My Tachyons Portfolio

A review into the current state of my portfolio and thoughts for the future.

My last blog post was an account of what I have accomplished in my portfolio journey and ended with some ideas about next steps.

Sample Tachyons page, on github.

At the time, I said I would try and create a design using Tachyons, a lightweight CSS framework. That sample page, pictured, is available on github.

I also wrote about fears using vanilla HTML/CSS, related to updates. I ended up going with DIY anyway. I still have that fear. I also wrote about using WordPress as a portfolio. I considered I installing WordPress in multiple folders and testing out different options.

 


Current State of My Portfolio

My portfolio is still at the same domain, but now it’s at a subdomain: alliwalk.com/ux. The reason is it gave me more navigation options rather than putting everything on the homepage.

I ended up using Tachyons for the entire site. It took a while to get decode the classes, which are a bit cryptic. I wrote some CSS, but not that much. I kind of missed writing it. But it was also a very interesting way to implement styles. And it looks pretty clean.

As I mentioned in my last post, one of the long-term strategies I had in mind for the site was to create more than one portfolio for my different interests, blogging, art/design, and UX. I got the idea of multiple portfolios after watching a YouTube focused on PDF portfolios for graphic designers.

This video is linked to the appropriate moment in time, or you can watch the relevant 40 seconds here

To alleviate one of my fears about updates, I created a landing page with nav links to each of my three interests. Now I can modify the link destinations, if I need to take a portfolio offline for some reason.

And finally, I did test a WordPress option, but it’s never as quick and easy at it seems. My portfolio went through a few versions, including PDF and a test in WordPress.

PDF Portfolio

Strategy: Some designers create their portfolio as a PDF to supplement their online portfolio. I’ve tried this before and I did not have good results. However, I thought that using my new font and style would help created compelling layouts. Plus, I needed something to point people to while working on updating my website.

Actions: I went through several iterations. I created PDF versions, which I created in Google Docs and Sketch. I attempted to use the J. A. Van de Graaf canon, popularized by Jan Tschichold, to lay out the content. I referenced the book Grids, by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris, for inspiration.


Aside: I could write a whole post on page layout, Tschichold, Van de Graaf, but instead I’ll just share a few short videos.


Review: I shared both versions as direct links or by uploading to Behance. I used both for job applications. Neither got me very far. So essentially, my previous experience was the same as it is now. However, creating them helped me later on when I was testing out my blog/website. And I now have portfolios available for future discussions, that I can present and discuss on the phone or in a group.

Quantitative Research and Analysis

Strategy: As per my previous post on portfolio resources, I found that although I had a lot of summary and raw data on portfolios, I hadn’t fully analyzed it. My strategy was to thoroughly research the portfolios listed in one of my linked resources. I wanted to answer questions like:

  • How many portfolios are from students and do they seem different?
  • What types of profile images to designers use of themselves?
  • What is the most common greeting on portfolios?
  • How many designers use their own domain?
  • What do most people use to create their portfolio?

Action: It took a while, but I completed a significant amount of quantitative research. I have not yet shared my report, but I’ll probably post it on SlideShare and link to it. I hope to present it at a UX related talk.

Review: My research clarified many questions about portfolios and helped answer questions on how to design specific areas of the site. For instance, previous reviewers suggested using my own domain (vs using cargocollective). I didn’t understand why this was so important until I concluded my research, which showed the vast majority of designers used their own domain.

The reviewers also made comments related to not getting a sense of who I am. I always find this difficult to articulate, but the research helped again. Ultimately, I decided that this blog would be able to serve as a supplement for anyone to learn more.

The research also helped guide my headlines. Most designers used a very similar type of greeting on their site. I chose to use something that stood out a little bit more. I also used yellow on my landing page, to help people remember that yellow site, if they enter from that page.

WordPress or DIY

My research revealed that most designers, about two-thirds, use a CMS to build their portfolios. The 2 most popular are WordPress and Squarespace. The rest, or one-third, use a DIY solution.

