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Needing a professional well-designed online portfolio is a must for graphic designers—which, of course is not news to anyone in the field—but what is the best way to make one? That’s where the confusion begins. There are so many ways to build and host a site, that with new software, updates and portfolio sites seemingly appearing every day, it makes it very confusing on which is the best one to use.

What’s out there?

An overwhelming amount of choices, that’s what’s out there. You can choose from portfolio template sites that offer blogs and networking such as Behance, Tumblr, WordPress, Carbonmade, Cargo Collective, Wix, Squarespace, or Imcreator for starters; or using HTML editors such as Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Muse or BBedit where you can code yourself and create your own unique design with dynamic features using HTML5, CSS3 and JQuery.

So where do you start?

What’s right for you?

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Need it now? If time is of the essence, then a template portfolio site is for you.

2. Hate designing web sites, just don’t get how to code or you are purely a print designer with no interest ever in learning how to design a site? Go with the portfolio sites.

3. Like the idea of having a socially networked site or being in an online community of other creatives? Then the portfolio directory sites such as Behance, Tumblr and Carbonmade are for you.

4. Short on funds? There are plenty of free options with the template sites, but fewer choices of features.

5. If you want a site that is completely unique, designed by you with your own personal style and not having to deal with the restrictions of a template, then design and code it yourself using Dreamweaver, HTML and CSS3.

6. If you want or need to learn web design, then do it yourself—no templates, no magic going on behind the scenes. It’s the best way to learn by practicing on your own site, rather than on a paying client.

CMS (Content Management System)

CMS is a template-based platform that allows live editing of web pages through your browser. WordPress.org, the most popular and best example of CMS, is a free blogging format offering thousands of templates with varying designs and functionality. If you pay to host your WordPress site through sites such as Godaddy.com or Bluehost.com, you can design your own template, edit the CSS, add plug-ins for even more functionality, and have your own URL (rather than a wordpress.com URL). WordPress is by far the most common platform to host various types of web sites including portfolio sites, with or without a blog.

behance-wordpress.png Figure 1: My free WordPress site, which I use for myself and for my classes.

Tumblr is another free general blog CMS site that is similar to WordPress, but offers the social networking benefit where you can have followers and follow others like Twitter, but with longer posts. Sue Jenkins, author of the recently published book, “Tumblr for Dummies” states:

“…the best tools for designers who don’t want to or know how to build their own sites in Dreamweaver would definitely be WordPress and Tumblr, since there are so many free templates to choose from, many of which are customizable.”

behance-tumblr.png Figure 2: My Tumblr interface showing the blog feed.

The Behance Network site is very popular with the creative community as it’s a network specifically for artists showcasing creative projects as part of a larger portfolio. It’s free, easy to build and a good place to start getting your art seen as you can follow and network with others and post seamlessly with Facebook and Twitter. You can also embed your portfolio site right into your LinkedIn profile. Another nice feature from Behance is that if you sell your work on the arts and crafts site, Etsy.com, you can tie your projects right to the site and use the Etsy shopping cart.

Students can get started by creating project sites on the Student Show site. Behance says they’ve seen an increase in student usage through the recently launched site where it features power portfolio sites for art and design schools such as RISD, SVA, SCAD, and Art Center College of Design in addition to individual student portfolios.

behance-2.png Figure 3: My project interface on Behance.

Other free CMS sites that cater specifically to artists are Carbonmade, Imcreator, Wix, and Cargo Collective, all of which offer low-cost premium plans for more design control. Wix, which was primarily using Flash-based templates (not viewable on iPad or iPhone), has recently switched over to using HTML5/CSS3 templates so portfolio sites are viewable across all media—another important consideration, depending on your audience.

If you are applying for a design job, the person reviewing your portfolio is most likely doing it from their office on their desktop computer, where your work can be easily accessed and displayed at a large size. If you are posting your work for social media purposes or just to entertain, making sure your portfolio scales properly across all media platforms is important and many of these sites have apps just for that purpose.

Squarespace, a pay-for portfolio site, offers mobile apps for optimal viewing of your site in addition to hosting with your own domain name; plus great control of the template design and database features. Other sites such as WordPress offer mobile device plug-ins too when you pay for upgrades.

DIY/Dreamweaver

A recent AIGA LinkedIn discussion board featuring designers comparing portfolio-building web sites reflected a strong preference for Behance, WordPress and Cargo Collective. There was also a consensus among the professional designers, that graphic designers, especially ones just entering the job market, need to be able to understand basic HTML and CSS and build sites themselves through programs such as Adobe Dreamweaver or Muse.

Dreamweaver is a powerful site-building program with features for both designers and developers, but it can be overwhelming to the designer just trying to learn how to design, build and upload a site. Dreamweaver CS6 offers eleven new templates to get a jump-start on the process and some new layout tools to make the designer’s job a bit easier. It also has new tools to scale pages from desktop to tablet to phone. There are many great tutorials online for free and by subscription that can kick start the process for the designer and take some of the fear and pain away from designing a site from scratch.

The newly released Adobe Muse offers a streamlined, behind the scenes site building experience, which is very similar to doing page layout in InDesign. Just follow the process through the four tabbed headings: plan, design, preview and publish. Drag and drop your content on the pages and you’ll have a site in a very short amount of time.

behance-muse.png Figure 4: Muse’s simple to use interface.

One More Thing

Whether you build your web portfolio yourself or use a portfolio-building site (or do both), these are the obvious and important things that matter:

Content. You can make the best looking site, but if your work isn’t good, then there’s no point in posting it. Pick the best, keep it fresh and update often.

Functionality. Don’t get caught up in the latest trend or slick look; make sure it works so your art can be seen at its best on any platform in any browser.

Keep the portfolio design simple. Your work should speak for itself, have some space and so to not have to compete with other graphics and colors.

Poll Questions







FYI – This poll closes at midnight Pacific Time on July 29th. The results of the poll will remain hidden until then so we can reveal the results in a follow up post early next week! Thanks for voting and all your comments!