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London studio Build documents its work excellently, such as this identity for Studio Aves

Partnership / Squarespace Portfolio Advice

Our look at creative portfolio sites continues – documenting your work

Throughout this month we’re examining what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creatives’ portfolio sites. In a series of four articles presented in conjunction with website-building platform Squarespace, we’ll look at a range of relevant concerns whether you’re designing your first ever site or looking to upgrade your current online presence.

Last week we began by looking at some of the very fundamental things that go into building a site, but this week we’re drilling down into something more specific – how best to document your work.

The Standard Disclaimer

Some creatives HATE the idea that they should think too much about documenting their work; it exists after all to do a job in the real world, not for the delectation of the blogosphere. Nobody’s saying that should take precedence over doing the actual design but rightly or wrongly it can and does make a big difference. Whether it’s a potential employer, an art director, an agent or a blogger coming to your site, taking the time to make your work look its best is well worth the effort.

That’s the nub of what we mean when we talk about documenting – doing it justice when it appears on screen.

Visual Sensibility

One of the aims of a creative portfolio is to persuade visitors of your visual sensibilities. This is the context in which you should think about documenting your work. On a simple level you don’t want to undermine the amazing work you do with shoddy or amateurish presentation. But more than that it’s a great chance to assert again how good your eye is – through composition, image selection, colour choices and clever creative touches.

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Build’s Wordplay work for Nokia was well-documented

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Build’s Wordplay work for Nokia was well-documented

What To Show

Perhaps the simplest element of documentation centres around what you actually want to show as well as how you’re going to do it. Karen Jane, lead designer at Wieden + Kennedy London has a neatly simple rule of thumb: “Get to the good stuff quickly,” she says. “Your site is like a shop window so show off the work you want to do more of. Curate your project selection to be the finest reflection of you, your craft, and your judgement. So if you have work that you aren’t 100% proud of just don’t show it. One rotten apple can taint the batch, and you really only need to show a few strong projects to get across what you do.”

She’s also a big believer in adding in personal projects as well as commissioned work. “It says a lot about you as a person and your passion for what you do beyond being a job,” she says. Rob Peart, senior art director at our sister agency INT Works agrees. “As a bonus, recruiters are looking for that little bit extra,” he says. “Show us your personal work, show some of those weird experiments you do on the side, no matter how scrappy.”

Consistency

It’s very odd to come across a site where each project has been documented in a different way. Consistency of presentation makes things much clearer for anyone checking out your work. Of course the downside of this need for consistency is that if after a few months you find a better way of documenting your work you need to go back and reshoot the older stuff, but we’d say that’s worth it in the long run.

Particularly in the design world, portfolios can be hugely varied and so it’s important to find a coherent way of showcasing your work across branding, web, print etc. Sometimes something as simple as a putting everything on the same background makes all the difference.

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

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The Nobrow publishing house has a clean, consistent way of presenting its titles

Make it easy for the viewer

We talked in the last article about the dangers of overcomplicating your site, and Lee Belcher, former creative director of Wallpaper* and now co-founder of BAM London, is very particular about how he wants to interact with work online. “I hardly ever use slideshows, I want to be able to control the speed at which I view the images,” he says. “I like thumbnails, as I can scan over and select images I want to enlarge. I also like big galleries of images, I find it a little frustrating when small numbers of images are grouped into lots and lots of albums/categories, as you constantly have to click in and out of folders. I also really like to see commissioned and personal work separated."

Context

Creative work is not – on the whole – designed to be viewed on a website. That being so it’s still surprising how often we find work that is not displayed in context. It’s great to see illustrations shown in situ on the magazine cover they adorned or alongside the article they were commissioned for, logos shown actually being used on stuff, art being shown in galleries. It’s great to enjoy the unadulterated visuals as well but it shouldn’t be an either/or choice.

On the other end of the spectrum while it’s great to see the bigger picture it’s also lovely to appreciate the small details such as the finesse of a die-cut or the gloss of a particular paper stock. And it’s a good idea to include some work-in-progress shots as well. Rob Peart says: “Show some of the development— it’s great to understand the working processes of potential recruits and collaborators, so development is fantastic to see. It also helps to contextualise the final outcome.”

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Illustrator David Biskup is very good at showing his work both on its own and in situ…

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…so on the newspaper page

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…and the website

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A Practice For Everyday Life also thinks carefully about showing work in situ

Photography

We can’t really stress enough how much we’d encourage creatives to take the time to photograph their work properly. Blurry, hasty iPhone snaps hardly say “serious visual professional.”

Think Video

“Over the past few years there has been a steady rise in the number of video case-studies of projects, or even full video portfolios, with the author sort of commentating over the top, audio or subtitled,” says Rob Peart. “This is fantastic, and you get a very clear narrative of the project and its development, as the film format forces you to construct a story. Whether you’re presenting work as a film or not, this is a great approach—give us the narrative of how your project developed.”

Videos can range from super-slick showreels from big studios to very short and simple affairs – maybe only ten seconds long – that show off one particular project. Below you can see Mark Prendergast and Mirko Borsche videos which are both good, but very different examples.

The third in our series of features will be out next Wednesday, 21 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!