Initially I thought WordPress could be a good option. It’s free, I’ve used it for many years, I know how to install it. I decided against using this blog as a combo portfolio+blog website. I’ve been using it as a blog for too long. And also, I wanted to keep the size of the database down. I considered installing a WP blog into a subdomain.

Free or Paid Themes. Many of the popular WordPress themes, such as Semplice, are not free. But found a solution. As I wrote previously, WordPress Twenty Twenty will be based on the free Chaplin theme by Anders Norén who leads WP 5.3 development. I went to Anders Norén’s lovely website and found multiple free templates.

I created a test site, uploaded images, and added some write-ups. At the same time I was also created some test pages using Tachyons. Ultimately I decided against using WordPress. Anders Norén’s templates are beautiful, but I felt that in order to have a portfolio that could compare to the portfolios I reviewed in my research, I would need to still need to make a number of customizations. DIY was simply more fun and enjoyable.


Present and Future

The site is basically done, but there’s still room for improvement. I plan to implement image zoom using one of the JavaScript resources I listed in my post on portfolio resources. I also plan to make changes with image optimizations and swap out a few images. I want to update a few of the descriptions, perhaps adding another project or two.

And, I have some ideas about updating the layout of the yellow landing page. It might give me a chance to use more of my own CSS.

Maybe one day I’ll use one of the templates on Anders Norén’s WordPress theme site for this blog.

Alternative Portfolios

I’m still using the cargocollective account, but I’ve re-repurposed the site and it’s now back to showing creative/art/design projects. If that site gets too full, maybe I’ll create another portfolio focusing on one or two of those interests.


The next time I write about this, I hope it will just be about my research. Because on this, I’ve written a lot!

For now, I’m happy to be done writing with this topic. Plus, I’ve written a number of other posts that are waiting in drafts to get posted.

Portfolio: Polya Principles Applied

Revisiting my portfolio again, this post is a structured account of the work I’ve completed in updating my portfolio. And I have some nice photos of the East River. 🙂

Time to circle back on some portfolio stuff. For the most part, I’ve finished updating my portfolio. Done enough to publish, ask for more feedback, and start collecting analytics.

But before I get too far into where the portfolio is now, let me jump back to a few weeks ago, and pick up from when I wrote about George Pólya and his book on problem solving…

Applying The Pólya Principles

In the middle of my updates, I had a conversation with someone about my job hunt. I had paused the job hunt to more finish analyzing UX portfolios. The person I spoke with did not understand why I had paused my search. Why was I analyzing portfolios, not fixing my own and getting on with the search.

Thinking back on that conversation, the problem was in how I was communicating. I was only explaining what I had recently done, not what I had already achieved before that point. Much of story got skipped.

When I came across that question on FreeCodeCamp about logging development progress, and the ideas in Pólya’s book on problem solving, I thought I should take the time to write down all the steps I’ve done. It would help provide a comprehensive and structured account of what I’ve accomplished and why.

My strategy is that it will help me organize my thoughts and resulting actions. My hope is it will help me either solve my problem(s) or cross an strategy dud off the list.

Skip to below…


 

And that’s what I did — I wrote an analysis of my main problem, broke down the steps, and listed what I’d accomplished. I also included some images of my favorite park — sunny days and bike rides, sacrificed to finish up this project.

I have more to add about the present state of my portfolio. That will be in the next post. So two posts: one on the past and one on the present.

Check out the rest of this post below. Keep in mind, it was written several weeks ago, in reverse-chronological order. The next post will be on the present.

 


Continued from above….

For the rest of this blog post, that’s what I’m going to do. It’s just going to be a bit of a stream of consciousness, so consider yourself forewarned!

Main Problem: All of the portfolio problems I’ve been trying to solve for is directly due to job hunting. I’ve been so focused on my portfolio because of the feedback I received related to that, and I simply haven’t finished making updates.

Breaking this problem down into sub-problems has led me to spend time improving my resume in the beginning of the year, and now I’m focused on improving my portfolio. I don’t truly know if my portfolio is a contributing reason for any job hunting difficulties, but my research has indicated it is incredibly important. And since it’s under my ability to make changes, I’m making updates to see what works.

