Raise your hand if you’ve ever suffered from “designer’s block”
Everyone knows what a writer’s block is.. but designer’s block is less discussed among the general public — or among designers themselves.
Designer’s block is when you have no idea what to design, no inspiration, and not the slightest idea how to start tackling the design challenge you have at hand.
There’s all kind of fun advice on how to tackle the designer’s block. And most of those focus on chasing the elusive inspiration. “Go for a walk” or “go to a museum.” All this is valid and can help if you know what you want to create.
But what about when you are 100% blocked, no idea what to start creating?
How to repel the designer’s block and always know what you should create?
My advice is: it’s not time to get creative, it’s time to get strategic.
What I mean by this is: there’s no point chasing inspiration if you don’t have a clear idea what you need to create. And to get the winning idea for what you need to create you need to look for the boundaries of your project.
If I ask you: “design me a logo, I have a coaching business,” this gives you too little information to understand what you need to design.
But if I ask you: “design me a logo, I have a coaching business and my clients are 20-30 years old first time moms who have difficulty of getting back to leadership roles at work after their maternity leave. The values of my business are: continuous improvement and momentum, emotional intelligence, and inclusivity. I want my brand to look and feel young, energetic, and fast moving — momentum without feeling hasty or being rushed. My slogan is: Big leaps towards your dreams. And while my brand is for young women and I want it to appeal to that demographic, it also has to feel credible and trustworthy because we are talking about people’s careers and livelihoods.”
Now you have much more to work on, right? You could start ideating: what are the colors that appeal young women? What fonts reflect credibility and maturity from the business side? What messages appeal to first time moms? What kind of design elements communicate constant improvement or forward motion and movement?
See how that works? We don’t go finding ideas aimlessly. We focus on the boundaries that define the focus for that design project, in this specific example: the brand strategy part.
Boundaries sound limiting. They can sound restricting. “But I’m a designer, I’m creative, and I need freedom,” you may think. But even freedom can become a cage if you don’t know what you’re after.
How brand strategy can guide your design work?
This is especially important with branding. Not only do you need to tackle the designer’s block, you also have to ensure the visual identity correctly represents and reflects the business behind it.
The great thing about branding is that if you follow the branding process and draft a meaningful brand strategy before jumping on the design part, you will have all the boundaries and guidelines you need for creating an authentic and appealing visual identity. (Or if your client has the strategy done prior to hiring you to do the design work.)
If you’re not a designer, but rather building a brand for yourself (or if you just have no clue how to create a brand strategy), no worries the right process will get you going in no time. The thing is: brand strategy is business strategy. If you have a business and you have thought about your audience, your offering, your competitors, and so on, you have the beginnings of a brand strategy. It’s really very common sense if you just know what information to pull together.
And once the brand strategy is defined, it will inform your design work by telling you who your designs should attract, what kind of personality it should reflect, what kind of attributes your design elements should represent, and what metaphors your should consider (if any). It will give you a list of guidelines to reflect your designs and sketches against. And it will make your brainstorming easier and faster.
In this free training, I walk you through the branding framework I learned when working in branding agencies in San Francisco, CA and Helsinki, Finland. I’ve adapted the framework to accommodate first-time brand builders and solopreneurs. You can use this to build your own brand. Or start creating personal branding for clients.
In this training you will learn:
✓ The process for creating powerful brands — what to create, in what order, and to consider in each step
✓ What you need to create for an impactful brand strategy
✓ How that brand strategy feeds into a visual identity — and what is needed for a polished, professional visual identity
✓ How to form a meaningful and impactful brand messaging
In full transparency, I am also testing a new webinar software. So, you will have to sign up to see the training. My apologies for any inconvenience.
When it comes to branding, you definitely want to attract those customers who:
Value what you do
Understand that it’s a process
Are willing to invest in it.
Not all clients seem to understand this. Some clients want a bargain price branding thinking it doesn’t matter how much effort is put into building it. But you and me both know that a powerful brand is well-designed and built on a strong strategy.
So, how do you specifically attract the clients who value branding? To find out, watch this quick training on How to Attract Clients Who Understand The Value of Having A Strong, Well-Designed Brand?
