The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Portfolios

So you think your work is aesthetically pleasing and meets your client’s goals? Then, why not showcase it with a user-friendly portfolio? Selling your company’s services involves more than slapping up a screenshot and a link. If users find your portfolio difficult to navigate or it lacking information then prepare to lose business to your competitors.

So you think your work is aesthetically pleasing and meets your client’s goals? Then, why not showcase it with a user-friendly portfolio?

Selling your company’s services involves more than slapping up a screenshot and a link. If users find your portfolio difficult to navigate or lacking information then prepare to lose business to your competitors.

The truth is most companies’ project portfolios may feature amazing work, but there is always room for improvement. Sell yourself by selling your best work through minor (and sometimes major) user experience improvements to your portfolio. My own portfolio is a testament to how a few little changes can make a huge difference.

Although my HTML skills are meek and I am self taught, I worked away to create my own Web site and online portfolio. It includes my resume, projects I have managed as well as clients I have aided with usability and copywriting services. I have already made significant improvements from the beginning and there is still room for more.

Here are some steps I took to improve my User Experience project portfolio:

  1. Had peers review my portfolio and was open to constructive criticism (always get multiple reviews)
  2. Incorporated client testimonials on project pages
  3. Used thumbnails to convey each project and to draw attention to my users
  4. Featured my most impressive work on the home page and in other prominent areas of my site
  5. Explained what my role was on that project, how it was effective, and a link to the live site

“Good” aspects to incorporate in your portfolio

  1. Categorizing Your Work

    Niki Brown’s Web site is an excellent example of user friendly navigation which not only promotes a featured project on the homepage but splits up her work on the portfolio page into three different categories: Print, Web & Illustration.

  2. Creating Clarity Using Words & Imagery

    Your portfolio needs to provide images of your work as well as details of how you met clients’ end goals. Designer Scott Mallison promotes his work through large images, details of what his clients wanted, and how he met their goals. Including a link to their Web site is also a good idea, but keep in mind in the future their Web site may change, so displaying a static image of the work you did rather than relying on a live link is imperative. Also, make sure these links open in a new window as you want to avoid navigating users away from your site.

  3. Making Your Porfolio
    Search & Scan Friendly

    Users have a tendency to scan your information, not actually read it. Making navigation clear and concise is crucial for ease of navigation. Also including a search on your site, like Designer Phillip Beel is helpful for users who know exactly what they are looking for but do not know where to begin looking on your site.

How to avoid the “bads” & “uglys” aspects

  1. Avoiding Information Overload & Space Wasting

    The most important information should always be included on the home page, above the fold. Convey to user’s exactly what your company’s services are, rather than with a headline that says “its what I do.” Also, overloading a users mouse by making them scroll all the way down the page to get to your contact form isn’t a user friendly approach.

    Although designer Peter Nudo has a creative way to convey his services using a space themed design, the information conveyed all on one page is quite lengthy. I would suggest having the links take the users to a new page.

    Also, if you are like designer Oykun Yilmaz and going to design your portfolio so it’s all on one page, make sure to include “back to top” links so user’s don’t have to scroll up every time to navigate to another portion of the page.

  2. Not Everyone Can Contact You Telepathically

    Obviously you want to obtain more clients and make it easy for potential clients to contact you. Lead generation is effective when users can easily find your contact information.

    Unfortunately, that’s not the case on Photowalk List which ironically has the tagline of “Find A Photowalk Near You”
    Include “Contact Us” or “Locations” in the main navigation or even in the same location on every page somewhere. Users won’t always navigate to “About” link on Photowalk’s site to find the contact information.

  3. Lacking Site Wide Consistency

    If you are going to have navigation that is out of the norm, then keep it consistent. Meaning, if you have all of your information on one page and your navigation scrolls the user down, then keep it that way site-wide (as I was expecting the same scrolling activity when I clicked on the “Blog” link of Zeke Shore’s Web site).

