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The Worst Portfolio Ever—Or Is It?

I recently stumbled across Alex Cornell's site “The Worst Portfolio Ever”—a comical look at the state of online design portfolios. His blog post of the same title explains his critique. The project is likely the result of too much time looking through mediocre design submissions, but still, I think it misses the mark.

He critiques five common elements he sees in portfolios, essentially claiming anything that detracts from images of your actual work is wasted real estate. 

As a designer it’s true that your work ought to take centre stage, but at Domain7 we’ve seen there’s more to a designer than just their output. Here are his beefs, and where I think they miss the mark:

1. Personal statement: Alex critiques the use of introductory statements, claiming they are "...meant to come off humble and approachable, but... lazy." Instead, he says "I just want to see your work. Right away." While I agree such intros often contain drivel, they also give insight into the human, the real person you're looking to hire. Personal detail may not tell me anything about your abilities but it does give me a hint whether you’re someone I’d like to work with. When we hire a designer, a developer—or anyone— they become a part of our team, and we want to ensure it’s a good fit.

2. Skills list: While I agree this chart is useless on a portfolio, I think there's some value in honest skill assessment. When we hire designers we want to know you are competent in Photoshop, but also in code. If you score your HTML & CSS skills at 35% I can guess you don’t have a strong background in interactive prototyping—and more likely have traditional design skills. It not only tells me what projects you’d be a fit for, but portrays you own perception of skill, which is a good jumping off point for discussion when we meet. I want to know your strengths and weaknesses as I fill gaps on our team—a skills list is not a horrible place to start.

3. Photos of process: Whiteboards and sticky notes are cliché, yes. But for us, any designer worth hiring gets the value of planning. While not ideal, photos of the design-research process show me you likely understand UX design and information architecture. At Domain7 we like to know a candidate has abilities beyond creating a visual mockup.

4. Apple glory shots: An iPhone glory shot may also seem cliche, but in a mobile world, designs need to work in ANY context. I want to see you’ve thought about how your work will be used. Show me you spend as much time ensuring your work renders well on a tablet and mobile as it does on a desktop. At Domain7 responsive design is our base standard, so we need to know you can design across devices.

5. Colophon: On this point I'll wholeheartedly agree with Alex—the colophon provides little value. It’s redundant to the personal statement and, yes, steals space from your portfolio. Kill it.

A critical look at your portfolio is always useful, and Alex is right that your work should always be front and centre. But your work isn’t you, and we aren’t just hiring your work.

When I’m looking at a design portfolio here’s what I want to see:

  • that you can code
  • the story behind the project—What were you/the client trying to achieve, and how did you help reach the goal?
  • your role—which skills did you use or strengthen in this project
  • the planning that supported final output—wireframes, styleboards and process pieces
  • that there’s a real person behind the work, not a design machine

Regardless of the position—developer, designer, digital producer—we want to know you’re amazing at what you do, but we also want to know you’re amazing to work with.