What To Include In Your Web Design Portfolio

Why web designers need a portfolio site and what they should include

Museum gallery
Museum gallery.

If you are a web designers seeking work, either through employment with a company or agency or by getting hired by clients to provide web design or development work for their projects, then you need an online portfolio. As someone who has hired many web designers over the years, I can absolutely tell you that a link to a portfolio website is the first thing I look for in a resume. 

Whether you are brand new to the industry or a seasoned veteran, a portfolio website is an essential ingredient in your overall success. The question then becomes what you should include on that site to best appeal to potential employers and clients.

Examples of Your Work

The most obvious thing to include in a portfolio website is examples of your work. Consider these points when deciding which projects to add to that gallery and which ones to omit:

  • Show Only Your Best Work – Remember, people will be judging you based on what they see in this gallery, so there is no room for mediocrity.
    • Showing only your best work can be challenging for new web professionals who do not yet have a deep pool of past projects to choose from. Rest assured that showing student work, or even fake projects created to gain experience, is perfectly acceptable here – as long as that work is top notch. One of the best portfolios I have ever seen was from a junior web designer who, despite his lack of experience, put together a great gallery showcasing his abilities. He did so by creating websites for “fake” clients and pushing himself to imagine what it would be like to be tasked with different types of projects (small business, non-profit, local band, political candidate, etc.). The work showed creativity, passion, and a variety of skills on display.
  • Show Some Variety – Web design is about solving problems. Unless you intended to work on the same kind of website over and over, and solve the same problems over and over again, there is a substantial benefit in showing variety in your portfolio examples. If your portfolio is meant for prospective new employers, then this variety of projects and solutions will show that you not only have the technical skills needed in this profession (visual design, front-end development, responsive web design, etc.), but also the problem-solving skills needed to tackle a variety of project requirements.
  • Consider the Type of Work You Want In The Future – If you are using your portfolio to acquire new web design business and showcase your work for prospective clients, then you should consider the kinds of clients you hope to attract. Right or wrong, people look for projects similar to their own when they are evaluating a web designer’s work examples. If you are looking to close a certain type of project, be sure that there are examples of that in your portfolio.
  • Less Can Be More – One thing you do not want to show in your portfolio is too much work. This can be a challenge for that seasoned web professional with years of great work that they can display. You do not want to overwhelm visitors with too many examples. Instead, choose the ones that best represent your work and take the "less is more" approach. Quality over quanity is key in a successful web design portfolio.

Explanation of Your Work

A gallery that only shows screenshots and links lacks context. If you do not add an explanation of a project, your site’s viewers will not be aware of the problems you encountered for a project or how you solved them for that site. These explanations show the thinking behind the choices you made, which is as important as the end result of the work. I use this exact approach on my own portfolio to give context to what people are seeing.

Your Writing

On the subject of thinking, many web designers also write about their work. Your writing not only displays your thinking, but it also shows a willingness to contribute to the industry as a whole by sharing ideas and techniques. These leadership qualities can be especially attractive to employers. If you have a blog or if you author articles for other websites, be sure to include these on your own website too.

Work History

The type of work you have done in the past can be seen in your gallery, but including a work history is also a good idea. This could be a standard resume, either available as a web page or a PDF download (or both), or it could simply be a bio page on yourself where you talk about that work history. 

If you are brand new to the industry, then this work history is obviously not going to be very substantial and it may not be appropriate at all, but consider if perhaps something else about your experiences and background may be relevant instead.

A Look at Your Personality

The final element that you should consider including on your portfolio website is a glimpse into your personality. Seeing your technical skills on display in your project gallery and reading some of your thinking in your blog are both important, but at the end of the day, both employers and clients want to hire someone they like and can relate to. They want to make a connection that goes beyond just the work.

If you have hobbies that you are passionate about, make sure they have a presence on your site. This could be something as simple as the photo you use on a bio page or the information you add to that bio. This personal information can be as important as the work-related details, so do not hesitate to let some of your personality shine through on your site. Your site is your site and it should reflect who you are, both professionally and personally.

Edited by Jeremy Girard on 1/11/17