There's no shortage of blog posts telling you how to make a killer portfolio. This isn't one of them. It's simply my personal experience showing my work online, and what I've learned while designing my portfolio. If there are any lessons here, they are intensely personal, and may not apply to you.
Still curious, dear reader? Then carry on.
I've always attached undue weight to my personal site. If I could just crop those images the right way, or just write that CSS a bit more cleverly, it would magically bring a wave of interest in my work. Since I don't have my own (internet) TV show, it obviously didn't work. What I've realized, slowly, is what my online portfolio is actually for. To prove (to myself) that I'm not a faker.
I joined the Art Directors Club about a year ago, on a whim. They seemed to have a few interesting events happening, and being new in New York, I figured it was an good way to meet people.
The ADC Executive Director Ignacio Oreamuno started having office hours, and invited members to come in and talk, have a cup of coffee, and get portfolio advice. I jumped at the chance, mostly because I needed some impartial outside advice about my work. He asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said an astronaut, but I was only half joking. So was he.
Pulling out my iPad and showing him a bit of my portfolio, we talked generally about the work, about technology, and digital art direction. The advice I got was straightforward. “You have a bit of everything in here. Anyone who says they can do it all is a liar.” he said. “You need to focus on one area, and get fucking awesome at it.” Being all over the place, trying to prove I'm capable, diluted my portfolio.
Ignacio suggested I look for radical digital ideas that organizations like MIT's Media Lab were working on, and design conceptual work around those. He said the in order to craft mind-blowing digital experiences, I needed to look years in the future, and not at today. Too much of what I produce seemed focused on chasing short-term successes.
The typography, color choices, interaction patterns in my work need to have real purpose, and my portfolio should showcase that. Not in that esoteric Art World way, but in the pragmatic, rule-based way that design calls for. Talking about my work more critically, more forcefully, is a skill I have yet to master. A small realization that came from an impartial observer, with no personal stake in me or my career.
Strangers can be your most honest critics.