Building your web design portfolio is probably the hardest job a freelance web designer will ever do. Added to this, as a designer of your own product, you’ll probably never quite be happy with it either. Having released the latest incarnation of my own personal brand Siminki when I started freelancing fulltime I thought I’d backtrack through the years to see how my online persona has evolved.
2001 (early portfolio concepts)
After my degree I completed a Masters in Creative Technology in 1999 and quickly gained employment as a web designer where commercial aspects tend to outweigh the more creative concepts. I’ve discovered some initial portfolio ideas that maybe convey the struggle I had at the time with this where I showcase more experimental work alongside a unconventional navigation.
2003 (first live web design portfolio)
I created my first web design portfolio in 2003 under my original brand name of Simarsh (my name condensed) and the domain www.simarsh.co.uk which I’ve since relinquished. (Considering Googles liking for domain age this is probably regretful in retrospect). Created in good old Flash I was quite proud of my first personal online space and still remember the buzz I got from seeing visitors from around the globe come to see my work. Amazing stuff back in the day. I loved the cool typographic sites that were around then and designed something quite minimal and what I considered slick at the time. Although the static designs look dated now the transitions and interaction really added to the site.
2006 (www.simarsh.co.uk version 2)
I created the second version of the Simarsh web design portfolio around the end of 2006 – this time heavily influenced by my switch to web standards based web design and the power of CSS. I had recently embraced this new way of working over the cumbersome Flash workflow and was experimenting with XSLT at the time. This is probably my least favourite version of my portfolios as I feel it lacked any real character or direction overall as I struggled with a clear vision for the brand.
Unhappy with the latest Simarsh website I decided to start completely from scratch and try and generate a new online presence. Siminki was a nickname I had been given (long story), and so I thought I’d put it to use and try something a little bit more adventurous again. Using the Russian sounding name I worked with this as a basis to theme the brand and design. The site was featured on Smashing Magazine in the feature 50 Fresh Portfolio Websites for Your Inspiration much to my satisfaction as its still one of the leading blogs in our industry. This is what they had to say about creating a web design portfolio…
“Creating personal portfolio website is probably the most challenging task for designers as it should reveal the talent and some special unique style of its author.”
They then went on to describe the Siminki web design portfolio…
“Illustrations and crazy typography hints at the designer’s liking for experiments and most daring ideas fulfilling. Or maybe it’s just a little trick to keep visitors’ longer stay? In any case, this portfolio is worth viewing.”
May 2012 (siminki 2)
In 2012 I finally got the opportunity to go freelance full time and it was time to create another version of the portfolio. The previous version got good exposure but lacked the professionalism I required to really get the Siminki brand up and running as a freelance design business. I’d previously been involved in helping to improve conversion on a popular ecommerce site so decided to apply some of the processes to my own site and get some feedback via www.fivesecondtest.com. I asked a number of questions like “What are your first impressions?”, “What information can you recall about the page?” etc.
The feedback was generally good but one comment in particular was that the headline copy was too long and was hard to read. I played around with this and tweaked the title and eventually released a responsive one page version of my new site which led to exposure on design galleries and client enquiries.
August 2012 (siminki 3)
Version 2 of Siminki did its job of advertising myself as a new freelancer but was lacking in content and therefore SEO. Moving forward I needed something I could update regularly and build on, adding client case studies and blogs. WordPress was the ideal solution for the framework with its loyal community and solid framework, and having previous experience using it I created the first CMS for my portfolio. I tinkered with the styling a little more, added the content in and pushed to live. The reaction has far surpassed my initial expectations leading to much exposure across the design community and high Google rankings for many of my targeted keyphrases. The site has been featured in many portfolio design round up lists as inspiration and also as site of the day/week on Line 25, Admire The Web and How Design amongst others.
Patrick McNeil from How Design noted “As I’m reviewing websites to feature here for Site of the Day, I look for deep and meaningful insights into the design decisions of others. Sometimes, though, I love a website design because it’s beautiful. This self-promotional website for a UK-based web designer and developer is such a case. Although I could dissect it and find technical nuances that work for various reasons, I actually just really love the finished product. It has amazing hierarchy, a visual pop and a style that is very popular right now. I admire the designer’s beautiful usage of color, lovely combination of fonts and illustrations that offer both style and meaning. I really just love this one.”
September 2016 (siminki 4)
It’s been 4 years since my last update but finally I have completed another version of my portfolio. The last design served me well and gave me steady stream of work as a freelancer but needed an refresh to showcase new work, client feedback and updated skills. Conversion Rate Optimisation is becoming ever popular as clients realise that the problem is not always traffic but what happens after the click. I wanted to get across my knowledge and experience in this area with more clarity whilst moving to a fresher colour scheme and simpler design.