One of my jobs as creative director at Visually is browsing the portfolios of prospective creative talent (those who apply to be part of the Visually Marketplace) to make sure they are up to our company’s standards. This involves looking at thousands of portfolios. While I certainly appreciate sites like Behance and Dribble, which have standardized the portfolio experience, I feel there are certain designer-led trends that are making the experience rather intolerable. Before I get into my peeves, let me tell you what I am looking for: in short, your design work, un-adulterated. I would like to see your work in totality first. This means the whole thing, ideally at full resolution, but if not then a zoomed-out view. In addition to that, and if needed, a close up of your work if a full res is not available. Details matter. Here is what I don’t need.
You holding it!
I appreciate the attempt to show your work “in context,” but this should really ONLY be done with something that is designed to be printed, like brochures, posters, or business cards. “In context” for everything else digital is just that: pixels on the screen. If you are showing off more than your work, you are doing your work a disservice. This also goes for work that is clipped or otherwise hung up on a wire, as if it just came off the printing press. Yes, I know this has been photoshopped — and yes, it makes it look more generic than your work should be.
Displaying it in a way that makes no sense
This work looks really cool on its own. But wait, judging from the size of those clips, this might only be 7 inches across, making the entire thing illegible if printed as depicted. What kind of designer would print something that can’t be read? Not one that I want to work with. Like the creepster photobombing your selfie, displaying your work like this may give off bad information that doesn’t put you in the best light. And those fold marks… aRRG. Why would crease something so wonderfully refined? Oh right… photoshop again.
Showing it off at an angle
There is one more realism trend that turned to the dark side. The “if I show it on an angle, it will look like a real thing” trend. If all I can see of your work is this, I am just moving on. Not only does it obscure the details (and other important aspects) of your work, but the repetitive templating just feels lazy. Trust me, displaying your design work as a hoverboard above a featureless plane is not making it look any more real. Even if your photoshop skills are quite excellent and you can fool 95% of the on lookers with the fake angles and DOF, it’s hard to tell what you are looking to show off? For the untrained eye, it looks as if your photography skills are on display, not your design skills. So my advice to designers looking to impress more than the neophytic onlooker is to keep it simple. Do not call forth into a photoshop existence something that was never meant to exist. If you are designing stationery, then obviously I want to see how it looks on actual stationery. But if you are designing something that will be displayed only on screens, then an on-angle selfie will only make me question your design judgement. Jess Bachman is a Creative Director at Visual.ly. Follow him on Twitter.