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Mexican studio Anagrama are masters of using in colour in their branding projects

Partnership / Squarespace Portfolio Advice

Our third online portfolio advice guide looks at copywriting for creatives

All this month we’re partnering with popular website-building tool Squarespace to look at creative portfolio sites and sharing some hints and tips about how to make the most of your online presence. The first two articles dealt with the basics, and explored documenting your work, and this week we’re turning our attention to copywriting.

Why are the words important?

You may feel that as a visual creative, the words on your website aren’t that important, right? Wrong. While it’s fair to say that your work is going to be the main thing visitors to the site are interested in – whether they want to work with you, commission you, write about you, represent you or just find out a little more about you – the text that appears on your site has a part to play in creating the overall impression readers take away. It may not be the deal-breaker but it’s a great way to re-affirm your creativity, professionalism and way of thinking. If you’re sloppy about the way you write about yourself, or your work, it can set alarm bells ringing.

Honesty is the best policy

This may seem like blindingly obvious advice but you’re going to get found out pretty quickly if you’ve told fibs on your website. By all means make the most of things you’ve done but outright porkies are a no-no and overplaying your role on certain projects or the impact your work had is a quick way to develop a bad reputation in an industry where word can spread quickly.

Honesty is also important in terms of giving people the full picture. “Credit other people who you worked with on a project and be clear about what part you played,” says Karen Jane, lead designer at Wieden + Kennedy London. “Being open in this respect is a good thing to do.” Rob Peart, senior art director of our sister agency INT Works agrees. “Outline what your role in the work was — if it was a group project (and let’s be honest, you can’t do anything without collaborating these days) then outline what your task was.”

Occasionally we receive irate emails after publishing work on itsnicethat.com from cheesed-off creatives who have seen their hard work and imagination go uncredited in an article – but this is often because we had no idea they were even involved!

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Mexican studio Anagrama are masters of using in colour in their branding projects

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Anagrama also set up neatly both the challenge contained within the brief and what they did as a result of this

What am I looking at?

Arguably the most important bit of copy on your site is the explanatory text that appears alongside individual projects. There are no hard and fast rules here about what you should include and what you should leave out, but there are a few general rules. Newspaper journalists talk about “the five w’s” – who, what, when, where and why – and it’s not a bad model to think about. Who did the work? What did it involve? When did it take place? Where was it seen? Why did the work take place?

Remember that visitors to your site are probably coming to the project cold and you need to make it as easy as possible for them to get their heads round it. These basics are therefore a good starting point. We’d particularly flag up the when and the why for extra consideration. It’s always useful to know what what stage of a creative’s career a particular piece of work was completed, to be able to put it in a wider context. Was this something very raw you did at art school? Is this the style you’re currently working in?, etc.

Similarly the why can be overlooked. Rob Peart says: “You should establish the context—what was the brief, what were you asked to do? What is the work supposed to achieve?” This is invaluable when looking at design work in particular. You can also follow that idea to its logical conclusion, to say how effective something was and/or what impact it had.

Keeping it concise

We don’t often fall back on the wisdom of 17th Century French philosophers but Blaise Pascal’s famous line is worth bearing in mind: “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” The point is that it’s a skill being concise and one that is much appreciated by time-poor creative professionals. Have a look at the copy on your site and think about every sentence, every word. Does it need to be there? Does it add something? Is it self-indulgent? It’s a good idea to run it past someone else as well; that killer line you think makes you look amazing might well be expendable.

Art director Lee Belcher, formerly of Wallpaper* and now co-founder of BAM London, puts it neatly when he says that “a paragraph about theories or ethics in design is not really going to change my mind about commissioning someone.”

Also think about offering more detail and insight for those who have the time and inclination to engage with that, but giving people an option. Bristol-based Fiasco Design do this nicely – the “Our Work” section includes a short informative write-off for each project but there are longer case studies for a real immersion into the way they work. In a further nice touch, Fiasco tell us roughly how long each of these will take to read.

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This is what Bristol-based Fiasco Design’s work section looks like

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But here Fiasco offer us more in-depth case studies

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An example of one of Fiasco’s in-depth case studies

Spelling and Grammar

Take it seriously. A very quick way to undermine confidence in you is to misspell the name of a magazine or a big commercial client you’ve worked for. Check everything thoroughly and again get a second pair of eyes on it if you can.

Personality

We talked about putting across personality in the first article in this series and spoke about that fine line between being interesting and being too wacky or try-hard. The same applies when it comes to copywriting. Some creatives (like Mr Bingo for example) are brilliant at pouring their personality into the writing on their sites but done badly it can be fairly off-putting at best, alarmingly unprofessional at worst.

One way round this can be a blog section; this comes with different expectations and can be a great way of putting across your interests, your inspirations and your personality away from the more pressured environment of the work section or about page.

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Photographer Jess Bonham has a nicely chatty way of talking about her work

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Photographer Jess Bonham has a nicely chatty way of talking about her work

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Illustrator Maggie Li is able to sum up her commissions using a pithy sentence or two

Sunday Times June 2013

‘My Dream Sunday’ is a new regular feature for a different illustrator every week in the The Sunday Times magazine. I was briefed by Sophie Dutton to create my perfect Sunday which in my case involves food and lots of coffee.

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Illustrator Maggie Li is able to sum up her commissions using a pithy sentence or two

Wired Magazine November 2012

An illustration for WIRED about the perils of cycling uphill and what techniques to employ for the smoothest ascent.

The fourth in our series of features will be out next Wednesday, 28 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!