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This chapter is from the book

Develop a Personal Website

Outside of your logo, the most far-reaching and important brand identity touchpoint is your website, which is better known in our industry as your “online portfolio.” Your website is the one touchpoint that can be used as a promotional vehicle to connect you professionally to potential employers and clients throughout your design career. It can be updated easily and inexpensively with a new brand identity or portfolio projects. It advertises your design capabilities, software skills aptitude, and experience. More importantly, art directors and hiring agents use websites to prescreen candidates. In one afternoon, you can reach more people by sharing a link to your website than you could interviewing for a week.

This section is not about website design, but it should call your attention to the importance of having a website and how it relates to promoting your brand. You’ve almost certainly taken courses on basic web design. If you’re more advanced, you can use the information and my recommendations to align your strategy with ways to best promote your brand. The points I highlight are relevant to your brand strategy and the success of your website.

Select a domain name and professional email address

Your name is vital to your brand story, and an appropriate, corresponding domain name is just as important. Your website URL will be your professional handle throughout your career, so I recommend using your personal name as your domain so you can be found through an Internet search, and so no one else can snag it. Personal branding guru William Arruda says, “Buy your domain name. It’s like buying property. You want to own the property even if you’re not ready to build the house... If you have kids, buy their domain names. If you are going to have kids, don’t name them until you see if you can have their domain names.” Whatever domain you choose should be easy to remember and self-explanatory.

Use your domain name consistently across all of your touchpoints. URLs are generally inexpensive, and if you’re uncertain about what name you want, purchase several, and redirect each to your primary personal website. Register the name for as long as you can. Even if it’s only a year, make sure it’s set to auto-renew. This will ensure that no one can take it from you.

When I started this book, I did not own the domain name “DeniseAnderson.com” because it hadn’t been on the market for years. I wanted the “.com” because it is the most commonly-used commercial extension, and the one most people try first. As alternatives, I purchased variations of my name:

  • DeniseAnderson.net,
  • DeniseAnderson.me,
  • DeniseAnderson.design, and
  • DeniseMAnderson.com.

I want to own any domain name that’s closely associated with mine. I also bought Professor DMA.com (my social media handle). DeniseAnderson.com continued to elude me.

Writing this chapter, I did another quick Internet search and was delighted to discover that DeniseAnderson.com was available through a site that owns personal names. A five-minute email chat revealed that it was available, and I negotiated to buy it at less than 50 percent of the asking price. At the start of the negotiation, the vendor, unwilling to budge on price, claimed that more than 200 people had researched the name recently. I responded that the market for my name is small and that I conducted most of those searches. He lowered the price immediately. It never hurts to push back a little. If you are faced with a similar challenge, it can’t hurt to try to negotiate and acquire your name.

Options to consider when the domain name you want is not available:

  • If the .com extension is not available, try .me, .design, .net, or another option that makes sense to your brand. For example, “JessicaHische.is” creatively uses the extension (for Iceland) to communicate attributes about her brand (“jessicahische.is/aseriousoversharer” and “jessicahische.is/thinkingthoughts”).
  • Acquire your last name (Anderson.com) and use your first name as the email address (Denise@Anderson.com).
  • Use a middle initial (MaxBFriedman.com).
  • Be conceptual (ILoveBobBuel.com).
  • Add punctuation (Jiali-Ma.com).
  • Insert the word “design” (AlexaDesign.co).
  • Use a nickname (TheSamGarcia.com).
  • If your name is difficult to spell, abbreviate it (Margaret Grzymkowski uses marggrz.com).

Organize your site

Organizing information (such as the website framework and content) into a well-built layout should always come before site design. Without structure, your website won’t flow correctly, and your visitors will have no clear path to the information they want. Organizing your site may seem like a tedious task, but you have to know at the outset what information you want to include. Preparation will help you put forward a strong brand, and the exercise will enhance what you can offer as a professional.

Things to consider when organizing your site:

  • Page format (vertical or landscape) and layout grid (columns and margins)
  • Navigation (names and style)
  • Logo and name (size and placement)
  • Typeface and color selection (use the selections and styles created for your brand identity in Chapter 3)
  • Images (professional quality photos of your work and/or headshot; size and placement)
  • Call to action (critical information about how to get in touch with you)
  • Personal work (projects you are passionate about and create on your own time)
  • Social media links (sites you use frequently or recommend and those that integrate your brand message)
  • Copy (text for each section; your bio and work experience)
  • Content (blog, videos, and other design elements)
  • A platform that is easy to update and maintain

Identify the type of site you want

When you have identified and organized your information, think about the type of site that will reflect your brand and skill set, and select one that you can build. As a designer, you should have some base knowledge in website design (using Adobe Muse or Adobe Dreamweaver, for example) and programming (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and HTML5, to name a few). You may already have a portfolio website on Behance or Squarespace or one that you’ve built yourself to display your work. There’s a difference between those and a professional site (or the site you are building now) that is part of a bigger brand strategy. For your purposes here, you’re creating something that will represent you professionally and serve as your online go-to location for the duration of your career.

