Here at Oxide, we review student portfolios on a fairly regular basis, and I have some thoughts to share.
First of all, when you are not showing your work in person, you need to have your portfolio online. (This isn’t just because I’m a developer.) An online portfolio shows so much better than flipping through a bunch of pages on a PDF. And I would highly recommend against sending a potential employer or internship several individual files of your projects. The burden should not be on them – it should be on you, and you should be showing your work in the absolute best way that you can. (Not to mention that sending a URL is a lot less likely to get your application email caught up in a spam filter than sending digital file attachments.)
When you’re designing your portfolio site, remember that portfolios should be simple. Less is more.
You want your site to create a lasting impression that’s both clear and concise because your website says a lot about your design sense. It’s presenting you and your work from the moment the page starts loading. If design centers around problem solving, then the goal of your portfolio is to show your audience what you can do without distracting them. Your site demonstrates your understanding of layout, strategy, typography, color, information architecture, and user-experience design. All of this sets the tone/mood for the rest of your work.
A well thought-out site should stay out of the way of your work. A simple, clean design will do more for you than you think. Former Oxide employee Joe Sparano says it best:
Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
Here are a few simple overarching tips to bear in mind with your portfolio site:
- Pay attention to your alignment and grid structure.
- Demonstrate a firm understanding of typography through hierarchy, proper column length, readability, and legibility.
- Consider how your site will look on phone or tablet. Think through your breakpoints. Especially if you’re building yourself, think mobile first.
- Test load time. If your page loads slowly, how will people see your work?
I’m not saying that you need to become an expert code developer and build the world’s most custom portfolio site. With as many free or low-cost tools and templates as there are available, there is no reason why your coding experience (or lack thereof) should hinder your future career path.
Take the time and do it right – set up a proper online portfolio. It’s worth it. I promise.