Although I got some portfolio feedback, I still wasn’t exactly sure how to improve my portfolio or the best tool to use for it. But the information I’ve gathered about portfolios has been helpful to help me narrow my options down.

Pólya Analysis

Sub-Problem: Which tool is best to rebuild my portfolio
  • Option 1: DIY is a common option and I recently discovered Tachyons.io CSS framework.
  • Strategy: Explore Tachyons.io as a DIY option, vs Bootstrap which I have used before. 
  • Actions: I learned that the default WordPress 2020 will be using the typeface ‘Inter‘. From the Inter website: “Inter is a typeface carefully crafted & designed for computer screens.” When I looked at some of the samples, I saw these Swiss style posters.
https://rsms.me/raster/examples/poster.html
labs.jensimmons.com

The posters reminded me of Jen Simmons who uses a similar style for her site labs.jensimmons.com, which explores experimental layouts.

There are a few Swiss poster-inspired websites and articles exploring experimental web layouts:

Anyway, because of CSS grid + the Inter font (which is free), and GridbyDesign.com, a site providing InDesign grids, I thought: Wow I could really create a unified online and offline experience based on the Swiss poster style!

Outcome thus far: Tachyons classes are a little cryptic because they’re meant to be applied one at a time. The other problem is that I don’t really have a design in mind (a sub-sub problem?) so it’s a little difficult to evaluate whether this is a viable option. (A sub-sub-problem I experienced was using BackgroundSync, which I couldn’t initially get to work. I find sub-sub-problems often come up in coding.) Ultimately, I might be better off using a CMS, like Squarespace, to solve the online portfolio problem / job hunting problem, which is more critical than a unified user experience at the moment. WordPress can be free/cheaper and it can be installed on a subdirectory. Squarespace and other CMS tools can only be installed on subdomains or the central domain.

Sub-Problem: How to improve my portfolio.
  • Strategy: Use quantitative analysis to uncover what specific elements make a top UX portfolios. And then replicate those elements on mine.
  • Actions: I started a quantitative analysis of a list of 80-90 UX portfolios to find out what makes them so great. For example, in the portfolio guides I read through, they suggested spending time making images look good. But I realized I didn’t really have a clear understanding of what this meant. And given that I’m an exceptionally private person, I also realized I didn’t really know what was appropriate for an About page. And I was curious to learn what most people used to build their sites. So essentially, I set about answering these questions, to help me put together the pieces for my own portfolio redesign.
  • Outcome thus far: Although DIY makes up a sizable portion of portfolios, I’ve been surprised to learn how many people use paid CMS tools for their portfolios. I’m trying to learn a little more about the backgrounds of the DIY authors, like are they students, who have time to build a DIY site, or developers who do it all the time. But now that I’m writing this down, I think I need to think a bit more about CMS options.
Sub-problem: Feeling overwhelmed with the amount of resources and need a place to put them all.
  • Strategy: Make an orderly list of resources that have been influencing my portfolio revisions and/or could serve as a resource in the future.
  • Action: I created a list of portfolio resources, of guides and websites, JavaScript libraries and CSS tools, and a short list of portfolios that might hopefully come in handy. That list is here.
  • Outcome thus far: Creating this list has led to more investigation on how to create a portfolio. I’m starting to see some overlap and understand more meaning in the portfolio suggestions.
Sub-Problem [Hypothesis]: Online portfolio projects weren’t showing my work and myself as a designer as well as they could.
  • Strategy: Go with a temporary PDF portfolio, and remove all projects from my website. Re-evaluate all online materials.
  • Actions: I removed all projects from my website and put in a message to contact me for sample work. My concern was that my website was a) out of date in both style and programming [Bootstrap 3]; b) didn’t represent me well in part due to A. I also took screenshots of all my online portfolios, at Behance, Cargo1, CarbonMade, and Coroflot, to view how I was really representing myself online.
  • Outcome thus far: Coroflot is still available, but I don’t link to it from anywhere. CarbonMade is online and I also don’t link to it from anywhere. The different sites have slightly different visual expressions and the experience using them can be different and limited based on the way that the site works.
  • Reflections: On her website, which is built with Kirby, Jessica Hische provides the following advice for getting freelance work:

Have a website.

