What makes a great creative portfolio site? Part one – The Basics

7 January 2015

Here at It’s Nice That we spend a lot of time looking at creatives’ websites, and over the years we’ve learned an awful lot about what we think works particularly well when it comes to presenting yourself and your work online.

Now we’re teaming up with well-known website-building tool Squarespace to investigate how to make the most of your online presence. Over the course of four articles we’ll be looking at different elements of effective creative websites using some real-world examples of people we believe get it very right. This week we’re kicking off by looking at some of the basics…

First Impressions

It’s a cliche to say first impressions count, but like so many cliches it’s built on hefty foundations of truth. As soon as someone lands on your page – whether that’s a commissioning editor, an art director, a potential employer, a journalist or just someone who’s keen to see your work – they’re going to start making certain judgments, be that consciously or sub-consciously. It’s really important to think about what initial impression you’re making. Does it fit with the rest of the site? Does it fit with what you want people to think about your work? Is it easy to navigate? If people don’t come through to the homepage can they find their way around? What about visitors on mobile or tablet? All these things need thinking about and can make a massive difference.

Sam Hart, of the highly-respected Blink Art agency, says: “I’ve heard that people tend to judge an artist site within the first five seconds of landing, so the best work should be the first thing you see, and you need to be able to make it BIG on the screen.”


Rachel King provides images front and centre straight away


Josh McKenna’s online portfolio is nicely organised


Occasionally you come across a site which really makes the visitor work to find out where things are and how to get around. Very occasionally that’s interesting or charming – for the most part it’s maddening. Usually people coming to a creative’s website want to see their work first and foremost. If this is hard to find, or difficult to make sense of then it puts up an immediate barrier. Then they may want to find out a bit about you, and/or get in touch. All these things are super-important and should be at the forefront of your thinking when building a site. “My favourite way of seeing work is in printed portfolios, so if a site can mimic that by being simple, immersive and extremely obvious to navigate, I will look through all of it,” Sam says.


You’re a creative right? You make great images right? So show us the ruddy images! It’s always strange to have fight to get to actually see anything. Also be loud and proud; it’s great to see large images wherever possible and there are ways to guard against people nicking them if that’s a concern (such as watermarking or not making them drag-able).


This can be a tricky one but on the whole it’s nice to get a bit of a sense of what someone’s like when you visit their site. Some people are brilliant at putting this across in either the copy or the design but the key is not to try and force it. Creative sites that read like breathless dating profiles can be a little, um, weird.


A project on the Hey Studio site


Rachel King’s About Page

About pages

These come in all shapes and sizes and range from massively-detailed CVs to gnomic, jokey claims and musings. We’d suggest the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. It’s nice to know where someone is based, where they studied, how long they’ve been working and what they specialise in. It can be great to see a condensed client list as well. Huge artist’s statements can be problematic so if you are desperate to have one then maybe give it its own section. Press is good but we’d prefer to see links to that coverage rather than just a list of publications.

Social Media

Great to include it if it’s relevant but again think about if people need to see it. For example if you spend all your time slagging off clients on Twitter maybe don’t link to your Twitter account? Actually maybe just don’t slag clients off in public, but you see the point. Equally if you only use Instagram for soft-focus shots of your half-clothed beloved, or your LinkedIn is five years out of date there’s probably no need for it to be on your portfolio site. But it can be great; Sam says she often looks at an artist’s Instagram “to build up an idea of their tastes and influences.”


Josh McKenna’s About Page

The second in our series of features will be out next Wednesday, 14 January. If you want to get started on your new site now though, head over to Squarespace and use the offer code ITSNICETHAT to get 10% off!

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Squarespace makes it easy to create a unique and beautiful website that looks perfect on any device. Whether it’s for a simple landing page or robust eCommerce, some of the world’s most influential people, brands, and businesses choose Squarespace.

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About the Author

Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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