You have to educate your clients
Designers are educators. And it seems our job is never done. If you want clients who value a strong, well-designed brand — and understand the effort that goes into it, you need to educate people about the value of a strong brand. Things that are self evident to us, may not be self evident to your prospective clients. Help them see the value in what you do.
The 4 things you need to get right to attract clients who value a strong, well-designed brand are:
The quality of your portfolio is directly tied to the quality of the work you get
The right offering
You need to be ready and able to create strong, well-designed brands
Speak to the right people
You need to know how to confidently talk about branding, and convincingly discuss the process to get the attention of those who are looking for this service
Educate your audience
To help people understand the value of branding you need to educate them about it. Not everyone understands why branding is important, it’s your job to help them see it.
Your portfolio is the most valuable promotional asset you have as a designer. It should represent you in a best possible way, and it should attract better projects and bigger clients. In this training, I will go over 10 tips that can help you immediately improve your design portfolio – ranging from beginner to advanced designers.
The topics in this training are:
Where to host your portfolio? How many images per project? How to order projects in your portfolio? What kind of projects you should have? [Part 01] What kind of projects you should have? [Part 02] What should you write about your projects? What should you say about yourself? Make it easy to contact you. How to make your projects look AMAZING? Should you place your rates / prices on your portfolio?
🔥BONUS🔥 How to show you’re ready for those lucrative, big projects? Check out the list and start working on your portfolio.
How many times have I heard someone without an art or design degree say: “I’m not creative, I couldn’t do x, y, z?” …probably countless of times.
It seems to be a common misconception that creativity is reserved for the so called “creative professionals” such as art directors, copywriters, designers, or fine artists.
After doing creative work daily for over 15 years, I can assure you that creativity is a process just like any other with the goal to get stuff done.
During my years as designer, I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the brightest and most creative minds in the user experience industry in San Francisco.
Nervously, I would check their backgrounds on LinkedIn and saw that they had been designers at Nasa, Adobe, and Apple; the Director of Product Design at Facebook; Lecturer at Stanford. Authors, founders, awardees — you name it, they accomplished it.
While nervous, I was also excited, because working with these amazing people I would get to witness their magic. Surely, they had some special creativity — a secret if you will — that made them such good creatives. And if I was lucky, some of it would rub on me.
Each of these design superstars indeed had their own special talent. One was an inspiring leader, another amazing visionary. But when it came to creativity, there were no shortcuts to be found: it was mostly pure hard work and finding inspiration when it was lost.
There was no cutting corners, just getting your hands dirty and getting stuff done.
Time after time, I found that success was a result of a proven process, working hard, and an ability to eloquently justify the design decisions to designers and non-designers alike.
First, I was underwhelmed and slightly disappointed because I had been expecting something magical. And when I realized it wasn’t “magic,” when I saw it was something that can be achieved by working towards it, I felt flustered.
Soon, however, I started to realize that this was a good thing. No, it was a great thing. Because it meant that I can work towards becoming more creative in my process, as well. And I can help others get there, too.
Understanding that creativity is not some special innate quality only reserved for a small design elite has helped me improve my own design process. And it has given me more confidence that anyone can find creativity in their daily work.
And even on days when I don’t feel particularly great about my design work, I won’t get discouraged, because I’ve seen over and over again that creative results will emerge from the process.
Now, when I hear people make the “I’m not creative” comment I tell them “Sure you are, everyone is, you just need to work at it.” Below you can find a list of things I find helpful when I need to find that creative spark.
How to move forward when you don’t feel creative:
Don’t wait for an inspiration. Get to work, start your process. While a part of your process might be finding lost inspiration, don’t let it drag for too long.
Find and look at beautiful and professional designs. When you see something great, try and analyze why it works, why is it great. The idea is not to steal other people’s work, but to learn from it and get ideas.
Get out all ideas, even the bad ones. It’s good to get it on paper and out of your system. Sketch out all iterations. If it’s in your head, get it out on paper. Others can’t see inside your head.
Don’t be afraid of bad or silly ideas. They might be bad or silly just in your mind. Someone else might think they’re actually great ideas.
Talk with other people, share your ideas and your work. Ask for feedback and listen. It is ok to show and discuss unfinished work and ideas. Your goal is to produce good work — and others can help.