This might be a no-brainer, but a ton of young people looking for work don’t have a functioning website because they’re still struggling to build some crazy flash bonanza themselves. STOP. Unless you want to do web work for a living, sites like cargo collective, indexhibit, and carbonmade are perfectly fine ways to make portfolio sites. Many professionals use them as they are easy to update, which you will learn is THE MOST important trait a portfolio website should have. Illustrators, this goes for you too.

I read this advice a while back and I think I may have misunderstood a little bit. While using a CMS is important, such as cargo collective, it’s apparently MORE important to have your own domain than it is to use a CMS like cargo collective.

Sub-Problem: Without an online portfolio, I need a way to share my site. Also online portfolios might be showing too much, leading to more opportunity for criticism.
  • Strategy: Use large, static images on Behance, rather than a true online portfolio. I attended a virtual portfolio session with Google, where a portfolio from a UX designer and a Visual designer were reviewed. The UX designer was Simon Pan and his Barclay’s bike project. The visual designer’s work was shared on Behance. The visual design project we reviewed was essentially a series of very long images that appeared to be created for Behance. I figured that if Google’s recruiting team was showing us this project as a viable format, it could potentially work for me. I could draw pictures and tell a story vertically, like the Behance version.
  • Actions: I chose to create 4-5 projects in Sketch, for the purpose of sharing on Behance. I figured I could use them as slides for an offline presentation if needed.
  • Outcome thus far: I put them up, but they did not receive wide spread acclaim; like 4 appreciates. And the one recruiter I shared them with for a freelance gig didn’t get back to me, and the “views” didn’t increase so I’m not sure what the response was; my assumption is negative. Reflection: Simon Pan uses a custom WordPress theme. My assumption is that it would be significantly work to customize than even a basic site. But maybe this is an opportunity to use one of Pólya’s heuristics, the inventor’s paradox:

The more ambitious plan may have more chances of success […] provided it is not based on a mere pretension but on some vision of the things beyond those immediately present.

Maybe I should start with BlankSlate and customize the heck out of it.

Sub-problem: Fixing my Cargo1 (Cargo Collective) portfolio and website.

I’m writing these all under this one heading for brevity and also because they’re related.

Strategy to focus my website on only UX: Some of the feedback I got on my Cargo1 portfolio was that other links related to coding and design should be removed. I didn’t ask why, but my guess was they were either not interesting or not very good. When I tried taking a more objective view of my website, I felt that the code examples, which were set in a list, weren’t presented well. I chose to update my website to remove references to code examples. There were still 3 projects available, with individual pages for each.

Having more than one portfolio. I didn’t include this video in my other post on Portfolio Resources, but I came across a YouTuber discussing design portfolios. A point he makes is that it’s OK to have more than one portfolio. For some reason, it seemed revolutionary and I remembered labs.jensimmons.com. I can include my code examples, but I can put them on another site/portfolio that presents them more appropriately and doesn’t confuse an audience looking for UX projects.

Strategy to take my Cargo1 site offline to address negative feedback. I spent a LOT of time writing a significant amount of custom CSS for my Cargo1 site.  I also watched a video on web writing to focus on improving how I explained my projects. It’s a good video; I recommend it.

Despite all this work, I got plenty of feedback. To be honest, the feedback shocked me. I wrote about that in an earlier post.

I did attempt to make many changes back on feedback received — such as describing myself/who I am; improving the writing. I unpublished my entire portfolio of projects at cargocollective.com. I did not want to use the Cargo1 template and site as-is serve as my homepage. This would mean changing my DNS to use the Cargo1 site as my domain. This decision was driven by the design heuristic to not show anything you don’t want criticized. Given the feedback and feeling that my attempts to improve it wouldn’t be enough, I chose to unpublish it entirely until I settled on another strategy for my UX projects. At that time, I can use it again to show my ITP projects.

