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Creating an Online Portfolio

You’ve worked hard on past projects and want to showcase your talents – not just as proof of your abilities, but as a resume of sorts to offer potential clients for their hiring consideration. Creating an online portfolio that stands out requires just as much effort and attention as one of your paying jobs. In actuality, it may require more if you want to land the ‘big’ clients. What are some of the common mistakes that web designers make when creating an online portfolio?

1. Work Overload

There is a temptation to try to show every piece of work that you’ve done. While you may be a proficient designer that has dozens of satisfied clients, cramming samples from every one of them into your portfolio will only serve to overwhelm potential customers.

A well-rounded portfolio should include five to eight samples of your best work. Within those samples may be several pages of work, giving your portfolio the potential for up to 25 pages to preview.

Carefully select your samples to showcase the depth of your work experience. It’s better to have a few excellent samples to show than dozens of mediocre items.

2. Not Enough Work

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the portfolio that has only one or two samples. Again, aim for five to eight samples of work that showcases the type of projects that you have worked on. Try to include a variety of projects that demonstrate the different skills you have mastered.

If you don’t have enough projects in your repertoire yet, try grouping samples by skill or style. This method allows one project to be highlighted in stages and gives a comprehensive look at your abilities.

3. Tiny Previews

Often, designers want everything in their portfolio to be seen on the ‘front page’. To accomplish this, they shrink thumbnail previews down to microscopic sizes that are undecipherable. Don’t fall into this trap.

Compel viewers to move through your portfolio by making images large enough to be seen and draw their attention.

Scrolling down to see more images is not an excessive burden to place on viewers. Your work deserves attention; give it the space it needs to get it. For example, Ryan Scherf’s portfolio is a single page. He isn’t afraid to ask visitors to scroll all the way through his abundant collection of work.

Creating an Online Portfolio - Big Images

4. Random Order

In their haste to create a portfolio, many designers simply insert their work samples in no discernible order.

Instead of having a random mish-mash approach, develop your portfolio as though it were a storyboard. Move through your work samples with a clear and defined path that is easy to follow.

Showcase the pieces of a project followed by the final result; or start with the completed project and then break it down into individual components.

Experiment to see which path works with your portfolio, and then let your projects shine.

5. Designer Nowhere to be Found

A comprehensive portfolio can include multiple pages and images. Contact information buried on an “About the Designer” page may be frustrating for a potential client to find if they have to wade through the entire portfolio to locate it.

Provide potential clients with clear, easy access to your name, email address, website and phone number on every page.

6. No Connection Points

In addition to providing contact information, allow potential clients to interact with you from within the portfolio. Integrate social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest to give clients opportunities to engage with your work. Consider adding a blog feature to your portfolio to further engage with viewers.

7. Flat Visuals

Current technology leaves no excuse for having flat, boring visuals. Find ways to add dynamics to visuals rather than using screen shots or simple jpegs.

Clients are drawn to work that comes alive. Demonstrate how you can turn their projects into interactive pages. Check out the way Charlotte Tang makes her images come alive.

Creating an Online Portfolio - creative images

8. Mobile Unresponsive

You would never design an unresponsive website for a client. Why on earth would you not give the same consideration to your portfolio?!

Ensure that your portfolio is responsive to different sized devices and that images are sized appropriately to allow for easy navigation.

9. No Outside-The-Box Thinking

Now is not the time to be generic or blend in with the crowd. You need to stand out from the competition. One way to do that is to innovate.

Try showing how your designs are being used in real life, after you hand them off to the client.

For example, if you designed an infographic for someone, find all the places it’s been published online. Create a Contently page to show the sites that have featured it. This will help clients realize how valuable and well received your designs are. Monica Eaton-Cardone plans to use her Contently account to showcase an identity theft infographic she just created.

Creating an Online Portfolio - Outside the box

10. No Explanation

While your work should speak for itself, work samples in a portfolio need some introduction.

Provide viewers with specific details about the project: the client, the goal of the project, specific skills and features you utilized.

Avoid the temptation to give too much information. Just a few simple lines detailing the work that was done will give enough insight into your abilities.

11. No Passion

To stand out from other portfolios, designers must include glimpses of work that demonstrate their individuality and passion.

Pieces of work that you created ‘just for fun’, or for a charitable cause that you believe in, can be a great way of letting the client see another side of you.

Clients may like your work, but they are more likely to hire a designer they can connect with. Use your portfolio to give clients an idea of who you are as a person, as well as a designer. If Robby Leonardi’s portfolio doesn’t scream personality, we don’t know what does!


Putting together an online portfolio can be intimidating, even for web designers. By avoiding these common missteps, you can create a dynamic gallery of work that showcases your talents and abilities and can help you generate work for the future.