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Online portfolios are like profiles on a dating service site. They enable the potentially interested client or employer to taste-test you and your work anonymously. If they like what they see, you may hear from them. If it’s not their style, both you and they are spared a painful face-to-face experience.

An online portfolio is any collection of your work that people can view from inside a browser. Once you recognize that a portfolio can be defined as any venue or medium where you display your work, you may discover that you have some kind of online portfolio already. Depending on where you post and why, there are a variety of distinct sites that provide a range of levels of exposure and can make different statements about you.

Personal website

As a presentation form, a personal website is somewhere between a mailing and an in-person visit. It is unquestionably the single most valuable portfolio form you can create-—even more than a physical portfolio. In fact, for many creatives, not just web designers, it is the only portfolio they maintain.

Pushed to its highest form, a personal website creates an avenue for creative expression, and a marvelous opportunity to highlight your skills, taste, and unique world view. Through linking from the other portfolio venues discussed below, it can bring contacts to you that you would be hard-pressed to reach and impress otherwise. And unlike every other online venue, your work doesn’t have to compete with other posters while they are visiting it.

Personal websites are not yet a perfect medium. They are a one-way street. You can’t watch how someone is responding to your work and adjust your tone, emphasis, and pacing the way you can easily do face to face. They also demand up-front design work, a host of visual and content decisions, and much more significant time in their creation and upkeep than other online options, or PDFs.

It is possible to mitigate some of the burden of creating a personal website from scratch (see “Partnering” in Chapter 1). Some people also elect to purchase and then customize an HTML or Flash portfolio template.

Self-publishing site

Self-publishing sites, from YouTube to Flickr, have pushed out most of the free, non-curated sourcebook sites that were prevalent a few years ago. Those that remain tend to be the repository of mediocre talents and part-time artists. Since most also have very limited storage space and a utilitarian interface, it’s not surprising that they have been overwhelmed by the Web 2.0 self-publishing site.

The self-publishing site is a great step forward in portfolio maintenance. Although not a substitute for a personal website, it is an excellent second outlet, particularly for people whose work can be compiled into one large, well-designed package or batched by theme, subject, or style. These sites offer tremendous browse appeal, and can bring your work to the attention of people who would never find your personal portfolio site otherwise.

Most self-publishing sites are defined by their primary medium, and are organized in a way that makes them more useful to some creatives than others. For example, although Flickr posts many videos and illustrations, it mostly comes to mind as a site for sharing photographs. YouTube’s obvious raison d’etre is moving image, which not only covers the digital videos it’s known for, but also 2D and 3D animation reels, architectural walkthroughs, and portfolios full of 3D models made by industrial designers and computer artists.



Designer Layla Keramat keeps her extensive collection of photographic works on Flickr to distinguish it from her professional design work.

Other sites serve their own niches. Issuu ( is a publishing outlet for everything from magazines to comic books, but it has an impressive collection of books of personal art as well as online versions of printed portfolios. Best of all, it adds the feeling of a real publication to each PDF document by using software to provide shadows and highlights to what looks like photos of a bound book. This makes it a powerful option for graphic designers as well as architectural and industrial designers who are required to own a formal printed portfolio as students. The downside of such a big site is that your work could get lost on it. Issuu, like others in its category, makes money by offering a premium publishing level that features you prominently and eliminates their advertising and logo from your work.

Creative services portfolio site

Like discounters where you can sometimes find a designer gem, free-for-all self-publishing sites can be exciting and entertaining addresses. However, they encompass enormous ranges in quality. And even with a superior search function, they offer a daunting number of results in any category. You have no control over the context of your work, and there is no curator to exercise quality control. If a search turns up twenty results and the first five are mediocre, the searcher might not bother to look at number six-—aka you.



Issuu provides three viewing options for your work: as a flat PDF file, as a presentation, and this version, magazine format, which mimics the look and shadow effects of a bound book.

