How to Wisely Plan & Create an Online Portfolio

Planning and creating your online portfolio can be difficult, particularly as an out-of-school designer without a lot of knowledge of what should be on your portfolio to-do list. But there are a number of simple and straightforward steps you can take to build a portfolio that speaks to your abilities, helps you create your identity as a designer, and makes a positive impression on potential clients. Read on to learn about creating the perfect design portfolio.

to do list

Keep It Simple

When you’re planning your portfolio simplicity is key. The focus of your online portfolio should be your work samples, not the portfolio itself. There are a number of ways to keep it simple, but creating a portfolio that is well organized and intuitive to use are good first steps that will let your work shine.


Highlight Your Work, Not the Portfolio

Having fancy graphics, Flash animations, and other such features will just serve to distract from your overall body of work. The whole point of your portfolio is to invite people to access and review the work you’ve done. Don’t commit one of the many rookie web design mistakes by distracting your site’s visitors with unnecessary fluff. Keep it neat, simple, and tidy and let your portfolio samples do the heavy lifting.


Make it User-Friendly

A key component of keeping it simple is to make your portfolio user-friendly. Doing so accomplishes two things. First, it allows your work to shine, which, as stated above, is the whole point of your portfolio. Second, it demonstrates to potential clients that you are able to create an environment that’s easy to use. By interacting with a portfolio that minimizes scrolling and clicks, has a well-thought-out navigation structure, and presents information in an intuitive manner, clients will be able to sample exactly what it is that you can do for them.


Get Organized

Also bear in mind that your portfolio needs to be well organized. Whether your work is sorted by client, by type, or some other criteria, works of similar construct or nature should appear together. An excellent option for creating a clean, simple, and well-organized portfolio is to use a website builder. Whether you create your own portfolio from scratch or take advantage of the many templates that are available, you can build a tasteful portfolio to promote your services in no time.


Give Them Variety

skills variety

Being a web designer usually requires you to have many tricks up your sleeve. You might create wireframes, you may code CSS, you may be a social media genius, and know HTML backwards and forwards. Maybe you’re an expert in SEO or responsive design and you can design logos too. Be sure to include pieces in your portfolio that demonstrate your mastery of such skills. Perhaps you used three or four skills on one project, which is fine, but be sure to explain to potential clients exactly what skills you used when you write the project description.


Strength in Numbers

plan portfolio quote

While there’s no ideal number of examples you should have in your portfolio, you want to have enough to show off a variety of skills without having so many that it seems overwhelming to visitors to your site. If you don’t have a lot of work to show in your portfolio yet, consider breaking a large project into several different examples. You can also include projects you’ve completed for yourself. These are great ways for new designers to give their portfolio more breadth and depth.


Keep it Fresh

expiration date

Much like the food in your refrigerator, the samples you put in your portfolio should have an expiration date. Your portfolio needs to keep pace with your current work, because if it doesn’t, you can come off as a tad lazy. Your qualifications, skills, and aesthetic will evolve over time as well. So too will the demands of clients and the direction of popular web design trends.

Keeping your work samples fresh also demonstrates that you have maintained your creativity, continued to expand your skillset, and that others have hired you recently. An excellent option for keeping your portfolio up-to-date is to show off some current projects that you haven’t quite finished. Doing so also gives potential clients some awareness of the processes you undertake to complete a project.


Show and Tell

Your portfolio needs to show off your work – literally – but also needs some good copywriting to provide insight into what skills you used and explain how the client is better off now that you’ve completed their project. Pairing an excellent photo with an informative description of the project will allow you to show off your work while also telling customers why the project was a success.


Take a Picture

Each piece you have in your design portfolio should include an image that potential clients can examine in a full frame. There are many great free screenshot tools you can use to take a snapshot of the completed, live site. You can also include images of wireframes and mockups. But be sure that whatever images you include are optimized for the web. A slow-loading website does not speak well for someone looking to be hired to design websites. Also include live links to the work you’ve completed, when possible. Nothing speaks to your abilities as a web designer better than a site that you’ve completed, that is fully functional, and that met the client’s needs and desires.


Explain What They’re Seeing

Each portfolio sample should include a well-written, yet brief description of the project. Go beyond the obvious and clearly state the skills you used on the project, as well as the benefits the client derived from your work. Outlining the benefits you’ve provided to previous clients will help new clients better understand exactly what it is you can do for them. The more questions you can answer for them up front, the more likely people are to hire you for their project.


Find Inspiration

The web is full of incredible portfolios from highly talented designers. Have a look at what other people have done to help you identify what you like and don’t like, and to help you brainstorm ideas for the vibe you want your portfolio to have. A great place for inspiration is Awwwards, which highlights some of the best sites on the web. They continually update their list so there’s never a lack of brilliant stuff to investigate.

Other great sources for design ideas are the monthly features we provide from people that have used IM Creator to build their website, the Favourite Website Awards, which provides daily doses of website awesomeness, and Creative Bloq and Hongkiat, both of which publish periodic lists of the top portfolios on the web. Give these sites a look and see what other designers are doing to get your own creative juices flowing!



Get Feedback


Take a step back from your portfolio and view it through the eyes of potential clients. What does your portfolio say about you as a designer and as a person? Is it too formal and serious? Does it seem disjointed or clunky? Does it tell the story you’re trying to convey to potential clients? Have friends or relatives evaluate your site as well to identify any problem areas. Ironing out the kinks before taking your portfolio live will increase your chances of impressing clients down the road. Remember – you only get one chance at a first impression!


Tell the World

tell the world

Creating your portfolio and posting it to your domain isn’t going to guarantee that clients will be beating down your door to hire you. You’ll need to make use of the many web-based tools and social media platforms to draw people into the portfolio you’ve worked so hard to create. Post a link to your portfolio on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn profiles. Get your work out there on Tumblr, Dribbble, and Forrst. Also include a link to your portfolio in the signature of your emails. You never know when someone you email just happens to need a good designer!


This is by no means an exhaustive list of everything that makes for an awesome portfolio. So if you’ve come across any inspiring portfolio designs or have some tips of your own to share, be sure to let us know by leaving a comment below. Also be sure to check out the awesome features and pre-made templates we offer. You can start designing your portfolio for free.

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Photo Credits:

To Do List by Mufidah Kassalias via Flickr Creative Commons

Online Marketing Signpost by Stuart Miles via

Enjoyment’s Interval by David Goehring via Flickr Creative Commons

Got Feedback? by Alan Levine via Flickr Creative Commons

Loudspeaker Sky by oinonio via Flickr Creative Commons


Erez is the online marketing director of IM Creator. Erez writes about web design as a business, online marketing, and website building tips.

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