The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Portfolios

April 28th, 2009
Published on
April 28th, 2009

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.