Paid and invitation-only sites, on the other hand, are a more upscale version of the concept. With a barrier to entry, they’re more likely to contain professionals rather than hobbyists. As with self-publishing sites, friends, members of circles, and casual viewers leave comments about the work. What’s most telling is that in a professional site, those comments go beyond the “way cool” level. Most are informed, some are critical, and the people behind them often carry the weight of reputation. A portfolio that surfaces to the top in a professional site can easily lead to contacts and a career.

Among the well-established portfolio sites for professionals, are the AIGA members-only portfolio site (, and Communication Arts’ Creative Hotlist (, which offers an inexpensive six-month subscription that allows you to post a PDF and a small online portfolio.

The relative newcomer, with an unusual combination of social network publishing and exclusive access is Behance ( It doesn’t charge a fee, but you can only join if you are invited by another member, or if you petition the site editors with a detailed description of your creative work or involvement in the professional creative process. There is no way to buy yourself into a featured position. Works that make it to the front page get there through a combination of member comments and site curators. Almost all members have personal websites as well, and a featured position in Behance almost always leads to substantially more personal website traffic.

Some sites encompass all creative professionals equally. Others draw one category more than others. For example, LiveBooks ( is becoming the professional photographer’s Flickr. Although it is not free—you buy a monthly subscription—it takes all of the worry out of portfolio creation. Your site is built on a template and attractively customized by an in-house designer. Once that’s done, you control updates, sequence, and content.

The pluses of this approach are that it is fast and affordable, particularly if you compare it with the price of a designer creating a site from scratch for you. A templated portfolio can be the best way to get your work online when you are unexpectedly let go from a full-time spot. The templates are attractive and take care of visual decisions like layout and fonts, as well as shielding you from having to learn a new application, like Adobe Dreamweaver.



Illustrator Will Scobie displays a selection of his recent work on Behance. His display emphasizes the wide range of projects to which his distinctive style can be applied.

Hosted gallery presentations

Many fine artists want a web presence but are intimidated by the technology or lack the resources to hire someone to create and maintain their site. For those who are established in their field, a gallery site can be a substitute for a personal site—a way of establishing a foothold in the virtual world. There are both fine art and commercial gallery sites. In both cases, the site is the product of an individual’s personal vision—the curator in a fine art gallery, the artist representative in the commercial site. An artist has to come to the curator’s attention, and the curator has to want to represent that artist. Assuming the chemistry is right, the artist gains an immediate increase in visibility, as well as a personal advocate.

Social networking site

There are a variety of social networking sites that provide a way for you to share short notes about your work and display images or videos. Facebook has edged out MySpace as the major website for this purpose. Companies, design studios, and working professionals are now using it as both a personal space and a marketing tool.

Any prime destination is an irresistible magnet for posting your work. Plus, a social network not only enlarges the number of people who know about you, it can provide that special sense of personality that bridges the gap between a formal portfolio and the person behind it. However, indiscriminate friending offers casual contacts access to not just your own personal quirks, but those of your irrepressible friends and family.

Key to using Facebook as a portfolio adjunct are its Privacy settings, which you can use to limit access to some elements on your page. Next you need to customize the Search section. You might want to block most people from seeing the pages you have become a fan of or from seeing your list of friends. And you must maintain these settings as you add new friends to your list.

All of this takes a lot of effort, and Facebook, like other social networking sites, is a place with a friendly, no-stress vibe. In short, if you’re not committed to massaging your contacts, it may not be a worthwhile choice when there are other, more focused outlets.


An adjunct to a personal portfolio, although not a substitute for it, is the personal or studio blog. It offers an opportunity to talk about your work in a conversational way, without weighing your formal portfolio down with opinions and insights that can seem overdone or even pretentious when visitors are concentrating on your work itself. Here is the place to talk about your creative process, and how successfully you met your client’s constraints. It also provides a place to roll out experimental work, or material in a new medium.

The potential negative of the blog format is that it comes with the assumption that people not only might comment, but probably will, and perhaps at more length and with less approbation than you think you deserve. Although you don’t have to publish any of these less-than-glowing comments, you’ll still need to be prepared to receive them.

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