Do you really want a portfolio?

Florens Verschelde

I see a lot of web designers (especially students and aspiring designers) ask, “do I need a portfolio?” The standard answer goes like this: “yes, you need one, it’s the standard tool for self-promotion in the Web design industry”. True enough, but this is answering the wrong question.

Let’s suppose you have a well-designed portfolio showcasing great work. Even if it’s good, it might be sending the wrong message about you. Typical portfolios only present the end result of a designer’s work and put huge stress on graphic design (vs, say, interaction design). Some designers feel that portfolios can only showcase the tip of the iceberg:

To be honest, I find it pretty sad that some of the most important parts of my job as a product designer get obscured by the visual part of it. Conceptualizing, sketching, discussing, prototyping, iterating, documenting, testing… and in the end everything is reduced to a portfolio.
Alberto Calvo

So the more interesting question here is: do you actually want a portfolio? Is it the right tool for you? Is it sending the message you want?

Paraphrasing my answer to Alberto: if you feel that way, don’t publish a portfolio. If you don’t want to put the focus on the work rather than on graphic design or the finished product, then write about the process. Show different stages of work. Discuss design decisions. Do it as formal case studies or short posts or highlights or in any other way (it’s likely that there are communication forms to be invented or developed here, especially if you want to reach non-designers).

Many designers do that already, but they do it on the side. You hit their domain name and you get a portfolio, plus a “blog” link somewhere in the navigation. That’s okay if you just want to tweet the occasional blog post to your designer friends, but you can’t put the primary focus on the design process like this. If you don’t want prospective clients or employers focusing on the finished graphics, you need to kill or completely transform your portfolio.

Of course it all depends on what you want to say, who’s your target audience, what’s your communication strategy. If a classic portfolio fits your strategy, great. If a portfolio is the wrong message, then don’t create (let alone publish) that message.