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09.09.2015
Decisions! Decisions! What to put into a designer portfolio
The portfolio - your edited collection of work that is meant to showcase your skills and style for the world to see. In best case it contains work that you think is awesome or important. The keyword that is often neglected when putting together a portfolio is "edited". I have spent many hours with fellow visual creators discussing portfolio sizes and formats.

Personally I think the editing bit is just as important as the work itself. Why? Just take an honest look at your own attention span. Say you stumble upon a photography portfolio online. How many viewed pictures does it take for you to:

a. think "Not my cuppa tea.", move on and never think about the photographer again
b. fall in love and bookmark the site in your "awesome photography" folder

25 pictures? 10? 5? For me it's around 10. After that I get clumsy and might flick trough a few more pictures while thinking about where I'll be heading for lunch. What gets me really excited however, is when I am viewing a portfolio, arrive at the end of the picture stream and am disappointed that it's over so soon. The magic number that does this for me is around 10 (+/- 2). And when showcasing your work online isn't this exactly what you want to achieve? To exciting people but keep them interested enough that they are willing to come back or invite you in to get to know you?

Keep them guessing

Before ending up working as an online art director and a UX designer I studied what was my true passion: film. During my studies I worked on two feature-length documentaries that I did nearly everything on from writing to post-pro and which's productions I approached in a very dogma way. While photographing the film it is easy to fall in love with every little detail in the pictures such as visual coincidences and light reflections. However when viewing the raw footage this love starts to die off after about 37 hours of staring at a screen and transcribing. This is not because the job is tiresome or boring but because you start to realize that the time frame you have to:

- lure in the viewer and get him interested
- get the story told that the writer of the movie (in this case: also you) wants to get told

is very limited and endless loops of pretty waves reflecting in the sunset shot on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday because "The light was different EVERY SINGLE DAY & the world MUST see this beauty!" aren't really helping your story. This is why film editors are so important. During the editing process you try to identify the essence of what the scene is supposed to express, the essence of what you want your viewers to understand and know about. If done well you can happily enjoy the finalized scene even though you know that there are many more pretty pictures and interview bits lying around on the cutting room floor. It's a painful process at first but when you see what can become visible after the edit you know you are on the right path.

This experience has actually helped me with many decisions and one was how to design my portfolio. My current site has a tag menu. I chose this type of menu with three different client types and user stories in mind.

Advertisement agencies

often book me for projects based on previous work in similar fields that I have done and that are now part of my portfolio. Creatives working in large advertisement companies often specialize and work solely for a single client, their products and therefor specialize in an area of business. These clients will take a closer look at the business area tags provided in the portfolio.

Small and mid-sizes businesses

are on the lookout for freelancers or small businesses that can create whatever they need for an affordable price. These businesses are looking for someone who can make "websites" or a "mobile app" or whatever it is they need and those are the words they will be looking for.

Developer companies, new-media agencies

and other businesses that basically work in the same area I work in, are on the lookout for freelancers or small businesses that can get certain tasks of a process done that they know a lot about. They will be the users that can distinguish between tags such as "ui design" and "user experience".

The menu lets all three user groups sort the whole portfolio in a way that only shows content relevant to them. This has nothing to do with film editing. This is interactive media editing also known as user experience design but it allows me to show more than 10 pieces of work. I knew I needed to do this because I am lucky to have a very diverse client base. The film editing bit comes in when I have finalized a project and now must decide if it should go into my portfolio or if it will end up on the cutting room floor.

Brewing the essence punch


As Miss Moss and as a Geekette I work on many more project throughout the year then the ones that can be seen on my portfolio site. This is simply because not every project makes it into the portfolio. There are several reasons for that.

The design just isn't that interesting

Not every client wants something that excites me as a designer. This has nothing to do with the actual work I do for the client but maybe with their initial corporate identity. A designer's job is to visually communicate a certain message in a way that works best for the client and his target group. As a designer you are able to create a good design that doesn't necessarily appeal to your personal aesthetic taste. This is what distinguishes our design work from our personal art. However my personal understanding of aesthetics is part of the essence of my work, which is why projects that do not appeal to this do not make the cut.

The development isn't that awesome

So the design was ├╝ber-hot and exciting but viewing the site still doesn't make you happy? Sometimes the development does not represent the experience I had in mind. If I carefully plan out an experience that is not represented in the final version the project also doesn't make the cut because the user experience and interaction design are also part of the essence of my work. As a freelance designer there can be several reasons why you do not have the opportunity to get the "final cut" of a digital product but the decision if the projects makes it into your portfolio is all yours.

To be able to make the decision if a project is "portfolio worthy" you obviously have to be clear on what the essence of your work should be. The question that helps me define this is: what projects do I want to be doing in the future? Then I try and cater to the clients that are most likely to bring those projects.

The clearer you are on your traget group(s) the more likely you are able to cut out projects that are not interesting. For all the other projects left that could make the cut choose those that you like the most and don't be afraid to define what you like because that is part of the essence of your work.

photo credit: Film editing workstation via photopin (license)