Strategy to narrowing down projects from 7 to 3. At one point, alliwalk.com had 6-7 projects and an About page with logos of companies and brands I had worked for in the past. But analytics showed that no one was viewing the About page. Actions: I removed the About page because it seemed useless. Meanwhile, the few people that did come to the site in general only viewed a few projects. I decided to remove every project except for the 3 most trafficked, which I re-ordered according to popularity.

Interestingly, one of the projects was a series of experience journey examples, not an actual project. Despite this, visitors were visiting the page. I’ve followed the lead from the analytics ever since. Those 3 projects, including the experience journeys, have always appeared first in their specific order, anytime my projects appear online. Ironically, some of the feedback I got from my acquaintances was that I had too many projects. :/

 


Reflections

Something I haven’t talked about is how many weekends of beautiful weather I’ve missed trying to solve this main problem and all of these sub-problems.

One of my favorite activities is riding the ferry around NYC or riding my bike to my favorite park. I’ve missed at least a month of weekends and ridden my bike about twice in 3-4 months. It’s really been a heavy feeling to see the sun shining outside and feel so much pressure to complete this project, yet not knowing the right way to solve this problem. We only get so many days on this planet and each day is unique.

Here are some photos from some sunny days.


Next Steps

Writing blog posts takes time but I find writing helps me organize my thoughts. And this exercise has been helpful to review and take an account of what I have already accomplished.

Given everything I just wrote, I’m going to try and create a design for Tachyons, or at least a layout for a portfolio. Or, I should say create a design again – when I reviewed all my other websites, I found a design that I put together a few years ago!

Regarding DIY with vanilla HTML/CSS, I know that there are static site generators people use, but I don’t really know about using them for my own domain. It’s a bit of an esoteric problem that I’m not sure I want to get into yet. Maybe this knocks DIY off the list, since not using a CMS makes updating kind of painful.

I also want to look into some of the themes I found for WordPress. Probably not BlankSlate, but the guy who is leading the design for WordPress 2020 created a free theme called Chaplin. (Although he uses a theme called Harrison that’s not on his site.) Chaplin has 9,500 downloads. Maybe I’ll look into that. Since I have my own site, I can install WordPress in multiple folders and test out different options.

I think it’s also worthwhile exploring Squarespace (again), at least temporarily.

And maybe I’ll go take a walk while the sun is shining.

Solving Design Problems like a Mathematician

While reading a forum discussion on FreeCodeCamp, I came across a reference to George Pólya’s book, “How to Solve a Problem”. In this post, I review Pólya’s problem solving strategy.

In a recent FreeCodeCamp forum, someone asked a question about journaling:

Hi coders,
While looking for the source for my project, I saw that some programmers or developers wrote a kind of diary to keep track of the code. I think it’s nice, but I was wondering exactly how you can structure a diary and if any of you use this to write code. Question here.

Good question. I’ve seen other people use diaries or online journals, or those things people use…writing logs or whatever. 🙂

Anyway, the only reply includes a link about using a “logbook”. On the link page, the author references George Pólya and his book How to Solve It. I had never heard of this person or his book, so I did a little research.

George Pólya, (1887 – 1985)

George Pólya was a Hungarian-born mathematician who was known for his mathematics work, as well as his work in heuristics. Heuristics is “any approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method”.

“Examples that employ heuristics include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, a guesstimate, profiling, or common sense.”

He wrote a book about solving problems using common sense principles.

1st edition cover of “How to Solve It”, published in 1945, by George Pólya, a Hungarian mathematician.

The George Pólya Method of Solving Problems

The Wikipedia page shows that Pólya lays out some pretty good heuristics for solving problems. Although he intended for these strategies to be used for solving math problems, I think they could be used to provide a structured method for solving almost any difficult problem.

The Pólya problem solving method involves 4 principles:

  1. First, you have to understand the problem.
  2. After understanding, make a plan.
  3. Carry out the plan.
  4. Look back on your work. How could it be better?

So how does it work?

