A few weeks ago my poll article “What’s the Best Way to Build an Online Portfolio?” received quite a few comments and many voted via the poll. With the wide selection of template portfolio web sites available to designers, this result may not be a surprise, but it is to me, a print and web designer, educator and one who began coding sites in 1995. In fact, it was a bit shocking to see that 68% of respondents said “No” to the poll question of whether designers should design their own website from scratch or use a CMS (content management system) site. So of course, I had to ask why?
Why “Yes” to CMS?
First off, I don’t know the exact demographics of the respondents, but the article was aimed at the younger designer; students, recent grads, but also to anyone who was considering putting up a design portfolio for the first time. I promoted it on my Facebook page to all my former design students and I know some responded. And some experienced designers did read it as I got some very insightful comments. So I can guess that the younger crowd voted against the DIY aspect.
And I can see why students and young designers are drawn to the CMS template web sites as there is a fear factor involved with web design. From my experience teaching it for many years, design students as a whole find the whole web design process intimidating and confusing—especially the coding and technical aspects. It also takes a much longer time to design a site using Dreamweaver. Kathryn Bondi, a recent design graduate who now is a web designer for NetDriven, has this insight:
“The negative response to Dreamweaver points to the need for a quick fix to get the portfolio building process done and over with ASAP. I believe that designers are sickened by the thought of having to do more work to get their work up to rake in more work, so ultimately a template site is the least painful of the choices in this vicious cycle.”
And yes, the template site lets you do it fast, professionally and efficiently, which is attractive to all designers at any stage of their career. Kevin Ripka, a seasoned interactive web designer for The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also supports use of templates:
“When you spend all day doing web work for others, it’s a real drain to put together your own. Plus, it’s the work you did that matters. I think if you make your portfolio website a portfolio piece, that’s great, but really you just need to get your work up. It’s the same thing as a print designer buying a folio. You didn’t make it but you’re using it as a wrapper to show your work.”
So with many “wrappers” to choose from, one of the poll questions asked was, “Which site do you use for your online portfolio?” Wix.com came out on top at 26% as the favorite by GraphicDesign.com readers. Behance came in second, at 20% and other responses included WordPress (11%), DIY hosted (10%), Tumblr (5%), Cargo Collective (5%), Squarespace (5%), and Carbonmade (2%). Eric Mason, Director of Communications for Wix, gives some insight to why Wix is so popular:
“We’ve constantly heard from graphic designers that our web publishing tools most closely resemble the intuitive easy to use, drag and drop, click and move, interface they are comfortable with on their desktop creative suites.”
So there you have it. By using your skill set learned from using the Adobe Creative Suite, you can translate that to creating a professional and attractive portfolio site quickly and easily.
Caption: After taking a look around the Wix interface, I can see why Wix is popular with designers as it has a very slick easy-to-use interface that clearly takes you through the design, editing and publishing process.
Why “Yes” to DIY?
So what about the other 38% who feel a designer should DIY? The obvious answer is to get a job. Practice what you preach. You need web skills to get a job in a market where print design jobs are disappearing every day. Newspapers and magazines are shutting down or moving online. Mobile devices and tablets have created new design opportunities. Social networking sites require design skills and content generation. There are all levels of web and interactive design jobs and you don’t have to be a programmer, but you do need to develop a foundation of understanding what’s going on behind the scenes. So if you want to make yourself marketable, you need to show you can design and develop web sites and doing your own is the perfect place to show off your design and technical skills.
A designer doesn’t have to be a programmer to build a site from scratch. The new Adobe Muse can take the pain out of coding and offer designers complete control over the look and style of their own site. Or using Adobe ImageReady and Dreamweaver together can take the pain out of having to do any coding. You can opt to design your own template for a site such as WordPress. By using templates designed by others, you run the risk of your site looking just like someone else’s. Designing your own template does involve some knowledge of HTML and CSS, which would be a very beneficial skill set to show to a potential employer. Craig Welsh, principal of the award-winning design studio GoWelsh, states:
“We see a lot of Cargo, Indexhibit, etc. sites when we review portfolios. They tend to lack thought in my opinion. Even more disappointing is how little writing is included to supplement the visuals. I still like to know how someone thinks and the stock portfolio site templates tend to eliminate much of that.” Designing your own site takes more time, but it develops new skills, makes you more marketable and gives you a site that reflects your own style and not the style of a developer or another designer.
My advice is to design your own site (and I feel very strongly about this) as I’ve seen student after student, grad after grad, get internships, part-time jobs and full-time jobs in the design field, because they were able to show they had web skills and showcased their talents through their own completely unique sites. But, I also see great value in the CMS sites. Get yourself on Wix or Behance or Tumblr or any of the other powerful CMS sites out there and network yourself with others in your field. You can get great feedback and develop relationships through the social networking aspect of your site, which will help advance your work and your career.