About the author

Raina VAn Cleave

For the past three years UF Advertising Alum Raina Van Cleave has managed award-winning interactive media projects. As a Project Manager and User Experience Specialist, she has provided successful creative and innovative solutions for more than 50 different clients, working closely with clients such as Microsoft, (ISC)2, National Air Cargo, Safariland, Reddrox, Monkey Joes, Safariland, The University of Florida, CareMedic Systems, SchedAll, Bragfolio and many more. Recently, Raina has decided to expand her career goals and enroll in graphic design school.

http://rainavancleave.com/

About the Author

Raina Van Cleave

For the past three years UF Advertising Alum Raina Van Cleave has managed award-winning interactive media projects. As a Project Manager and User Experience Specialist, she has provided successful creative and innovative solutions for more than 50 different clients, working closely with clients such as Microsoft, (ISC)2, National Air Cargo, Safariland, Reddrox, Monkey Joes, Safariland, The University of Florida, CareMedic Systems, SchedAll, Bragfolio and many more. Recently, Raina has decided to expand her career goals and enroll in graphic design school.

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17 Comments

  • Fire G Reply

    Decent read Raina, I agree with 95% of what you said, but I feel your points could have used more extension and detail. Also, a “gallery” of ‘good’ portfolios at the end of the article would have been a welcome addition.

    “Not Everyone Can Contact You Telepathically” ~ Why not? I don’t wear this tin-foil hat for nothing you know.

  • Patternhead Reply

    Agree with “Fire G”. Think you have some good points but overall the article feels a bit light.

  • Aaron Irizarry Reply

    Good read!
    Nice tips on creating your user experience portfolio, very helpful.

  • Tyler Reply

    Some good things to remember when creating a portfolio. Thanks!

  • Chris Hill Reply

    I agree with you on a lot of levels. We struggled with how to present creative on our site as we did a redesign. It is easy to overdo the navigation if you are not careful.

  • Scott Mallinson Reply

    Thanks for featuring my website Raina. Your blog post contains some really great tips regarding what should and shouldn’t feature on portfolio sites.

    One thing though, I’m not 100% sure with your comment of having links open in a new window. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the accessibility of opening links in new windows which is considered bad practise as it breaks the user’s navigation and flow.

  • Scott Mallinson Reply

    Thanks for featuring my website Raina. Your blog post contains some really great tips regarding what should and shouldn’t feature on portfolio sites.

    One thing though, I’m not 100% sure with your comment of having links open in a new window. There has been a great deal of discussion regarding the accessibility of opening links in new windows which is considered bad practise as it breaks the user’s navigation and flow.
    PS: Wanted to mention good post!

  • John Hyde Reply

    Thanks for this post, Raina.

    I’m with Scott on the “new window” point – the site visitor can do this if she wants.

    PS: maybe check the spelling of “architecture” on your own site.

  • David Perel Reply

    Neat post. Although I do like it when people ‘waste’ space for some nice design elements… but it has to be really a good design.

  • Thomas Reply

    Interesting article, good things to keep in mind :)

  • Peter Nudo Reply

    Thanks for the tips, and I agree with what you say. Looks like a redesign is in the works!

  • theodin Reply

    thanks for including my site, really great article, glad I made the ‘good’ pile!

  • Armig Esfahani Reply

    hmm nice article.. I’ll try to keep them in mind and improve my portfolio..

  • Raina Van Cleave Reply

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback. I appreciate everyone’s points on what I could have improved upon on my article. As far as links opening in new windows, this is a an area that I have had many experts tell me it’s ok and others that it’s not.

    Mucho thanks to UX Booth for the opportunity to write this article. :)

  • Scott Reply

    Thank you for your feedback. It helped during our re-design process!

    Scott & The Photowalklist.com Crew

  • Sharon Reply

    Very helpful, thanks for sharing.

  • Terry Reply

    And if you’re going to post a link back to your own site somewhere, make sure the link works (Raina :) )

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