Principle 1: Understand the Problem

Pólya based the first principle, Understand the Problem, on the idea that math students struggled to solve problems due to a lack of understanding the problem in full or in part. His technique involved coaching teachers to prompt students with the following questions:

  • What are you asked to find or show?
  • Can you restate the problem in your own words?
  • Can you think of a picture or a diagram that might help you understand the problem?
  • Is there enough information to enable you to find a solution?
  • Do you understand all the words used in stating the problem?
  • Do you need to ask a question to get the answer?

Essentially one should not move past principle one until a constructive answer can be given. It’s not clear from the Wikipedia entry if a constructive answer is required for each question or the entire problem.

 Principle 2: Make a Plan

Basically he felt that a person gets better at selecting a good plan/strategy the more times they solve problems. Here’s a big list of strategies:

  • Guess and check
  • Make an orderly list
  • Eliminate possibilities
  • Use symmetry
  • Consider special cases
  • Use direct reasoning
  • Solve an equation
  • Look for a pattern
  • Draw a picture
  • Solve a simpler problem
  • Use a model
  • Work backward
  • Use a formula
  • Be creative – (“[Have] patience to wait until the bright idea appears”)
  • Applying these rules to devise a plan takes your own skill and judgement – (“Always use your own brain first”)

Principle 3: Carry out the plan

Simple enough, but the main problem people have with this step is giving up too soon. For that, the Wikipedia entry says:

“In general, all you need is care and patience, given that you have the necessary skills. Persist with the plan that you have chosen. If it continues not to work, discard it and choose another.”

Principle 4: Review, Reflect and Extrapolate

Take a look at what you’ve done, and evaluate how well it worked (or didn’t), and see how you can use what you’ve discovered for future problems.


Finding the book:

If you want to find this book, I recommend trying your library. I found it by searching for "how to solve it book pdf" (Google suggested the "pdf") and I found a copy.

Update:

An earlier version of this post included an account of how I applied Polya’s technique to my portfolio changes. A follow-up post will focus on that account.

Portfolio Resources

These are sites I’ve come across that may help someone building a portfolio. (Writing it also helps me remember!)

Yet another portfolio post!

Rather than go on about my own issues, I wanted to share a few resources. Before I begin, I’m going to make a little rant in case you’re feeling overwhelmed, like I am.

One of the sites emphasizes the importance the design a portfolio has on your job prospects. I feel this importance is overblown because the the design or tool seems to have such a big impact on how the portfolio is perceived. I can’t emphasize enough how many people use paid templates, plus the cost of a web domain. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me that choosing the wrong CMS template is the difference between gainful employment vs not.

The fact that the portfolio makes a difference at all seems like the difference between showing up in a limo, BMW, Toyota, or SmartCar. I guess it really is like dating, which I admittedly know absolutely nothing about.

At the start of this review, my feeling is that people just want to be entertained. My thoughts changed somewhat, which you can read at the end.

/rant

 

Ok, now that I’m off my soapbox, here is my list. It’s organized like this:

  • Sites – Guides, essays, and portfolio collections
  • Tools – What people use to create their portfolio
  • People – A small handful of portfolios

1. Sites

A collection of essays, slides, and guides.

Article page: The Case Study FactoryThe Case Study Factory is about how similar so many UX portfolios seemingly look alike. The authors write:

“How the formulaic approach to UX case studies is numbing our critical thinking as designers, and how to bring a unique point of view to our work.”

Provides some pretty good tips at the end, however I recommend you read the whole article for context. Also because it’s a good article.

  1. Define your area of focus
  2. Align the story with the medium
  3. Set up the context of the project
  4. Focus on insights rather than process
  5. Design your case study reading experience
  6. Obsess over your case study visuals
  7. Make it personal

 

Article home page

Sometimes it’s just helpful to look at a big list. Here’s a list of 80 portfolios. I talked about 2 in the People section.

Guides and Slides
Article page, “Design a Winning Portfolio — Tips + Tricks from a Google Designer “

Design a Winning Portfolio — Tips + Tricks from a Google Designer  is a slide deck of tips and tricks. The slides are shared from Google slides (link).

