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Portfolios »Making the Most of Your Portfolio

You do great work. Whether you’re an artist, writer, photographer, designer, or other, your creations inspire and amaze others. You’re constantly going above and beyond producing work you’re proud of.

We know it. You know it. But does everyone else?

Whether you’re trying to attract new clients for your business or highlight pieces you’re proud of, portfolios help you get your best work out in the open. Here are three tips for shining the spotlight on your star work.

Deciding what to showcase

While it’s tempting to include every item or design you’ve produced, a more effective portfolio helps site visitors hone in on your best work. Here are three questions to help you decide what to include:

Is this the best example of the particular skill I want to showcase?

Portfolios should highlight your best work, not necessarily all your work. Otherwise, weaker items will drown out your star performances.

Is this the first piece of work I want my audience to see?

Just like our appearance and demeanor influence first impressions, your portfolio impacts how others view you as a creative professional.  Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward.

Does this piece of work attract the type of work I want to do?

Your portfolio is about showing off your work, but it’s also the perfect opportunity to attract more of it. You’re probably skilled in multiple disciplines within your craft. What kind of work are you looking to do more of? Highlight examples of that work in your portfolio.

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Writing compelling descriptions

Use simple language.

You might have used the latest and greatest programming language for your latest piece of work. In your portfolio, you’ll be tempted to show off your technical prowess using industry jargon. While that might impress colleagues and coworkers, there’s a chance that your audience will be intimidated if they don’t know the lingo.

When adding portfolio items, think back to who you’re trying to attract in the first place. For example, if you’re a website designer, frame your project descriptions in a way that appeals directly to your intended readers. Discuss how you decided on a certain layout and how it can help to increase newsletter subscribers, not the fancy PHP you used to make it happen.

Explain your thinking.

Your audience loves to see your finished product, but they’re also interested in hearing about your thought process as well. For example, in his web design project for Inspiration Lab, designer Ken Zinser breaks down the discovery and user workflow exercises he went through to help form his design:

Web Design Ken Zinser

This gives readers some insight into how Ken works and what it would be like to work with him on a project.

If you’re a writer, you probably don’t have design-oriented workflows or wireframes to showcase, but you can still give readers a behind-the-scenes look. Discuss how you came up with a story topic and how you collected information. Did you have to interview multiple sources?

Set a featured image and custom excerpt.

Featured images ensure that your portfolio page is visually appealing. This could be an image of your finished design or even the client’s logo where your work was published. The custom excerpt allows you to control what text appears on your portfolio page. By default, you’ll see the first few lines of the actual project text but, you might want to include a customized introduction. Then, readers can click on the project title for the full details.

Here's an example of how the Candela theme uses custom excerpts.

Here’s an example of how the Candela theme uses custom excerpts.

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Organizing your work

Like posts, which can be organized using tags and categories, portfolio projects can be organized by Project Type and Project Tags. This helps ensure that readers can easily find the work they’re looking for. For example, take a look at the portfolio of website designer Jonny Evans:

Jonny Evans Portfolio

Underneath each portfolio item, you’ll notice the specific project types (App Design, Branding, etc). This represents the type of work he did on the particular project. If a reader is trying to find more icon design examples from Jonny, they can easily do that by clicking on the project type.

Project tags can be used in a similar fashion. For example, you could use the project type to define the type of work you did on a project or the specific photography technique you used (“App Design” for example). The project tag can be used to identify the client that the work was for or the outlet where it was published.

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