Just get to work. Don’t wait or postpone, get something out on paper right now.
34 Tips for nurturing daily creativity:
Take a walk, step outside
Get enough sleep
Draw when you take notes
Doodle while you listen
Draw for fun
Carry a small notebook and be ready to write down any ideas
Keep a note book on your nightstand
Dictate ideas to your phone
Clean your house
Clean your desk
Read or browse art books
Read a design magazine
Start a Pinterest board called “inspiration” and pin inspiring images
Brainstorm ideas using post it notes
Draw mind maps that explain your ideas
Ask yourself “in a world without limitations, how would this problem be solved”
Wear something unexpected or let your child pick your clothes
Or instead wear the same thing every day for a week
Learn new art form or craft
Paint with finger paints
Sculpt with play dough
Do an active listening exercise with 2 friends where you tell them your challenge (5 min) and then they discuss with each other for 15 minutes about potential solutions and then present their best ideas (10 min) for you
Create a visual mood board for your idea or project
Visit a museum
Sketch a storyboard to visualize your idea
Play in the sandbox
Spend time with animals
Try to explain your creative challenge to a 5 year old
Ask yourself “in a world where I had unlimited confidence, how would I solve this problem”
Take a nap
Disconnect from your phone and computer
Create a matrix of solutions: 4×3 grid where each column represents a potential solution and each row a different way of doing it
If you haven’t already done so, come check out our free Facebook group DIY Brand Design & Strategy for Soulpreneurs where I teach soulpreneurs like you to build their own branding and create their own designs.
One of the most common questions I get from non-designers is “how do I know when my design is good enough to publish?” People seem to think that there’s some magical gut feeling to tell you that “wow, now it is ready and amazing.” The truth is, even experienced professional designers, prone to strive for perfection, use checklists and cheatsheets to define when a design is final and “done.”
A mentor once told me: “digital product is never truly done because you can tweak it forever.” This is both good and bad. It is good because if you made an error or found out something new that has an impact on your product, you can go and improve your design and re-publish. But it can also be bad because most of the times you have deadlines and goals. And actually, perfection is not desired nor does it even matter. Good design is what matters. And that is what I am going to help you achieve.
So, how do you know when your design is good enough and ready to be published? It depends on the design you’re creating, but let’s assume that you’re creating design assets for your brand. Below I’ve created two cheatsheets (logo and layout) to help you evaluate whether your design is good enough to be published.
Logo is a tough one to evaluate because there are so many things that can make a logo successful. And not all of those things are directly visible in the design. In any case, I will list questions you should ask yourself before you declare your logo ready:
Does the metaphor or your logo symbol reflect your offering, mission or vision, or a signature process you may have? Essentially, does the metaphor either depict what it is you sell or who you are?
Does the aesthetic reflect the personality or your brand? You will need you brand personality defined before you can assess this.
Do the colors align with your brand guidelines? You will need to have your brand design system built for this step.
Is the aesthetic appropriate for your ideal customer?
Does the logo (physically) scale well to different sizes? This is the most common issue I see with logos created by non-designers — and well, by professional designers as well. If the size contrast between logo elements is too big (some elements are much bigger than others, typically graphics vs text), the logo won’t scale well to small sizes that are often used on mobile version of your site, in the corner of your instagram post, or on a business card. This is because when the larger elements in your logo are appropriately small for the use, the much smaller elements (typically text) have become illegible.
Are there elements in the logo that can easily become a standalone element and that can be used for an app icon, on a clothing tag, as a social media profile picture, etc? This one is optional. If you are a service provider and know that you have no need for a standalone element, then you can ignore this one.
Are the texts legible? In large sizes? In small sizes?
Are the graphics clean and clear? No pixelation visible, edges are crisp/clean unless the style requires otherwise
Do you own the copyright to the design of your logo[important] If you hire a freelance designer or an agency, make sure that it spells out in the contract that you will own the rights to the design of your logo. I’ve heard about cases where there has been confusion who actually owns the copyrights. And I even know about cases where the designer tried to deny the business owner from making changes to the logomark due to the rights of the graphics not being transferred to the business owner in their contract.
Is the design timeless? This one is my personal preference to add. Ideally, your logo will stand time and you don’t have to redesign it too often. If your brand becomes successful, your logo will start accruing value in recognizability and customer loyalty. And you want to keep that.
