Tips for Creating an Effective Online Design Portfolio

An online portfolio should present your image and capabilities flawlessly. Strategic planning and preparation will ensure a professional presentation. Creative designers need a place to showcase their work online. You could use an online portfolio service—many websites offer free and professional layouts—or you could make your own, with a personal touch, through which others will recognize you easily.

Starting your first online portfolio can spark many questions and anxieties. Your artwork reflects your personality and skill and must make an impression. The designs on your website will be scrutinized, so your portfolio should set a standard for what can be achieved in graphic design. Showcase your best work effectively and you will win over clients.

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Tips for Creating Your Ideal Portfolio

The tips we have put together for this post apply to all kinds of portfolios, no matter what field. An online portfolio is a quick and far-reaching way to market yourself as a designer. Even offline freelancers find that a website not only is expected by clients, but is a critical marketing tool.

A killer portfolio does more than showcase your work: it turns visitors into clients. Now let’s dive into some tips that will take your portfolio to the next level.

1. Define Your Audience

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The more precise you are about the kind of work you are looking for, the more likely your portfolio will elicit the desired response. If you are looking to land corporate clients, present them with work that is clean, marketable and professional.

Give them what they want to see. Focus the content of your portfolio on your target market.

Speaking to a target market allows you to differentiate your services from other designers, creating a distinct niche for yourself. It makes it easier to structure and design your websites because you’ll have a better understanding of who to cater to.

2. Emphasize Your Work

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Emphasize the work that you present on the website, not the design of the website itself. You may create a website that’s visually interesting and aesthetically appealing, but it needs to complement your work and make an impact on every potential client.

Clients must know immediately the specifics of your expertise. If you are a designer, you should describe what design software you have mastered and any certificates and awards you have received.

Additionally, provide a downloadable resume to make it easy for decision-makers at the client’s end. Make sure the resume is professional and updated. Include it alongside the other main navigation links.

3. Promote Your Work on Multiple Platforms

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

As we all know, there are no shortcuts to success, so start promoting your work on as many platforms as you can. Consider joining professional online communities and networking with other members. Submit your design to gallery websites or start a thread in a design forum. Almost any technique that can be used to promote a website can be used to promote your portfolio.

Many successful designers have added a blog to their website. The more traffic you can pull to your website, the more exposure your portfolio will get.

Promote your work by linking to it when you send emails. Include a link to your portfolio on your social networking profiles. Weave your portfolio into your communications and online identity.

4. Use Featured Content on Your Home Page

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Featured content has become an important trend on the web. Every online portfolio has its own style for displaying featured content on the home page. Large headers are often replaced with a logo. And many people allow for plenty of space on the home page for featured content.

Featured content attracts the attention of new visitors. Make sure your best work is seen at the top of your featured content section. If you are a designer or illustrator, your best piece should be clearly visible and accessible from the home page. For more about featured content, check out “Essential Guidelines for Featured Content in Web Design.

5. Focus on Your Best, Most Relevant Content

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Make sure your portfolio showcases only your best work, within the scope of your goals. If you want to redesign websites, then your portfolio should consist of this, not logo designs or print work that you’ve done. If you’re not targeting that kind of work, then don’t include it.

You’re free to decide what work to display in the portfolio menu, but if possible, keep it to a minimum. An online portfolio is a one-stop shop for all of your best work. Certainly some designers or firms will offer a mixed bag. If you would like to display a lot of work, make sure to categorize it by subject. Separate logos from websites, brochures and posters.

6. Keep the Layout Simple

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Companies scouting for a designer are looking for websites that are easy to navigate and attractive in layout. Passing this test often calls for clean lines and an effective use of white space. Remember that design isn’t always about fancy techniques: too many flashes and flurries can make a mess. Make sure that the images being used are precise in color balance, are clear and easy to load. Optimize your images to achieve this.

User experience is key to converting prospects to potential clients. Keep the following concepts in mind when working on your online portfolio:

  • Be careful with font families and sizes.
  • Be consistent: if your navigation is at the top on one page, make sure it’s at the top on all pages. Avoid confusing visitors.
  • Follow the 7±2 rule: chunked information should be presented in groups of five to nine; any more may overload the visitor’s short-term memory.
  • If something is important, make sure the visitor can get to it in a minimal number of clicks—three or fewer.

7. Use the Appropriate Technology

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Using the right kind of technology for your portfolio requires attention and careful planning. A few key factors to keep in mind are maintenance, navigation, compatibility and the content management system (CMS).

Make sure that your website can be accessed by a variety of users on different browsers.

Nothing is wrong with flashy graphics and fancy JavaScript effects, but they shouldn’t prevent users from accessing your portfolio. Here are some more tips:

  • Use CSS to style your content, and keep tags to a minimum.
  • Validate your (X)HTML.
  • Use a CMS for your website, or at least an XML file to feed new content.
  • Build your website to function properly before adding JavaScript bells and whistles.
  • Use non-intrusive JavaScript by employing a framework such as jQuery or Prototype.
  • From a maintenance point of view, simplifying your portfolio as much as possible will decrease the time you’ll have to spend upgrading or making changes later on. Consider how easy it is to add and remove portfolio pieces. The easier it is, the more likely you’ll update the portfolio regularly.

Choose between creating a static website and using a CMS. Single-page portfolios are really easy to update and an effective way to show your best work quickly. You’ll also have no issues with navigation, because there is only one page. However, this leaves little flexibility—you’re not leveraging the features that content management systems have for promoting your work, like a blog.

Navigation should be straightforward and uncomplicated on any website. The ability of users to view your portfolio is of paramount importance. A portfolio should sell your abilities to potential clients. Make sure those clients do not have to think too much to get from point A to point B. If they do, they’ll likely just move on to your competitors.

