I’ve worked as a freelance illustrator and producer of imagery for much of my working life and during this time have created a huge amount of work that sit within a few categories and styles, ranging from hard-edge line work to photorealistic CGI. I’ve had a web site since 1992 and have always had the same dilemma, how much of my work do I show and how do I make the most of my portfolio site.
There always seems to be a tricky trade-off between showing too much work and having potential clients run away scared at the idea of looking at so much content, juxtaposed with being so minimalist that you don’t give the visitor a clear idea of what you are capable of.
I have traditionally taken the ‘show loads’ approach just to show off what I can do. Recently however I’ve decided to reign in the amount of work that I put directly in front of the client whilst keeping a large archive available for browsing and searching. I thought that it may be useful to write this blog entry to examine the rational behind the decision and to clarify my own thoughts on the matter.
How much is too much?
‘How much is too much?’ may not be relevant to you as a creative. You may have one distinct style and don’t work within too many fields and therefore maybe a single page portfolio with fifteen or so images may suffice. But what, if like me, you get to produce imagery destined for many markets and in several styles, 3d CGI, motion graphics and Illustrator-based line work for instance. You may find yourself thinking about how to appeal to art editors of magazines, art directors of design companies and communications or marketing companies and their many requirements. All may have different expectations.
My own experience teaches me that many of my clients are happy to have lots of imagery available. In particular I find that art editors within the editorial and publishing sectors like to see lots of choice. I will often get a commissioning email containing a few images copied from my site to show what they are looking for or as a style guide. On the other hand occasionally, and particularly from corporate clients, I have had comments about my earlier sites being too busy, and ‘why can’t we search the site?’. The answer to this latter question lay simply in the fact that I wasn’t using a database to store the work, I was merely using a large sorted folder structure and had no means of implementing a search easily nor of commenting on the images. This folder-based method lead to many difficulties and duplication of imagery – not a happy situation.
After much deliberation I decided to take the plunge and redesign this site using WordPress as a basis. This allowed me to address many of the problems that had been inherent with my older sites. Now I have search facilities and a good database structure. After launching the site I put out a general request to several of my LinkedIn groups to take a look and let me know what they thought. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of feedback that came back to me, and most of it was very positive. One kind person even proof-read my entire site and sent loads of comments – thanks Lori, I am very grateful. A few people thought that I was presenting too much which had the effect of getting me to reduce the number of images in each of the ‘At a Glance’ categories. Many however commented that they felt it was a clean and efficient design that showed a large body of work well. Asking your peers what they think is an exercise that I would encourage anyone who is creating a new portfolio site to undertake.
Asking your peers what they think is an exercise that I would encourage anyone who is creating a new portfolio site to undertake.
Of course it goes without saying that you only show your best work. Showing everything regardless of quality won’t do you any favours and will inevitably put prospective clients off without delay. Burying your portfolio deep in your navigation structure will also put people off. So what do we do to grab attention immediately and then allow the client to find what they want fast and turn that into a commission?
How much you actually show is highly dependent on what you do and what you are trying to sell. However there are a number of points that should be considered when trying to make your work stand out:
1. Make sure that there’s always something to give an idea of what you do on the landing (or home) page. Use a slider or small portfolio so that work can be seen right away. Use your best work and imagery to show what you do. I tend to update my homepage slider with recent examples and a couple of my styles on a regular basis.
2. Make it easy and obvious how to get to the main body of portfolio imagery if its not on the home page.
3. If you (like me) do have a lot of categories/styles make them easily navigable and don’t overdo the examples for each category or style. WordPress has become a fast and useful platform for portfolio sites and I would highly recommend considering it if you have a lot of content. Many themes allow fast sorting of categories making it possible to see all your imagery without leaving the page. Of course you also have the added bonus of built-in blogging and social networking facilities built in to your theme.
4. If you have tons of work then consider a searchable archive so that clients can search and find imagery, but not have it all in there face.
5. Have lots of Tags or Keywords associated with the images.
6. Finally, try and make your site responsive so that it works well on all devices (mobiles, tablets etc).
I continue to learn and experiment with all of these considerations and undoubtedly this site will change yet again at some point in the future. For now, I am happy!
Sign up to my Newsletter…
Sign up to my Newsletter
Sign up for occasional news, tutorials, articles & freebies.