme. Make sure that you also add some personal details to round you out and make you more human in the eyes of your audience. Don’t forget to provide ways for them to call, email, or otherwise get in touch with you.

Most of all, be specific. Nobody wants to know that you have a “unique” sound or a “distinct” writing style. Describe your work and why you’re passionate about it.

Selling Yourself

A digital portfolio is the way that you sell yourself in the online world. It’s the easiest way to get others to take a look at your work and provide you methods to keep doing it. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself in the most effective way possible.

Posted on Monday, June 30th, 2014