Layout design is a bit easier to evaluate, but there are also more variables you have to consider. Below I list some general rules that can be applied to almost any layout design. Not all rules will necessarily apply in your case. And some of the things below will only apply to text heavy documents with lots of body copy).
Is all the required content included in the layout? This sounds super boring, but is actually very important to check. Did you remember to include everything you need to? The only thing worse than having a bad layout design is missing some important content content.
Is the content hierarchy immediately clear?Will the reader know where to start from and how to proceed? Hand in hand with this goes: are you prioritizing the right things in your content? This is more about content strategy, but it does affect the design as well.
Are you using a consistent grid? This will affect the alignment of items on the page. Do the items align well and consistently (especially left edges in the left-to-right reading countries)?
Are you following the rule of thirds? The most important elements are placed according to rule of thirds to create interest and balance.
Is the visual style of the layout consistent and unified? Do you use header and body styles for your text consistently? Do you have consistent image style and cropping?Are you using colors consistently? When in doubt, use color sparingly and only add one or two colors in addition to black or dark grey.
Are your font choices appropriate? For example, don’t use Comic Sans or a script font for a business document. If you have brand guidelines, use the fonts that were specified there.
Are you pairing fonts appropriately? Rule of thumb is: don’t combine more than two different typefaces (fonts), and pair together sans serif and serif. When in doubt, use only one typeface and select one that has a good selection of different weights and styles (e.g. light, medium, regular, bold, semi-bold, etc.). Then use the different styles and weights of that one typeface to create hierarchy, balance, and visual interest.
Are your type sizes age appropriate? Don’t use tiny mouse type if your audience is elderly people.
Are your type sizes appropriate for the selected font? Don’t use a script font in small sizes because it won’t be legible. If you’re in doubt, test it. Show your layout to few people and ask “can you read that?”
Do you have appropriate amount of content per page? Don’t over stuff your pages with text. Breathing space (the notorious “white space”) helps reader to focus themselves to what is coming next.
Are your columns the appropriate width? 9-12 words per column is recommended for English language. You can adjust the word amount per row by adjusting the type size or the column width.
Do you have appropriate amount of margins around your layout? Will people be printing this? Are they going to put it in binder? Is it going to be viewed on a mobile device? All these things will affect the margins.
Is your imagery appropriate for the topic and audience?
Are the images high enough resolution for the size and purpose (print vs digital)?
Are important details like dates, prices, and contact info easily found?
Do you have a comfortable balance between large and small elements on the layout? Visual interest and balance can be created by combining large and small elements. For example, most successful web landing pages out there will have one really large element (typically the featured hero image), a few medium sized elements (the offerings or services), and a few small elements (social media icons, contact info/links, navigational items). This is especially important for poster style layouts such as flyers, (visual) social media posts, and well, posters.
Have you thought of all different types of readers? How does your layout design serve and support someone who has: Two seconds to glance? Two minutes to browse?Two hours to sit down and read everything carefully?
There you have a few things to check form your design, when you’re having difficult time deciding whether your design is good enough to be published. Let me know what you’re working on in the comments. And check out our facebook page for more design tips: https://www.facebook.com/dlycreative/
Design is becoming more accessible for masses with easy to use online design applications like Canva.com. This is great for solopreneurs and, really, anyone who has just started their business and can’t afford to (or don’t want to) invest in hiring a professional designer. Canva.com is so easy to use, and has many well-designed free templates, that it really does make creating brand and marketing assets a breeze. However, I still often get questions on how to take advantage of Canva templates and how to choose the right template for your needs. So, I put together this post to help you assess the templates and pick just the right one for your leadmagnet.
How to find and apply templates in Canva
Canva’s design workflow has been built around choosing the right template. You can either start from “Your brand” section and select the “Templates” tab as shown in the image below. You will get a selection of templates to choose from. It may feel overwhelming for a moment as there are so many to choose from. By taking a closer look at the template’s thumbnail, you can see what the template is tailored for (e.g. Instagram post, Poster, Presentation). For a beginner, it is a good idea to select a template that has been designed for the same purpose you’re building an asset for. On the thumbnail, you can also see how many people have “liked” the template. The higher the amount of likes is, the more likely the template layouts are versatile and well-designed. But the likelihood of other people using the same template also goes up.
