Online Portfolios – How much is too much?

Online Portfolios – How much is too much?

I’ve been updating my online portfolio the past few days, and have come across the question of what is the right number of portfolio pieces to have on ones site?

I struggled with this question about 8 months ago when I did the last update of my portfolio, and I’m struggling with it once again. Taking a look at both old and new projects, and projects that are currently on my portfolio and projects I want to add. It was a tough decision then, but now I think I have a lot of new projects that I think are worthy of being up as well.

So now, I am forced with so many questions – Do I remove projects that are currently up? Do I add projects done before my last update? Do I limit the number of examples? Having moved almost exclusively to web, do I remove print and logo categories? All these questions, with mixed feelings of what the answer might be.

I’ve often heard that a small portfolio of just a handful of your absolute BEST work is really what matters. However, having experience both searching and hiring for jobs, I tend to disagree. I think a diverse portfolio showing different projects (whether it be different clients, brands, or channels) is extremely important. The more clients or projects you worked on, the more pieces you should ideally have for your portfolio. If you are serious about your craft, every project you do should be portfolio worthy (although I’m not suggesting you add EVERYTHING to your portfolio), so a numerical limit should not be imposed. If it’s a good representation of your design sense, then add it.

When I am hiring a new designer, I also like to see older works. I’m a big believer in constantly learning and improving, so projects across a long time span can show me the progression of the designer. I can overlook some less than inspiring pieces, if you have been able to improve in the long run. Even though I tend to be my own worst critic when designing, I still have trouble deciding what to pull from my portfolio (yes, I have a large portfolio). But, what I try to do is have a diverse collection, a good representation of old and new, and even some student projects, which I personally think are great to have.

Another issue is, I often work from a “templated” layout on the web (particularly with email). While I wouldn’t want to put each and every campaign in my portfolio, I did try to select some visually different emails, within the same layout, to show my ability to make the layout flexible, so that each campaign can be unique in its own way.

To me, it’s not simply a matter of how many pieces you have. I’ve seen great portfolios with a handful of pieces, and great portfolios with dozens of pieces, and I’ve seen very poor portfolios with those numbers as well. The true purpose of a portfolio is to showcase your strengths. If that can be done with just a few pieces, great. If it takes more, that’s fine too. If a Creative Director (or hiring manager) is serious about what they are looking for, they will pay close attention to the work as a whole, no matter what the number.

The one cautionary tip I will give to those with a large portfolio is to be clear about your role in the project (and be honest!). Don’t try and misrepresent yourself, as it will catch up to you in the end. If you were only the production artist, following the lead of an Art Director, be sure you’re clear about that. If you were only the Front-end Developer on a beautifully designed Web site, make sure you state that. And be prepared to speak about your roles in the interview process.

Now… back to the daunting task of updating my own portfolio….

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