Reasons to keep your web portfolio short and sweet

The common wisdom for compiling a strong design portfolio is that you should limit the size to around a 10-15 samples of your work (give or take a few). I have perused a lot of design portfolios online, and it’s interesting to see how many break this rule. Recently David Airey wrote about being asked by a client why his portfolio (which fits the above standard) was small compared to others. Does this mean there’s an expectation that a web portfolio should number dozens of works? I’m in favour of maintaining a portfolio as a compact, select display of a designer’s work, even online. Here are a few reasons why, and for good measure I’ve added a couple of suggestions at the end for people who feel they still need a much more extensive showcase of their work.

1. It’s your best work. Make it easy to find.

You want the best of your work to stand out. Putting large volumes of design work in your portfolio is not the way to do this. Unless your best pieces also happen to be the first half-dozen or so in the portfolio (which will get the most views), they’ll be buried. Instead of making them stand out, you’ll effectively be diluting them. Freelance Switch even suggests that the bigger the portfolio, the greater the chances that your prospect will find something they don’t like!

2. Thinking ahead.

If you decide to redesign your website down the track (and I mean a complete revamp), it can be a laborious task to resize thumbnails and reposition every piece of a high volume portfolio. It was one of the most tedious tasks for my recent site redesign, and I’ve kept the size of my portfolio fairly small. Compare it to moving house: how much baggage will you have to haul from one place to the next?

3. Your portfolio is a reflection of your design skills.

Your ability as a designer will be apparent not only through the standard of work that you display. The designer’s job is to draw the eye to what you want it to see. Paring back your portfolio to a few select pieces is doing the same thing: drawing the eye to what you want it to see. Less really is more.

4. Show that you understand good web design.

Another tenet of design is good to remember here: understand the medium you are working in. While the web is marvellous in the scope it allows for design layouts, it also has one important downside: attention spans on the internet are painfully short. Good web design anticipates this by presenting great content in easy-to-consume packages.

If you still feel it’s important (or expected of you) to include a large volume of past work, try creating two pages: first, your truncated portfolio for primary display, with a link to a second archival-style page of the full span of your work. The second page could be housed on your website, or created on deviantArt or another portfolio community site if you wish, but notify people that the link is an outgoing one. If they don’t realise, they may wonder about the sudden change in the look of the site.

Alternatively, you could treat each piece in your trim portfolio as a stepping stone to similar examples of work. Including a “Would you like to see more work like this?” link may encourage a prospect to delve deeper into your portfolio, especially if they’re interested in one particular type of design (e.g. your website work, as opposed to your logo designs). Darren Hoyt talks about using this technique to extend the time visitors stay on a blog, but I expect it could also be applied to a portfolio site (static or CMS).

Final note on portfolios: Your folio is the best representation of your design work. Its purpose is for assessment by prospective clients (or employers). It is up to clients to decide whether they want to work with you; your portfolio – NOT spec work – is the basis for making that decision.


  • David Airey

    June 19, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Hi Tracey,

    I like your idea of including a link that says, “Would you like to see more work like this?”.

    I’m contemplating a design overhaul, but will still be showcasing a similar amount of projects, as I feel it’s important not to overwhelm.

    David Airey’s last blog post … Focus on reader comments #2

  • Steve O

    June 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    All good points Tracey!

    I’m looking at getting a new portfolio site up (I have a Coroflot one right now) and was umming and aahing over how much work to include. I’m with David on the “more work like this?” link – definately one I will be putting to use!

  • inspirationbit

    June 20, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    All good and valid points here, Tracey. I would add that we should also make our portfolio current and keep it up to date. It’s important to feature only your best work, but we should also include a few of the most recent projects. I’ve seen too many portfolios online, including some of the prominent designers, with their latest featured work done a few years ago.

  • Tracey

    June 20, 2008 at 11:54 pm

    David and Steve:
    I’m glad you both liked that suggestion, and all the best with your site redesigns.

    Good point. In fact, that’s one of the next tasks on my list – I have some recent work which I will be putting into my online portfolio soon.

  • kristarella

    June 21, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    I agree, when I’ve looked at portfolios I don’t like to see 20 or 30 small thumbnails. People are crippled by choice, and more easily able to find something they don’t like is a good point too.
    I like the “want to see more?” idea as well.

    kristarella’s last blog post … Do you want people to correct your mistakes?

  • David Pache

    June 22, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    Great post Tracey, very interesting read. I have found the rule of 10 – 15 portfolio items works extremely well in the realm of printed portfolios.

    For my online portfolio, Im happy to show the majority of my work as I think there is a certain richness to be had in variety. Adding projects is what makes people come back for more I have found and it is also a nice way to show my evolution as a designer I believe.

  • Tracey

    June 24, 2008 at 6:39 am

    I know exactly what you mean about being overwhelmed by choice. It’s a big negative when it happens.

    David P:
    I completely agree that if you have variety in your work, your portfolio can only benefit from it; to achieve this in a smaller folio is undoubtedly a challenge. It’s good to hear of the positive experience you have had from increasing the size of your portfolio – which is still not as large as many I’ve seen, and is well-organised by category. The two suggestions I’ve made in this post for larger portfolios are essentially about navigating through a large amount of content; likewise, your folio is very easy to navigate by category.

  • Jennifer

    August 7, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Hi Tracey

    Good post. I’m actually updating my portfolio at the moment, it’s all over the place but I think I will be keeping each section (or area of work) to maybe 5 or 6 pieces.

  • Webdesign Meppel

    August 22, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Nice article… makes me think about my current portfolio and I truly consider to make some changes to it… Thanks!

  • Tracey Grady

    August 26, 2008 at 5:10 am

    Webdesign Meppel:
    I’m glad this article has inspired you. It’s definitely important to review a portfolio regularly in order to keep it fresh.

  • Emiloly

    September 7, 2008 at 3:36 am

    Thanks heaps for this article!
    I was actually stumped over the ‘How much to include’ thing. The 10-15 rules sounds great, I think it really helps having a ‘standard’. Plus I am totally considering having the SEE MORE link incorporated in the re-design of my website.

  • Tracey Grady

    September 7, 2008 at 4:35 am

    I’m glad that my advice has been so helpful for you. The See More link is an idea that people seem to respond well to. I’d be interested to see how you incorporate it into your portfolio if you do decide to incorporate it.

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