The other way to access templates is to click on the “Create a design” button on the top left corner. This will take you to a page where templates are grouped by categories based on the use and purpose of the template. See image below. This is the approach I like to use as it supports the way I think about starting a new project (e.g. I need to design a “How to” document pdf.)
Let’s say you are making a How-to guide or a cheat sheet as your leadmagnet and you want it to be a letter sized document, and it will likely have multiple pages. Choosing to create a document from the “Create a design” view will open an empty document where you then need to apply a template from the template library. When you are browsing the templates in the library, one important thing to check is how many layouts are included in the template. The more layouts there is the more versatile the template is.
What makes a good document template
Whether a template is a good fit for your document really depends on your intended use. We already defined you wanted to create a multipage, letter-sized pdf document. That already excluded other types of templates (e.g. poster or flyer). Now, whether there are enough layout options in the template for your leadmagnet, depends on how much and what type of content you have. You’re going to want to have all your content written and created before you start laying it out in Canva. This is how professional designers typically operate, as well. They request to have all of the content before they start the design work, so they can get a holistic view of the content types and what needs to be done. Good design supports the flow of the narrative and you cannot create that without all of the pieces of the puzzle on the table. That being said, things will change, and edits will happen. And that is ok, it’s part of the process. Just try to have as much ready as possible, as it will help you choose the right template.
Having your content ready also allows you to evaluate the layouts and compare them to the types of content you have. You want to find one that matches as closely as possible. This is not to say that you cannot customize the templates and create new layouts or layout elements. But for beginners it is much easier, if the template already has as many as possible of the needed layouts and elements. Let’s say your content is sectioned off into few different sections and includes some large images and a couple of quotes. What you’re going to want is a layout with multiple header styles for hierarchy, large image area at least on one layout, and a predefined quote style. You could create all these styles yourself, but having them built into the template makes your work much quicker.
Have all your content ready before selecting a template. Compare the layouts and elements to your content and select a template that has styles defined to as many as possible of your content types.
Another good thing to consider is the amount of text. How much does your leadmagnet have so called “body copy” (the text forming the main content). Most document templates will have a style for body copy out of the box, but if the template was tailored for a photo heavy document it may not have multiple layouts with different options for how the body copy could be set. See the examples below. The left template works well for content that is image heavy. And the template on the right works well for content that is text heavy. With the template on the right, you have many options for how you’d like your body copy to flow: one column with an area to add image(s), two columns with background image, two columns with smaller image, and even three columns with rather large image. When choosing the amount of columns, remember that one wide column with small text can be burdensome to read. The typographic rule is: 9-12 words per line is ideal, more than 12 words on a line can become tedious to read. That is a good goal, but I think you can get away with a couple more words if your text flows nicely and is easy to read. If you want, you can adjust the amount of words on the line by either making the type size larger or changing the width of the column.
For beginners, it is a good idea to try and find a template that already supports your brand personality, at least to some degree. The templates were designed with some tone of voice and feeling in mind. If you can find one that matches well with your brand, it’s always easier to have to do less customizations. But if you have a bit of experience with Canva or creating designs in general, you can fairly easily change the tone of the design by changing colors, fonts, graphics, and imagery.
One last thing to consider is: will your audience be printing this document? If you are creating something you’d like your audience to be able to print, consider adding less images and color for easy printability. You might even consider doing just a black and white document to ensure it prints nicely for everyone. If imagery is not necessary for your document, you can find some nice typographic layouts.
Happy designing! For more design tips, news, and FREE trainings, subscribe to our newsletter. And be sure to like our facebook page where you can share your designs and ask feedback and design tips from our Daily Creative community.
As a young designer, it is difficult not to feel deep ownership to your work. In general, ownership is good. It makes us take initiative, move forward, and take pride for our work. In design, however, this concept can get tricky. Unless you are a fine artist or create designs just for yourself, your designs are never really yours. Yes, you made them. But someone else is going to have to use them. Unless you are your own audience, which is rather rare in design work, you create designs for someone else. This also means your success depends on whether or not this someone else, your audience or the user of your product, likes what they are getting.
