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.

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