This is a compilation of tips and tricks to improve a design portfolio. She states:

While each design discipline has slightly different project expectations (i.e. UX wants wireframes while Branding wants logo sketches), I’ve realized there is an overall universal set of tactics that, when applied, will automatically enhance and differentiate any design portfolio.

The Google slide deck is really big and there are videos, so keep that in mind. It loads a little slow.

 

nng.com’s recent article, “5 Steps to Creating a UX-Design Portfolio” is probably what kicked this whole thing off. Actually I talked about this in another post, so I won’t rehash. But I will point out that I’ve made a number of changes to my website and my portfolio at Cargo Collective, which at this moment is offline.

My Personal Bookmarks

I’ve had the following links bookmarked for a few years. These seem more geared to PDFs.

Portfolio Handbook [PDF] from the Class of 2012 Industrial Design, DAAP, University of Cincinnati.

This book was put together for the purpose of facilitating higher-quality portfolios. It will not cover project processes, but will act as a guide to documenting a project well for your portfolio. We hope the book will ease some of the anxiety around creating your first portfolio and then later exist as a helpful reference book to check a newer portfolio concept against

 

UX Portfolio Guidance, from Zebra People [PDF], London

We are fortunate enough to see some great portfolios, however there are still many UX practitioners who are selling themselves short. There are some absolutely brilliant and in-depth guides about UX portfolios out there. But our intention with this document is to provide a concise, visual hand book on what to include in your portfolio.

Your portfolio represents you. But you’re not always there to talk about your work. No one gets hired on their portfolio alone. The best outcome is a meeting. Tonight is about snap judgments.


2. Tools

What people use to create sites

From the list of 80 above, (plus a few others I found) I randomly clicked into about 3-4 portfolios per group and I took a look at the page source.

Many, many sites are built using Squarespace, WordPress, Wix, or some other type of CMS with either built-in or plugins for flashy animation, grids, and what-not.

Other sites were hand-coded, often with Bootstrap or Foundation. I took note of the many JavaScript libraries.

WordPress and Adobe Portfolio

Semplice home pageFor WordPress, I came across a template called Semplice. It is advertised as a WordPress template for designers. The latest version is Semplice4. Price is $100. I wouldn’t be surprised if many people have upgraded to the Studio version for $140. Semplice does not seem to have options for blogging; I didn’t see it.

 

Salient Live Demo

Another theme I came across is Salient, although the site I found it on had a “Under Construction” label. It’s $60 and available on ThemeForest. It has over 5,500 reviews, over 95,000 sales, and is currently rated as 5-star.

 

portfolio.adobe.com

If you use Behance, you may be interested in Adobe Portfolio. It’s $9.99/month, paid annually (about $120). You get access to Adobe Portfolio, Photoshop, and Lightroom, as well as access to Adobe Fonts. You can get a free trial, but you need to upgrade to connect a domain/subdomain.

Free DIY Options

Startbootstrap.com offers free Bootstrap templates, themes, and snippets that you can download and customize. Basically everything is free, with the obvious exceptions that you cannot use Startbootstrap templates to create a competitive website serving free Bootstrap templates.

I have used Startbootstrap multiple times and I find them pretty easy to use and combine. Some have CSS or JS animations built in; mostly CSS.

It does require solid HTML and CSS knowledge.

 

Github Pages uses your own github respository to host a website. It’s 100% free. However, it will say username.github.io/yourproject. And your code will be online for all to see. I’m also not sure if you can use Google Analytics.

Again, this is for people who have experience developing websites.

Obviously, having a free site generator is great. If you want to have your own domain, you can get a personal email address, like yourname@yourdomain.com. And you can connect it to github. But all that is well beyond the scope of this post.

 

BlankSlate by TidyThemes allows you to completely customize a WordPress installation, by providing a theme with absolutely zero styling. Sometimes you use a nice theme, but end up undoing stuff you don’t really like. Needless to say, this theme is for people with a good amount of experience. I say no more.

JavaScript Libraries

If you code your own site, these were some of the libraries and plug-ins some people used. I thought tilt.js was pretty cool.