Regardless of the length of your design experience, it is hard to hear your design sucks. You may have created the most beautiful thing, but maybe you misunderstood something in the brief or it failed the usability tests. In any case, it sucks to miss the mark. The difference between a rookie and a leader in this situation is that a leader is ready to “kill her baby” and go back to the drawing board without having her feelings hurt. A rookie might feel offended, become defensive, and pushes back to the idea of having to start again. The truth is: no one cares how hard you worked on it, except maybe your mom. So, you will always need to be ready to do it again.
Tips for not feeling possessive about your designs
1. Redefine what “success” means to you
When this happens — and it will happen — it may help to redefine what “success” means to your design. If you keep in mind that you are creating something usable and delightful for a target audience (not for yourself), it is easier to accept that their experience defines whether your designs are successful or not.
2. Feedback is part of your journey
Understand that reviewing and testing designs are essential steps on the journey to a good product/design. The earlier you start testing and getting feedback, the likelier it is that you will be creating something successful and useful. It is expected that you’re going to have to change many things along the way, so accept that right from the start. And the earlier and rougher designs you test, it is much easier to accept the failure and start again because you haven’t yet invested too much time and (your heart and soul) in getting the details just right.
3. Take a deep breath
When you receive constructive feedback, from stakeholders, peers, or your target audience, your first reaction might be to immediately explain yourself and defend your design. First, take a breath and keep listening. Sometimes, it is essential you explain why you did what you did so that people can react and apply their approach accordingly. This is especially applicable when you’re in a design review with your peers or manager. But when you’re dealing with your customer or other stakeholders, it might be better to just listen.
4. Ask questions
I cannot bring this one up often enough. When faced with negative or constructive feedback that was unexpected ja you feel stunned, ask questions. Ask if they can give you more details on what they just said. Ask if there was anything they’d have any ideas or recommendations on how to solve the issue. For one, this changes the dynamic to more conversational and reminds everyone that you are on the same side trying to create something together, rather than opposing parties. Secondly, it gives you the details you need to adjust your designs to become successful. And thirdly, it gives you more time to adjust, steers attention away from you and towards your designs, and portrays you as a leader who is interested in getting things right.
5. Focus in the learnings
Before each feedback and review session, remind yourself that part of the design process is continuous improvement — of yourself and your designs. You need to find out what is working, because only that way you can improve it. Hearing how great your designs are does not help you improve them, only the criticism does. So, focus on finding out what you can improve. And remember, each review will teach you something valuable that you can add to your design toolbox. So, tell yourself that it is not only an opportunity to improve your designs, but your design skills, as well.
6. Focus on your portfolio
As a designer, your portfolio is your biggest calling card. It is the single most important tool you have for finding work and new opportunities. Designers of all age and experience should be updating, fine-tuning, and improving their portfolio continuously. So, whenever you are designing something, the NDA permitting, it may end up in your portfolio. And your goal as a designer should always be to have the best projects in there. Take every design review and test as an opportunity to get the feedback you need in order to create something you can be proud of and include in your showcase.
As a designer, your portfolio might be the single most important tool you have to help showcase your talent and land a job in your field. In most job openings for design positions, there is a request to send along a link to your online portfolio. And when it is not explicitly spelled out, if the position requires you to create designs, it is often simply expected that you have an online portfolio to share. If someone is hiring a designer they’ve not worked with before and is not interested in seeing the applicant’s portfolio, I would proceed with caution. To me, this would be a sign that the person — or the company — does not value design or the design process enough to check the quality of the applicants.
What goes into your portfolio?
The short answer is: your best work. But it is not as simple as that. A good portfolio will not only attract prospective employers’ and clients’ attention, but also communicates what your soft and hard skills, core values, and passions are. First and foremost, your portfolio is a selling tool that helps you promote your talent as a designer. But it’s also a tool that can help you ensure that you find your ideal employment opportunities or freelance clients — not just any old paying clients, the ideal ones. Tuning your portfolio to not just land you a job, but to land you your dream job is critical for your career growth and motivation. So, let’s begin.
