Why Your Web Design Portfolio Isn’t Getting You Work

Why Your Web Design Portfolio Isn't Getting You Work

Your design portfolio is one of the most important assets you have in marketing yourself. It is a part of your online identity as a designer. Believe it or not, there is a reason why some designers seem to get “all the work” and others are stressing to find their next project. We’ll go over a few important aspects of your portfolio you might be missing that could be costing you future jobs.

Why Your Web Design Portfolio Isn't Getting You Work

Why Your Web Design Portfolio Isn’t Getting You Work

1. You Don’t Have a Unified Brand

A combination of your logo, tagline and work create your personal brand. Whether you like it or not, you most likely have a discipline you’re better at . If your portfolio doesn’t have a focus, you’re going to seem all over the place.

Jo Klima of the Darling Tree has a great unified brand that exemplifies her personal design style.

The Darling Tree

Having a complete web presence – using social media channels, having a good portfolio and blogging will help to unify your brand. This is an excellent way to build credibility and trustworthiness as a professional. Having a well-planned design portfolio will build you a solid foundation for your future, especially as a beginner. I discuss this more in my eBook on design portfolios.

2. Not Showcasing Your Best Work

If you have work you aren’t 100% proud of in your portfolio, take it out. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be asked about it. When in doubt, leave it out. Clients want to see consistency. If you have a couple of really high-quality projects, but a few mediocre ones, they might be unsure what kind of outcome they should expect from you. Remove doubt from the beginning and only focus on your best work.

As a student, it can be tempting to publish everything you’ve made, whether it’s practice or actual work. If you’re fresh out of school and it’s all you have to put in your portfolio, use it. But, remember that you should be constantly changing the work in your portfolio as your skills evolve and improve.

Callum Chapman of CircleBox Creative has a good portfolio that showcases his best work and his strengths as a designer.

CircleBox Creative

3. Poor Marketing

How do clients find you? You might be cranking out some great design work, but if people can’t find you, they’ll never know you exist. Use Twitter and Dribbble to your advantage. Dribbble is a great site for prospects to scout your talent, while Twitter is good for connecting with designers who may be able to pass on overflow work. Once you start getting the hang of marketing yourself properly, you’ll find that your network will do most of the work for you when it comes to finding new leads.

4. Being a Jack of All Trades

This topic is highly debated in the web industry. I have always been a believer in doing one thing, and doing it well. Being a designer myself, I specialize in user interface design for the web. This is what I’m good at and what I love to do. Almost all of the leads I get from possible clients are looking ONLY for design work. I can code, but definitely not as good or fast as a developer, so why would I promote these skills, when I don’t really need to?

If you are exceptional at one or two specific areas, it will help you stand out. If you spread your skills too thin, you won’t be able to stand out from all the other designers out there.

Sean Farrell is a web and logo designer who has a distinctive speciality that makes him stand out.

Sean Farrell

5. Not Tailoring Content

Understand who you are talking to with your portfolio. Are you looking for freelance clients? A job at an agency? The content should be tailored and reflective of the goals you want to achieve. Understanding the group of individuals you want to entice will affect the type of content on your site. For example, portfolios to get clients should be more focused on the “what’s in it for me approach,” while portfolios for employers should showcase your design process and what you can do.

For example:

  • Service: Web Design
  • Feature: I design and build websites.
  • Benefit: I craft intuitive interfaces that are user-friendly and beautiful.

It’s also important to talk about your benefits. Sure, you can design websites, but what is the true benefit you will be providing your clients? Hopefully, you will increase their sales, profits, conversions, etc. through the work you provide. Talk about this on your portfolio.

6. No Desire to Learn or Get Better

Being in a position of “stand-still” as a designer is one of the most detrimental decisions you can make. Our job description requires us to stay up-to-date with the latest technologies and practises, whether you like it or not.

If your portfolio seems dated, others will start to pass you by. As I learned in college as a design student, nothing in our field lasts more than 5 years. It can be tedious and frustrating, but updating your skills every once in a while will help you move onto bigger and better projects.

Showcase of Effective Portfolios

Here are some examples of effective online portfolios for your inspiration.

Kyle Miller Creative
Kyle Miller profiles his work well by making it the main focus of his portfolio.

Kyle Miller Creative

Steph Tekano
Steph Tekano has a well organized portfolio, with her best work at the beginning.

Steph Tekano

Christopher Ware
Christopher Ware lets his visitors know exactly what services he provides.

Christopher Ware

Linda Nakanishi
Bright, beautiful colours and patterns make Linda Nakanishi’s portfolio stand out with her brand.

Linda Nakanishi

Hello Miss Potter
Amy Potter has a clean, easy to navigate portfolio which facilitates clients to continue browsing her work.

Hello Miss Potter

Kassandra Wright
Kassandra Wright executes a well-planned portfolio.

Kassandra Wright

Isaac Paavola
Isaac Paavola showcases his best work in his portfolio, allowing him to better market himself as a designer.

Isaac Paavola


Building a portfolio takes time, and it should continue to evolve as you grow and learn. Avoiding these mistakes can provide you with a greater understanding of what it takes to get more clients or land that job you’ve always wanted.

If you are persistent with creating a portfolio with good marketing tactics, it can help you develop a lead generation tool all on its own.

Janna Hagan is a web designer from Canada. She is the founder and editor of A Student’s Guide to Web Design and has published an eBook on planning design portfolios. She is the former winner of the .net Young Designer of the year award and is currently studying Marketing in school.


  1. / Reply

    Just a heads up guys……your link to Christopher Ware’s website is broken…..

      • aidanoxp,
      • April 18, 2013
      / Reply

      Hi Sidharth,

      We have fixed it.

      Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Thanks for the advices!

    • Hillary O'Keefe,
    • April 20, 2013
    / Reply

    This is fantastic advice. I would take #5 one step further by tailoring your portfolio to the company or companies you want to work for. Do some research and shape your portfolio as the solution to their design needs.

    • Nikhil Malhotra,
    • June 6, 2013
    / Reply

    Learning and evolving should never stop!!

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