Your portfolio must stand alone as a website, even if it is connected to another website. Add a static navigation bar to the top of your home page that covers each section of the website’s content. This will make it easy for visitors to return to the home page.

To make navigating the website as clear as possible, you might break it into sections, such as “About,” “Portfolio,” “News” and “Contact.” Put these sections where they will be easily visible to visitors. Make your logo a link that leads visitors back to the home page. This not only helps with SEO, but makes navigation easier.

8. Initiate Contact With Potential Clients

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Make sure your calls to action are clear. Short, simple statements that stand out on the page will prompt potential clients to contact you. They can be as simple as a “Contact us today” call-out linked to your contact form. If you offer a call to action, clients are more likely to use your services. You could, for example, offer a 10% discount on orders received by a particular day.

Always try to reduce the number of steps the client needs to take to contact you. Guide potential clients to contact you through your website using a contact form rather than through email.

9. Provide Clear Contact Info

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This is the most crucial aspect of an online portfolio. Having an awesome online portfolio that showcases your great work and displays your resume, certificates and awards but stumps clients on how to communicate with you will make all your efforts go down the drain. Include a short tag like, “For more information:,” or a contact form. It doesn’t have to look great; as long as it’s clear how to obtain further information. If your clients have difficulty contacting you, they will likely walk away.

A contact information page is normally a requirement for any website. Take it a step further: put your preferred method of contact on every page and all of your contact information in the footer, including your work phone number. Some clients prefer an actual phone call to reading through a website.

10. Create a “Hire Me” Page

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A “Hire me” page should include all of the information normally listed on the “About us” page of a traditional website.

Link to your “Hire me” page from your website’s home page prominently. If you want to be hired, be bold and confident in the way you approach potential clients.

11. Include Testimonials

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Showing testimonials or a list of previous clients is a quick way to build trust with visitors. Many designers and artists overlook them, but testimonials put prospects at ease. Clients want to know not only that you’re competent in your field, but that you can meet deadlines and aren’t a bear to work with.

By all means, let your clients write a statement about your services and what it was like to work with you. You can link the testimonials back to the companies. It’s a win-win for you and your clients.

When in doubt, imagine a client’s perspective. Think about what frustrates you about other websites and portfolios, and position your website as the solution. You’ll be cursed with success!

12. Use the Benefits of SEO

instantShift - Tips to Create an Effective Online Design Portfolio

Some of you will be familiar with search engine optimization (SEO), but for those who aren’t, it essentially refers to methods that place your website higher in the ranking of search results for certain keywords.

If you can pull this off, you’ll get an automatic stream of prospective traffic without much work. For example, if you’re a logo designer working out of New Mexico, a potential client would probably search for “logo designer in new mexico.” By incorporating this string of words into your website as much as is possible, you will increase your chances of ranking high in search results. Unless there is plenty of competition for your keyword string, a few mentions should be enough.

This is perhaps the most cost-effective way to improve the volume of visitors to your website, because it does not cost a thing. A website with a top ranking on even a mildly popular term can channel thousands of visitors per month. Visit any SEO forum or article database and you can find hundreds of effective SEO tips and tweaks to apply to your website for free.

The people you’ll attract through this method are looking to hire someone on the basis of their portfolio. It’s easy to do and very worthwhile.


Set goals for your online portfolio and do reviews before and after you have launched it. Make sure you have achieved your purpose. Over time, when you have enhanced your portfolio’s content, it is quite possible you will become well recognized and respected in your field.

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  1. Disagree with: “you should describe what design software you have mastered.” This is meaningless jargonspeak to a majority of actual real world clients. The only people who will understand or care is other designers. Clients want to know what you can do, and how much it costs. They really don’t care what tools you use.

  2. Thanks for a helpfull post.
    I am now working with one of my clinet to make a Portfolio website for him. (in Odesk)Now i can make my work more better…


  3. Absolute brilliant tips

  4. That’s a nice article, thanks u.

  5. I agree with Senc,

    I believe the software you master is not relevant for the client, at least not so important to be included in a prominent area.

    The Curriculum could be important just for technic profiles (ie: programmer). For graphic designers, web desigers or illustrators, the portfolio is what really matters.

    Other than that, it was a nice reading.

  6. nice post

  7. Inspiring examples and great tips. Putting together a portfolio is hard for most. You want your best work out there but then you wonder if what you think is really good is actually really good. Self doubt is horrible. Luckily for me I just do what I do with no worries about other opinions. After all, each person’s art is their own.

  8. Nice post. thanks

  9. thanks for the tips…

  10. Wow, thanks instantshift and DKumar, this is such a useful article for me I’m very much into redesigning my personal online portfolio soon. Good thing I stopped by here today. Cheers mates!

  11. Thanks for sharing your talent Design Portfolio.
    Really nice work… :)

  12. Great article with wonderful tips.
    …Thanks for sharing!

  13. nice post

  14. I love this creative online portfolio, good blog post with details about portfolio.

  15. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he just bought me lunch because I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!
    Great write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s blog, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

    I’m really glad I have found this info. Nowadays bloggers publish only about gossips and net and this is actually annoying. A good web site with exciting content, this is what I need. Thanks for keeping this web site, I’ll be visiting it. Do you do newsletters? Cant find it.

  16. Thanks for the awesome tips. I also talked about these tips in my ebook.

    It’s important that young designers get these principles down pat before they start applying for jobs. It can make or break your career. Again, thanks for the tips, Cheers!

  17. useful Tips. I followed some of the tips. We have to keep some things in our mi9nd while we creating an online portfolio because it represents our work to employers.

  18. Thanks for giving us this useful information. Fantastic walk-through. I appreciate this post.

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