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Site Design for an Effective Portfolio Website

Site Design for an Effective Portfolio Website

Graphic Courtesy of J Garrattley, Flickr

Thomas James | Escape from Illustration Island

Site Design


The primary element to consider is your overall website design. Whether you are building from scratch, or using some of the many online portfolio services (which I’ll highlight in the future), there are some basic concepts that you should keep in mind when creating the look and feel of your site. The reason that I am beginning this series with this element is that if you get this one horribly wrong, potential clients will leave before you’ve even had a chance to draw them in.

Clean and Clear

The last thing you want to do to a new visitor to your website is hit them over the head with an overwhelming jumble of noise.

They won’t know where to look, they won’t know where to begin, and the memory of the splitting headache you gave them will make them leave and keep them away forever. This is especially important on your Home page, where they are just getting their bearings and feeling things out. I advise getting rid of anything you don’t absolutely need, and that makes your site difficult to navigate or distracts from your brand, which brings me to…

A Consistent Brand

The look and feel of your portfolio website should be a cohesive representation of your style, and should give the visitor a feel for your work before they even make it to your gallery. This can be achieved through the careful use of your logo, header image, color scheme, typography, and any other visual elements in use.

Simple Navigation

You want to make it as easy as possible for people of all skill levels to make their way to the various sections of your site. In other words, don’t hide your navigation tabs with clutter and be sure to use common or obvious titles for your pages (Don’t call your gallery “The Laboratory of Infinite Inspiration” or something silly like that, for example). While personalizing your titles may be creative and interesting to you, it’s important to keep in mind that Art Directors look at a lot of websites everyday, and they don’t have time to try to decode your sideways logic.

Flash vs. HTML

I could easily write an entire post on this topic alone, and perhaps I will in the future, because this is not only an important one, but is also a topic of debate for some Illustrators. In my opinion, I’ve heard enough people say (including myself) that waiting for a Flash page to load makes them leave a website immediately to convince me that Flash is a big no-no. Unless you’re an animator, Art Directors don’t want to wait around for you to dazzle them with special effects. Sure, you want people to remember you, but not for your razzamatazz. Like I mentioned before, they look at too many portfolios in a day to sit through a page that says “Loading…” Just get them to your site so that you can impress them with your Illustration work. That’s the service that you’re really trying to sell, after all.

The Bookmarkable Site

In general, the idea is to get someone to hire you, or at the very least, bookmark your site so they can follow your work. If you have a clean and clear design with a noticeable and consistent brand, simple navigation and an overall positive experience, you will present yourself as a professional, and you’re more likely to keep them around long enough to impress them and call them to action with the other elements that I’ll be discussing in this series.

Next: Your Image Gallery

← Last: 7 Elements of an Effective Portfolio Website



This article is part 1 of the series entitled “7 Elements of an Effective Portfolio Website,” which aims to encourage Illustrators to consider some crucial features when building or refining their portfolio websites.

You can find the rest of the series here.

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