The single most important portfolio advise I’ve had was: include in your portfolio the kind of work you want to do. This means if you are looking to design books, the vast majority (preferably all) of your portfolio projects should be about book design. If you’re looking to do UX, then your projects should be about UX. If you’re looking to do branding, then you should include branding projects. You get the picture. The hiring managers who evaluate portfolios want to be able to compare your design work to the projects they would have you work on. They want to know if you are familiar with the process and understand what designing for their project requires. If they are looking to hire someone to work on a design system, they want to see if the candidate has already designed a design system — and how was the outcome.
The previous phenomenon goes beyond being a piece of advice, it can become an unintentional cycle of less-than-ideal jobs. Especially with young designers, the will to include every type of project and any side gig you’ve ever worked on is strong. In the beginning, when gaining real life working experience is critical, this might work for a while. But you have to be intentional of fine-tuning your portfolio frequently so you won’t miss your career goals. And remember, you can include personal and passion projects to your portfolio. Not all projects need to be client/professional work. We’ll get back to this a bit later.
Reveal your thinking and dazzle with quality
In the beginning of your career, it is tempting to include each and every project you’ve ever done in to your portfolio. But typically I would recommend showcasing 4-12 of you best projects depending on the depth and documentation. Four projects can seem like a scarce number, but if each of those is a thorough case study that showcases the process and outcomes in detail, then it likely is enough. And only choose your best projects: you are showcasing quality, not necessarily quantity.
Even if you cannot or don’t want to build detailed case studies of all of your portfolio projects, I would at least create one good one. Ideally this would be for your best project — your “crown jewel.” Having at least one project documented thoroughly is important because it is your opportunity to tell the story of that project from your point of view. The stage is yours to showcase the process, flaunt your skills, and highlight the areas of your expertise. If you have at least one, preferably 1-3, well-documented and detailed case studies, in your other portfolio projects you can show partial process. Showcase with 1-3 case studies that you understand and master the entire process, and then focus on the parts you most enjoy and excel at.
Case study can be one of the tools that help you to strengthen or course-correct your career path, if necessary. Do you want to focus your career more on the research part of the UX process? Emphasize the research part, discuss in detail what the process was like, what methods were used and why, what unexpected findings and insights were gathered and how those affected the design decisions. Do you want to move from logo design towards more strategic brand design? Don’t just show design sketches and the finished logo designs. Talk about the client motivation and needs for the (re)brand, their positioning in the market place, the inspiration for the designs, and how the system scales for the client’s known needs — and potentially the unknown needs, as well. Talk about how the brand you helped to create enables the client to achieve their goals, and the customer of the client theirs. Most importantly, explain you thinking behind your designs — regardless of you design focus. This is what makes you unique as a designer.
Let the work shine (and make it easy to find)
My pet peeve with designer online portfolios are those large greeting areas (“Hi, I’m Jane and I am xyz..”) that take the entire viewport or separate landing pages that don’t showcase any work yet. While your personality is an important part of the hiring decision, if you don’t have the right skills, you won’t even be considered for the position. Design focused recruiters and hiring managers, especially in large companies, look at portfolios on a daily basis. When an interesting position is open, they can get hundreds of applications and most will include a portfolio link. Time is money, and if they have to click around or scroll too long to find your work samples on your portfolio site, they might bounce without ever taking a look at your amazing designs. So, make the landing page about your work — whether it is about one project or all of them. Make it quick and obvious how to find your projects, and make it simple and easy to navigate between them.
While you absolutely want to design your portfolio well, don’t overdo it. The idea is to showcase you best work samples, so let those projects shine and give them all the attention and focus. If you add lots of extra design elements (that have nothing to do with your portfolio projects) they will quickly become noise that makes focusing on your work samples difficult. It is still possible to show personality and design preferences through type and color choices and other subtle ways. But even with those I’d be purposeful and keep in mind that your portfolio site will become the frame others look at your work through. The design choices for your portfolio site are more closely associated with your persona than your client work is. If you are certain that you want to work for punk rock music makers and producers, then go for it and style your portfolio site for attracting those opportunities. But if you don’t have strong conviction and vision about your future employment yet, I’d keep the design just clean and simple until I’m there.
This is the first part of a multi part post series about building a design portfolio that can help you land a job. The goal is to help you define and focus you career and attract your ideal job opportunities.