Portfolios

Advice from women in design on building a great portfolio

4 min read
Liz Pratusevich  •  Dec 7, 2018
Copied To Clipboard

A few months ago, I launched my portfolio site.

Two weeks of work, carefully crafting each image and case study, painstakingly picking the color of the buttons. I was so proud of what I made… until it launched.

My mistakes felt glaringly obvious to me, but I wasn’t able to fix them because of time pressures. I knew that my portfolio needed to be revamped—I was in desperate need of inspiration. I found these five outstanding portfolio websites from women in design. In lieu of getting coffee with these female designers, I emailed them to ask for some pointers on creating a thoughtful portfolio.

Liz Wells, UX Designer

Liz Wells’ portfolio

Liz Wells is currently a UX designer at Stink Studios in Brooklyn, whose clients include Google, Spotify, and Twitter. Not only is she a phenomenal designer, but she also founded Desk Lunch, a weekly newsletter that raises the voices of women and non-binary people.

Q: What do you think is the most successful aspect of your portfolio?

“I think it is my in-depth case studies. I spent a lot of time creating assets that told the story of my UX process on each project. It’s easy to think UX is ugly and just gray boxes but that is a lazy way of approaching it. Just because UX isn’t the final step in the process doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful. Also, my detailed case study copy supports the visuals well.”

“Just because UX isn’t the final step in the process doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful.”
Liz Wells, UX Designer at Stink Studios
Twitter Logo

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes designers make with their portfolios?

“Designers don’t make their portfolio their own. Throwing images of your work into a theme and calling it a day is fine, but that doesn’t showcase your work well and it doesn’t show me who you are.”

Julie Bonnemoy, Graphic Designer

Julie Bonnemoy’s portfolio

Julie Bonnemoy’s quirky and interactive portfolio reflects the kind of designer she is. A graphic designer who works in Amsterdam and Paris, Julie has extensive experience with creating and upholding brands for companies.

Q: What do you think is the most successful aspect of your portfolio?

“I think the most successful aspect of my portfolio is the fact that my branding is playful and that all aspects of the brand come together in a dynamic feel. It shows what kind of person I am. Also the fact of having no dead ends–when arriving at the end of a page, you can straightaway click on the next project without going back to the menu.”

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes designers make with their portfolios?

“I think one of the main tasks of a designer is to Target well their customers and that the user can understand in 5 seconds what you do, where you are, and how you work. Also, attention to details is something that sometimes lacks in some portfoliosTwitter Logo—you need quality images, everything needs to be clean and polished. That shows that you will take good care of the image of your clients, as much as you have taken care of your own.”

Amy Findeiss, Product Designer

Amy Findeiss portfolio

Amy Findeiss currently works as a Product Designer at Thoughtworks in San Francisco. She prioritizes research and strategizing, which are vital parts of creating thoughtful and useful designs. Her portfolio is filled with thorough case studies that detail how she solves complex problems.

Q: What do you think is the most successful aspect of your portfolio?

“It seems that both designers and non-designers want to not only know what you made, but how you arrived at that solution through problem definition activities. The process goes through moments of diverging thinking and convergent thinking. I try to walk them through that process for different projects on my website. Sharing the process is the most successful part of my website. And innovating on the process is the most fun for me.

The design process for me is what most folks know and recognize these days as ‘Design Thinking.’ But I might call my approach ‘Design Thinking + (plus)’ because I’m both making and thinking while using every exception to the rule in the typical process. I see the Design Thinking process as a framework to plan and communicate to many different types of stakeholders. As someone who has practiced in many different sub-disciplines of design, I don’t hold myself strictly to a rigid process because it would feel lifeless and uninspired. So I allow for and seek out the moments that call for different material tools or activities that create novel experiences to inspire better results and more original thinking.

What makes the way I describe my case studies different is that I document my work more like a scientist or a journalist. I do this because I want to show all the exceptions to the design thinking rules and share them as proof it can be done. And because I’m documenting all stages of the process, I become more self-conscious about the look of the tools, they in themselves become part of the design project. In the end, my hope is for people to read the cases, find them interesting, and be inspired. The same old tools have been circulated out there for a while, and it would be nice to see some new ones.”

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes designers make with their portfolios?

“I think some folks trained in design are good at designing but terrible at talking about design. I’m not sure why. Writing about design is a skill I believe all designers must have. In addition, I think it’s important to have a point of view that is unique to you. Use that to drive home the projects you pick and why. I think it’s a sense of curation. Be a curator of your work. Give the reader a sense of the main idea what drives the vision for the work you do and then support that idea with projects.

“I think some folks trained in design are good at designing but terrible at talking about design.”
Amy Findeiss, Product Designer at Thoughtworks
Twitter Logo

I also believe that as much as it’s cool to have beautifully designed something whether an experience, product, service, or communication piece, it’s more compelling to be able to tell the story of how you arrived at that design. I have heard someone describe a framework for describing work as the 3Is of Storytelling: Insight, Innovation, and Impact. It’s a bit like any other story where one experiences a call to adventure, a journey, and a transformation.

The insight situates the problem and the design target. Innovation describes what it is you designed relative to addressing the goals and needs of the target while solving the problem. And the impact measures how well the thing you made solves for the problem for the design target. I think this is useful when thinking about framing the work that you showcase on your website. It shows that you own the process and can drive it towards a specific outcome. I think that is super important.”

Jennifer Heintz, Founder, Self Aware

Jennifer Heintz’s portfolio

Jennifer Heintz recently graduated from Northeastern University, then hit the ground running. She is one of the founders of Self Aware, a studio that provides everything ranging from branding to design to front-end development. Her portfolio is filled with fun interactions, showcasing both her personality and talent.

Q: What do you think is the most successful aspect of your portfolio?

“I think people really respond to the interactivity of my site. My goal was for it to be super playful and fun, so I worked really closely with my developer to make sure those qualities came across through not only the design but the interactions as well. My favorite is the “eye-con” that follows your mouse around the screen.

Considering I’m a recent grad, a good chunk of my portfolio still consists of school projects. A lot of times, clients or creative directors can totally tell when something is real-world work and when it’s something from school. With that in mind, I worked really hard to turn my portfolio into something that not only showcases my web design talent, but also makes my school projects appear polished and more professionalTwitter Logo.”

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes designers make with their portfolios?

“A big mistake I tend to see is designers putting WAY too many projects on their portfolio across many mediums. A lot of designers love to dabble in different things like illustration, photography, screenprinting, etc—and that’s great! But I think narrowing down your portfolio to the work that you want to get hired for is keyTwitter Logo. I want to get hired for more print design and illustration, so I try and showcase those things on my site. I also do photography and make macrame pieces in my spare time, but I keep that kind of stuff to my Instagram.

I suggest keeping portfolios down to six projects or less. It’s better to have six incredible case studies with good writing and photos than 15 half-baked ones.”

Amanda Pinsker, Product Designer

Amanda Pinsker’s portfolio
“Having something is better than nothing, and you can always make it better over time.”
Amanda Pinsker, Product Designer at Github
Twitter Logo

Amanda Pinsker is also a recent graduate. Instead of founding her own studio, she is currently working as a Product Designer at Github. Her portfolio, like Julie’s, plays with interactions to showcase who she is as a designer.

Q: What do you think is the most successful aspect of your portfolio?

“I hope the most successful part of my portfolio is that people think I have smart things to say about my work. But a lot of the time people mention that they think it’s fun and I think that’s okay too.”

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes designers make with their portfolios?

“I think the biggest mistake designers make is stressing out about it too much and then not putting up anything. Having something is better than nothing, and you can always make it better over time.”