One Secret that will Dramatically Improve your Online Portfolio

September 10, 2012
5 min read
5 min read

As a designer your portfolio is absolutely you’re most important asset. It doesn’t matter if you’re this generations Da Vinci in terms of you’re design skills if you can’t prove it. Likewise having a world renowned reputation as a Photoshop wizard will only get clients to your door, unless they can see the work you’ve done before they’re not going to take a risk on you. So with that said, it’s vitally important that as designers, our portfolios are the absolute best they can be.

Now, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed yet, but you’ve had the good fortune in being born into a largely digital age. Whilst this doesn’t mean that you can throw out that chunky A3 leather-bound portfolio you’ve been carrying around since university, it does mean that your online portfolio is probably now just as (if not increasingly more) important as your physical one.

How a Client Sees Your Portfolio

When a potential client is looking through your portfolio they’re trying to establish what you’re really good at, what your skills are and most importantly; how you might handle their project. But that’s not all they’re looking for, what they really want to see, what they’re really looking for is confirmation. Confirmation that they’re putting their project in the hands of someone they can trust. Confirmation that other people have been where they are right now and walked away happy with a product clutched in their hands.

What they really want to see, what they’re really looking for is confirmation

Think about it. If you’re anything like me, when you’re buying something on Amazon or eBay you always check the reviews section. Even if you’ve done all the research on this item in the world and are utterly utterly convinced that it’s perfect, you still read the reviews. Why? Because you want the security of  knowing that people have already made the decision that you’re about to make and that they have been happy they made it. You want confirmation that you’re making a good call.

What So Many Designers Do

Now when I’m looking through other graphic designers portfolios a mistake I see again and again is that they’re not providing this confirmation. Their portfolio is just a flat image or two for each project and maybe a bit of a blurb, in some cases they may have a quote or reference from the client about how happy they are, (and that’s really good) but they could be doing so so much better.

But… wait, you don’t have an image of that printed up either? No no… It’s ok… we totally trust you

Say for instance you put together a sweet t-shirt design for a band and you made up this crazy awesome illustration to go on it. Obviously you show your illustration off, but that’s it? I mean, yeah, it’s very good and all, but are we to just take it as read that this ever made it onto a t-shirt? Oh, it says in the blurb that they used the illustration on their CD cover too, great! But… wait, you don’t have an image of that printed up either? No no… It’s ok… we totally trust you. We don’t need to actually see it do we?

What You Need to Do

They’re called product mock-ups and they are VITAL! If you design a cover for a book, then show it on a book! If you design a logo for a business card, then show it on the business card! Our online portfolios suffer from a major lack of tactile response so you absolutely have to do everything you can to show your work in situ, to show that it actually exists.

This is the confirmation the client needs, this is showing them that you have follow through. That your previous clients have had real success from working with you. That they’ve ‘walked away happy with a product clutched in their hands‘ because here is a picture of that product, and look how totally awesome it is!

So How Do You Do It?

Now I get that we don’t always get to see the finished product all made up, in fact, we’re lucky if we get a blurry photo from the clients camera phone of it. Even if they’re nice enough to send some examples to you through the post (which a few of my past clients have been good enough to do), we don’t all have DSLR cameras with sexy shallow depth of field lenses laying around, so we still end up with a blurry image, but just taken on our camera phone instead. Well don’t fret, at the end of the day we’re graphic designers and creating awesome images out of thin air is what we do best!

There are actually product mock up templates available to download online. These PSD templates have a photo of a blank object (be it business card, cd cover or poster) with a smart object layer in them so you can easily insert your own designs. All the layering effects and transformations are taken care of automatically, so instantly you have a very professional image of your design all printed up and looking awesome. Now, there are a lot of these templates out there and I know from experience that some of them can be a bit naff and look really fake, so I strongly encourage you to do your research and even email the author and request some examples so you can look at them in detail before you make a purchase.

The two best sources I’ve found for product mock up’s are Go Media’s Arsenal and Graphic River. The Go Media Arsenal has some really stunning apparel mock ups, like t-shirts, vest and hoodies (this is where all my apparel templates come from) as well as some pretty cool object mock ups if you’re working in the music industry, so stuff like CD’s and even Vinyl’s. Go Media is a really fantastic design agency and it’s only their designers that produce stuff for the Arsenal, so you can rest easy, knowing that everything is really good quality there. Graphic River is my port of call for more corporate stuff like business cards, logos and branding packs but because there are so many more authors, there is a higher risk of getting a naff product (most good authors will show you a zoomed in ‘actual pixel’ section of their mock so you can inspect the quality).

So there you go, if you don’t already have them, product mock ups will vastly improve your portfolio and make you seem so much more professional to clients. If you have any questions about using product mock ups or about either of the websites I’ve suggested, please let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credit to benjamin-nagel

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is owner of Hunting Town Design, a small design house based in Manchester UK specialising in Graphic Design and Illustration. Alex is also the founder and editor of The Design Range. Find out more about Alex on his website or follow him on twitter.
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