As part of your website, consider blogging to promote your brand. A blog gives readers insights about who you are and what you value, and it gives people a reason to check back in from time to time. It can highlight a project or accomplishment that you are proud of or showcase your expertise. It is important to understand up front if blogging is part of your promotional strategy because you may need a site that includes a blogging feature, and it should be easy to use.

If you do decide that you want to blog, keep up with it. When you slack off or stop, people may perceive your brand unfavorably.

Whatever type of site you choose, it will reflect what you know about website design and programming and how to promote yourself to stand out from the crowd. Every semester, my colleague Ed Johnston, who teaches website design, creates a “cheat sheet”(standoutportfolio.com/website-cheatsheet) on how to identify and set up a simple website. Technology changes so quickly, he told me, it’s become essential to update it every semester. Webhosting, Creative Cloud, domain names—it can be confusing, but Ed’s chart walks you through some options of the type of sites that were available at the writing of this book.

Things to consider when identifying the type of site:

  • Responsive (comparable web experience on all platforms)
  • Template (i.e., Squarespace); hybrid (template, with some programming capabilities); or fully customized (i.e., unique design created in Adobe Muse)
  • Number of pages (loads faster)
  • Cost
  • Features (blogging, email marketing, e-commerce)

Design your website

As websites and online design portfolios have become simpler to create, the volume of design portfolio sites on the Internet has escalated. With literally countless online portfolios to wade through, employers are challenged to find a designer who can effectively meet their needs. You have to think about what you can do to design a website that stands out in a crowded marketplace.

When I was building brand identities for a living, I applied a formula I called “Simplify, Humanize, and Energize.” I applied it to everything I designed. With this formula in mind, I was able to ensure that what I designed was meaningful, relevant, differentiating, flexible, cohesive and memorable, and that it would resonate and connect emotionally to the targeted audience and communicate the brand message. Refer to the creative brief and use the brand identity elements you created in Chapters 2 and 3 to align and connect your brand identity to your website design.

Simplify. It may be fun to design and program lots of fancy bells and whistles using motion graphics, videos, and music, but your audience will generally prefer you to get to the point. They’ll appreciate a clean, engaging design and navigation that makes sense. Your goal is to help visitors focus on the value of your brand and the content of your message, not on navigating through page after page of busy, blinking images and lengthy, self-indulgent blocks of text.

Humanize. You can’t see who’s viewing your website, but I can assure you, it’s a human being who wants to be treated with respect. So don’t look down on your viewers or insult their intelligence. Be personable and welcoming, just as you would if you were inviting them into your studio or home to take a look around, see your work, and stay for a while. Your site should encourage them to participate, have fun, and feel a bond with you. Employers and clients on the receiving side of the screen are really rooting for you, because they’re hoping that you’re the one who can help them achieve their goals and objectives (i.e., finding the right employee or freelancer to hire).

Energize. Evoke an emotional response from your audience. Use your brand colors in a new and exciting way or crop and arrange your images to create movement and fluidity through the site. Use original images. Be honest, thought-provoking, and relevant. Your copy should support and enhance your brand but shouldn’t overwhelm or tire your audience. Your site should grab and hold their attention, but too many images can be distracting. A savvy art director will recognize attempts to hide poor ideas or badly rendered designs behind a lot of frippery.

Other things to consider when designing your site:

  • Validate that your website communicates the essence and message of your brand.
  • Design the layout and organize content to make the website easy to navigate.
  • Focus on the content and then the presentation.
  • Confirm a clear hierarchy of information.
  • Integrate typefaces, colors, and image styles from your mood board.
  • Include personal projects, even those not design related, that reveal your other interests.
  • Select and use quality images.
  • Add a copyright signature to the bottom of each page; for example, “Copyright 2015 YourFirst LastName. All rights reserved.”

Test and launch the site

Many website browsers and electronic devices on the market can help you confirm that your site is functioning properly and that your design is proving to be the experience you want it to be. Interactivity is as critical as content. After you have examined all of the site’s functions, ask others to test-drive it. Better yet, have them visit the site in front of you so you can watch them navigate and see how they access information and how quickly. The time to modify and fix problems is before you launch.

What to consider when you’re testing your site:

  • Check site functionality on Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari browsers.
  • Review your website’s responsiveness on Macs and PCs, iPhones and Androids, tablets, and any of the most popular devices.
  • Triple-check the accuracy of the content on your site, such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, text formatting, image correctness and sizes, and contact information. If text is not your strong suit, ask an acquaintance to proofread it for you.
  • Assess how quickly your pages, images, and fonts load.
  • Confirm that links for your email, resume, and social media are working properly.
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