There are so many JS libraries, this list will keep getting updated.

Lightboxes & Carousels

Instagram Embeds

  • lightwidget.com – Embeds Instagram photos into a webpage.
  • spectragram.js – http://spectragram.js.org/ – Instagram API plugin

CSS

Obviously Bootstrap, Foundation, grid/flex, and icon font libraries also showed up.

Jekyll/Jekyll Themes

  • poole – http://demo.getpoole.com/ – the Butler for Jekyll
  • hyde – http://hyde.getpoole.com/ –  a 2-column Jekyll theme

Layout

If you are a PDF portfolio person, you might be interested in using a grid.

The Grid System

Grid System

“The ultimate resource in grid systems.”

You can download InDesign templates, at 8.5 x 11 and 11 x 17. Good if you want to create a print portfolio, or if you want to redesign your resume.


3. People

A few portfolios in use

I randomly came across the following people, either in context of this post, or when reading an article, or serendipitously in some other way.

Caveat: In no way am I promoting any of the following people. I have never met them. I don’t know if they’re the kind of people who cut in line or litter. Maybe they don’t pick up after their dog….

The one thing that is true is that I took a look at their websites and I have an opinion. If you disagree, there’s a list of 80 portfolios above to check out.

Antonio Carusone, creator of Grid System. A very simple website. No images. He simply links to his other websites, most of them photography sites. The site is made with Cactus, which is another static-site generator not using Jekyll. (The last commit was 2 years ago, so it may not be maintained.)

I viewed a few other personal websites like this: simple, text-only, with no images. I think this is a good way to connect disparate interests. He seems to have a lot of experience, which is also good to know if you’re looking for ideas and you’re not early in your career.

 

Hiroaki Ito has this project on Behance. I’m including this person because I attended a virtual recruiter session with Google. The three recruiters reviewed two portfolios, and this project was one of them as an example from a visual designer. (The UX designer was Simon Pan, who uses WordPress. It appears to be his own theme although it could’ve started from BlankSlate.)

The project above is a combination of several very long images, stacked one on top of the other. This designer has a job at Google. He does not seem to have as much experience as the first guy.

 

Johna Paolino is someone I came across on Medium. She wrote an article on using CSS grid. Then I found her website, which is hosted on github. So that’s another – FREE – option. Looked like an interesting site and she seems to be employed at the NY Times.

That big font is BungeeShade.

 

Pendar Yousefi is the only person I came across in the list above that used Adobe Portfolio. It was pretty nice looking, so I’m including that here. He also appears to be employed at Google. He also seems to have many years of experience, which is another good data point.

To be clear, you cannot create an Adobe Portfolio account and link it to a personal domain without becoming paid subscriber. He does a good job of connecting his web properties. For him, he’s getting his money’s worth. But I just want to make sure it’s clear, according to the website, money appears to have been exchanged.

 

I came across Sharon Tsao‘s portfolio above, too. She does NOT appear to be employed. But I thought her simple site was an interesting example, and she seemed to explain her background particularly well.

She built this herself, or at least she did not use a template or CMS.


Foot imprints on sand near a beach
Photo by Matteo Kutufa on Unsplash

Thoughts & Reflections

I wrote this post over the course of 1-2 weeks. Right away, my initial thoughts for my own portfolio when the time of this post were to create a simple site that links out to other websites or to just expand my current WordPress installation (this blog). I also considered installing a separate WordPress instance altogether, which is still a strong possibility.

Yet after writing the majority of this post, I continued to investigate the list of 80 portfolios. I kept finding new CSS and JavaScript libraries. And, I wanted to dig a little deeper into some of these to find out more about how they were made and other details that the guides above don’t really get into.

Despite my rant at the top of this post, I have started to change my opinion a little on the importance of portfolios. I think there is something to be said for trying to display your work in as good a light as possible.

I’m still collecting more data about these 80 portfolios, so there will be another post. And I’ve found more items to add to the Tools section (Webflow, anyone?), so I’ll probably continue making updates to this post in addition to simply posting again.

[Featured image credit: Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash]