How to make a unique online portfolio

A unique online portfolio is your personal brand. It's what will set you apart from others in your industry and help you find work. Here’s how to make one.

Jeff Cardello
July 8, 2020
Tutorials

Whatever your creative discipline, your background, experience, and talents are all your own. No one out there has the same combination of skills, knowledge, and personality. So why have a portfolio that looks like everyone else's? Make your online portfolio as unique as you are. Here’s how to do it.

Showcase your personal brand

All successful businesses have strong brand identities.

We’re all familiar with what makes Apple, Starbucks, and Whole Foods special and how they're different from other companies. Just as these big brands have a well-defined message and identity, so should you in marketing yourself.

Your online portfolio should promote your talents and capture the essence of your individuality. It separates you from the competition.

Just like any piece of marketing, a strategy and clear goals should shape its creation. You can’t just slap together a portfolio with no semblance of organization or guiding principles. You need to have a reason behind the work you choose to showcase and put thought into how you present it.

Have a purpose

Before putting your online portfolio website together, answer these questions:

  • What type of work do I want to do?
  • Who are the potential clients I want to attract?
  • How will my portfolio function to further my career?

Each featured project, every piece of content, and the web design itself need to be informed by these answers. Being strategic about your portfolio allows to you produce a design that has focus and consistency. Anyone landing on it will know in just a short jog down the page what you do and what makes your work different from everyone else's. Portfolios that take a scattershot approach, throwing everything that you’ve ever done in front of someone, dilute the value of what you do. No projects or skills stand out when they’re not organized and focused.

Take this portfolio below from the super talented 3D artist Eder Carfagnini. It’s filled with stunning examples of his character work. He’s showing potential clients the best of what he does, and that’s stylized 3D characters. It isn’t cluttered with projects that don’t fall within his area of expertise.

eder's online portfolio

Eder’s portfolio highlights a specialized skill that appeals to a distinct type of client. Your online portfolio website needs to have a focal point on what you do best to target your ideal client.

Define your niche

Having an area of specialization doesn't mean limiting yourself. Instead you can home in on what kind of work you want to do and what type of clients you want to land. This focus maximizes your time and efforts in going after only the jobs that interest you.

So ... what are you into?

Maybe you’re a designer who loves tech and has been lucky to work on a few tech projects but would love to do more. Your portfolio should be geared toward those types of clients.

Take a look at this portfolio from UX designer Gregory Christian below. He’s worked with an impressive array of tech-related clients, and his design demonstrates that he knows how to deliver a website with the hip and modern feel that these types of companies are after. It’s obvious what kind of work he’s interested in.

gregory's online portfolio

Finding your niche helps you create a portfolio website that’s well-defined and laser focused on getting the creative work that you’re after. When the right type of client lands on it, they’ll know right away that you’ll be a good fit for what they’re after.

Focus on specific skills

Put the spotlight on what you do best.

Maybe you create hand-drawn lettering full of inky stylized flourishes. Or perhaps your talents lie in crafting sophisticated web designs. You may even be a wordsmith, churning out funny and conversational UX writing. Whatever your area of specialization, your online portfolio should show off your unique talents.

Jane Song is a designer who has done brilliant work for Mailchimp, among other clients. In just a short scroll through her Dribbble portfolio, we’re immediately taken with the consistency of her creative output. There’s a playfulness to her style, as well as nods to traditional graphic design that gives her work a distinctive look. No matter what the project, we see the hallmark of her artistry touching every piece.

jane song's portfolio

Your portfolio site may have many different pieces, but they should all be unified in communicating your particular craft.

Tell us what matters to you

An online portfolio website should be more than just a collection of your work — it should be a chance for people to get to know you and what you value.

Mel Perry, a UX designer and content marketer, says on her design portfolio that she believes in “designing simple, authentic experiences that feel native to all people.”

mel's online portfolio

Mel tells us how inclusivity guides her design work. We see more than just a project gallery — her values are also on display. She succeeds with a portfolio that transcends being more than just a representation of her work and embodies what she believes in. Giving more depth into who you are helps you build a stronger personal connection with your audience. Potential clients want to see proof of your skills, but they also want to know about what you find important. They want to hire employees and freelancers who share the same values they do.

section on mel's site

This portfolio highlights Mel’s individuality in a fantastic design. You can clone it in Webflow here.

Show your personality

Plenty of decent portfolios out there follow the standard protocol of, “I’m so and so, and I’m a (fill in the blank)” on their landing pages. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, but you’re so much more than a name and a job title. Go beyond giving this minimum information and express how you’re different from everyone else.

For example, look at this portfolio below from the Danish designer Igor Mahr. Instead of having his name and role as the opening text, he says, “Rhinos are just obese unicorns.” Kind of weird, right? Yes, but in the best possible way.

igor's portfolio

This is such an absurd proclamation, but it tells you right away that Igor’s creative approach comes from not being afraid to take chances. The rest of this design portfolio runs with this eccentricity, with quirky design choices, animations, and other fun embellishments.

gif of igor's portfolio

Anyone looking through it gets a good idea of what Igor is all about — and that’s being someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

The visuals in your portfolio are also instrumental in communicating what makes you unique. Aaron Rudyk takes a very unorthodox approach with the opening of his design portfolio.

aaron's portfolio

On the left, we see Aaron’s face in black and white. No details are lost in its perfect lighting, and he has a serious expression. We sense that he’s not a guy who’s going to flake on returning emails or ever be late to a meeting.

On the right a purple mist hangs on the screen. This represents a wonderful duality. We see Aaron as a detail-minded person, guided by precision, but this violet cloud represents his imagination, which isn’t bound by rigid lines. With 2 contrasting images, we get an idea right away about who he is as a designer and how he approaches his creative work.

Differentiate yourself from the crowd of cookie-cutter portfolios by letting your personality shine through your content and visuals.

Tell a story

A gallery of projects displays what you can pull off, but behind each individual piece lies a story. From the first spark of an idea through moodboards to the final revision, countless hours of work, problem-solving, and tweaking go into the creative process.

alice's portfolio

We’ve gushed over Alice Lee’s portfolio in the past — for many good reasons. Her stylized character illustrations and delightful color combinations have been mimicked by many designers, but no one comes close in capturing the personality she breathes into her creations.

The brilliance of her featured projects would be enough — but Alice goes further in dedicating an entire section to a case study of her work with Slack in shaping their visual brand identity. We see each step starting with the objective, “to create an illustration voice for Slack that felt warm and friendly but polished and sophisticated — and not stock,” all the way to the end products that deliver on this promise. This dives deep into how she thinks and designs and how in the end she gave Slack exactly what they were after.

voice and concept

People want to see what you can create and how you do it. If you demonstrate that you have the creative chops, the power of strategic thinking, and the ability to integrate feedback, they’ll know that you’ll do the same for them. Showing a project without much context or background information doesn’t reveal the complete picture of the work that went into it.

Tell the stories about how your work helped your clients succeed. Another nice function of writing about your work is search engine optimization. Talking about your craft in the common language that’s used by those in your industry may give your portfolio an SEO boost in organic search rankings, and who can complain about that?

And we can’t forget the most important character in your online portfolio’s narrative. And that’s you.

Ojieame, a talented designer, leads off his online portfolio saying that he’s “an enthusiastic product designer currently shaping the future of software development by designing smooth user interfaces.” This straight-to-the-point message wastes no time in communicating his approach.

So many portfolios skip out on having a photo of the person behind it. Ojieame’s portrait shows him in a simple yet smart outfit. We get the feeling that he brings these same sensibilities to his graphic design, interface design, and UX design.

ojieame's portfolio

Don’t give potential clients and hiring managers examples of only what you create — let them see the person behind the creation.

Use an unorthodox portfolio website design

Bold design choices give you a portfolio that doesn’t look like everyone else's. And remember, you can still get creative without sacrificing usability.

Let’s take a look at Rok Bračko’s portfolio, built with Webflow. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill design.

Rok's portfolio

Each portfolio project is right there on the landing page. Hovering over an individual project opens it up, filling the entire screen. It offers immediacy in getting his work in front of people with minimum navigation.

gif of rok's portfolio

Rok Bračko’s portfolio redefines what a portfolio can be, portraying him as an innovative designer not content with doing things in an average way. Have people take notice of your online portfolio with a look and feel that defies expectations.

Jonathan Morin is another brilliant designer who maximizes every bit of space on his portfolio for Jomor Design. Text floats into place, calls to action spin, and images shift. There’s not a boring expanse in this creative portfolio design.

gif of Jonathan's portfolio

The landing page copy says that he “makes businesses stand out.” Morin has certainly done this with his own portfolio design. Even if you don’t click on a single featured project, the inventiveness of this portfolio says all that you need to know about the originality he brings to his work.

The most memorable designs bend the rules and take creative risks. Don’t be afraid to push your design through your creative whims.

Customize with illustrations and typography

If you’re not a pro designer, you can still fill your portfolio with illustrations and custom lettering. Especially if you’re starting with a portfolio template, you’ll want to add as many original visuals as you can to help it stand out. Go on Fiverr or Upwork or hit up your network for people who might be able to create something cool for you.

Remember — hand-drawn lettering works best in limited amounts for header titles or spots where you need something that stands out from the rest of the design. For long blocks of copy, always go with a standard readable font.

Even if your expertise is in copywriting, you can still have a website that’s filled with visual dazzle. Rachael's website, Mighty Fine Copy, is full of quirky characters and delightful animations, along with well-written content. Copywriting portfolios don’t usually have a joyful user experience, and Mighty Fine Copy delivers a rainbow of fun.

mighty fine copy site

Here’s another great example of integrating eye-catching visuals into a design. Nathan Mudaliar specializes in both UX writing and design. His online portfolio opens up with a brain floating above a circuit. This imagery fits in perfectly with the heading of Cortex Copywriter, a theme that’s carried throughout this portfolio.

nathan's portfolio

This isn’t a space dominated by uniformity. Along with the colorful illustrations are gradients, and a variety of shapes are incorporated throughout the design. There isn’t a dead spot in it, with every small movement revealing more of its wonderful visuals.

This portfolio also goes above and beyond with a chatbot feature that allows you to switch between 5 different personas. Not many other portfolios can boast this same functionality.

features on portfolio

Whatever your area of expertise, whether you’re a graphic designer, web designer, copywriter, or other type of creative, you can use visuals to transform your average-looking portfolio into something extraordinary.

Build your portfolio with Webflow

Whether you want to start from scratch or use one of our many templates, Webflow is a great portfolio builder. With an intuitive interface and plenty of online support, it’s easy to get your personal website up and running.

Webflow offers a great selection of templates that have features like an About page, contact form, blog, and testimonial pages already built in. You get a head start in focusing on what’s important — and that’s filling it with all of your brilliant work and content.

A portfolio is an ongoing project that’s never really finished. What this means is that after you land more gigs, you’ll want to refresh your portfolio with your newest and best work. Webflow’s content management system (CMS) lets you manage your projects in one place with CMS templates, rather than having to hassle with changing the layout. Webflow’s CMS functions in maintaining dynamic content in a way that’s simple.

We’ve put together this short video course that teaches you everything you need to know to put an online portfolio of your own together with Webflow.

An online portfolio is a necessity for every creative

Whether you're a web designer, photographer, writer, illustrator, or in some other field, having an online portfolio is essential. It opens a digital space to fill with your newest and best work, giving anyone easy access to it. It’s also something you can use to further get the word out about what you do by posting it on social media or taking out some paid ads to get more traffic.

A well-designed portfolio website gives potential clients a quick way to see what you and your work is all about. Whatever point you're at in your career, you need an online portfolio.

Have you put together your portfolio? We’d love to see it in the comments below.

Jeff Cardello

Advocate for better design and professional writer excited by tech, entrepreneurship, and branding. Writes the occasional joke on Twitter.

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