Career Skills

Making a Great First Impression with Your Portfolio

with Jeremy Osborn, Director of Learning at Aquent Gymnasium

In this tutorial, you’ll learn three ways to make a great first impression with your online portfolio and improve your chances of getting hired.


Making a Great First Impression with Your Portfolio

with Jeremy Osborn

Jeremy Osborn: When it comes to your online portfolio, first impressions are critically important. Research suggests that visitors form an opinion about a website in less than one second. So imagine a busy creative director looking at a dozen portfolios, including yours. If your site leaves a bad impression, your work might be dismissed before you’ve even had a chance to prove yourself.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn three ways to make a great first impression with your portfolio and improve your chances of getting hired. But first, some definitions. I define all of the content that a visitor first sees, usually the homepage, as the first-impression section.

Whether desktop or mobile, it’s everything visible from the top of the page to the bottom of the browser window and could be broken down into three elements.

  1. First (element) is the overall visual appeal. This includes design elements and imagery, including a logo if there is one, color palette, typography, photos and illustrations, and layout.
  2. The second element is the headline or tagline, essentially a short description of who you are, what you do, and what makes you unique.
  3. The third element is the Featured Projects section, which includes a few of your most recent or notable projects. This section should showcase the sort of work you’ve done in the past and why you’re good at it.

Tip number one: Treat the UX (user experience) of your portfolio site as if it were for a client.

For some reason, many designers include design elements they would never use on a client site. I’m talking about custom mouse cursors, pop-up windows, confusing site navigation, gratuitous animations, and the list goes on.

I have many theories on this, but ultimately I think it’s because people haven’t answered or even asked themselves these two questions.

First, can you answer the question: What sort of work am I trying to get?

By definition, portfolios show off the work you’ve done in the past. But think hard. Is this really the type of work you want to be doing in the future? If so, great.

But if you’re looking for a change or perhaps a career pivot, you should be clear about that so you can answer question number two: Who is the most important audience for my portfolio site?

Understanding who your audience is means doing your research. And I’m not convinced enough people do this for their own sites.

For example, you might assume your most important audience is designers. But consider the creative director we saw earlier. She’s looking for good visuals, sure, but she’s actually more interested in your problem-solving skills, judgment, and potential fit with her team.

Tip number two: Keep your visual design simple and familiar.

This 2020 study found evidence that highly complex or cluttered websites are more likely to create a negative impression than websites of medium or low complexity.

On the left is the original cluttered design for a printer company’s website. The redesign increased the amount of white space and decreased the amount of text. This combination ultimately created a better first impression.

But what does being familiar mean, though? In my previous example, the menu here was located in an unfamiliar location and therefore pretty confusing. However, familiar also means meeting your audience’s expectations. Here’s an example of two web developer sites, both of which immediately confirm what they do but in unique and humorous ways. So here’s the homepage of Una Kravets, a well-known web developer. And this minimalist design uses coding brackets combined with a colorful unicorn logo, which immediately lets us know she’s a coder with a sense of humor.

Here’s the website of Mina Markham. And here, I see the URL of her website, which is a nifty way of signaling her specialty before you even visit the site, which is a very nice touch.

And tip number three: Make your tagline a conversation starter.

The very first piece of content that people see should be memorable and impactful. Assuming that it’s the tagline, here’s the difference between a good one and a great one:

Hi, I’m August Day, a Boston-based UI designer.

So this statement is not a conversation starter. Let’s take a look at a more interesting version:

Hi. I’m August Day, a Boston-based UI designer who makes elegant and accessible interfaces.

Much better. Now I’m intrigued by this combination of elegant and accessible. And I’m eager to learn more. Exactly what you want when making a good first impression.

For more information, check out our Resources section for links to articles and other tutorials. And thanks for watching. Be sure to check out our other Take 5 videos as well as the entire course catalog here at Gymnasium.

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