“Design should never say, ‘Look at me!’”, veteran designer David Craib once said. “It should always say, ‘Look at this!’” While true for design in general, this statement is more nuanced when you have to design your own portfolio. Indeed, more than a summary of your skills, a portfolio is your design personality, reflecting your aesthetics views and skill-set. As such, accomplishing this project requires a surprising mix of bravery, introspection and vision. But making your design personality emerge is a difficult task, particularly when other challenging factors come into play – like not being equally proud of all of your work, or wishing to take up a new design direction.

“Creating a portfolio is an atypical project in the sense that it forces you to continually ask yourself complicated, even problematic questions,” says Yotam Kellner, a leading mentor in the Wix Design Playground program. “You find yourself asking ‘Do I like this project? Can I stand behind it? Is this the creative direction I want to take?’ Which is usually followed by, ‘So where should I start?’”.  Another factor that makes designing a portfolio a complicated process – is time. “Rarely does a designer find the time to work on a portfolio for themselves,” shares Vuong Tong, the head of the program. “Usually, the process happens when you’re looking for work or have some time on your hands.” For this reason, the focus of the third and final project of the program was the complexities of creating a portfolio that showcases a design ‘identity’ – and how to overcome the obstacles along the way.

Internalizing the portfolio gospel according to Jessica Walsh

To emphasize the importance of an introspection process and help students overcome this challenge, leading designers shared insights with the Wix Design Playground class from their own experience. Kicking off the project was Jessica Walsh, who gave an inspirational talk about incorporating play as part of our work. Jessica demonstrated how games and a fun, experimental approach can, biologically, help us learn and improve. According to Jessica, it is play that’s at the heart of any creative process. In order for us to grow as creatives, she claims, we need to be able to enter a playful state of mind.

Jessica Walsh at the Wix Playground

Jessica explained how play was crucial in her own development, and in fact, helped shape her career path. Speaking about the brief for her own portfolio, Jessica said it has to have three elements: showcasing your personality, being memorable and being unique. The curation of projects should reflect your own passion, she noted, and not just your skills. Once it’s done, you should invite others to give feedback – and really listen to their take on it.

Ivy Chen’s portfolio website

Drawing inspiration to create a real moodboard

After Jessica’s words of wisdom, the students set out to create their own portfolios with the help of numerous mentors, as well as each other’s feedback. Their first assignment was to draw inspiration from the world. Each student was required to find at least 50 pieces of inspiration from different categories like restaurants, movies, exhibitions or printed materials. These were then pinned to the walls to create a live, vivid moodboard. Once set up, it was easier to identify key interests that created a cohesive look-and-feel. By identifying areas of interest, the process of transferring a real-life moodboard to a digital one became much more refined and accurate.

Live Moodboard, Wix Playground
CreatIng a live moodboard will help in understanding your visual identity
Brittney Johnson’s portfolio website

Gaining insight from exhibitions

To demonstrate the power of engaging content and a well-prepared presentation, the students visited One Hand Clapping, a large-scale exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum by five Chinese artists who interpret the concept of globalization. By observing which of the exhibits were the most memorable, they were able to get inspired about the elements that might make their own portfolio stand out.

Wix Playground designers

Alex Aroyo’s portfolio website

Building a strong product experience

Once the students decided on which of their projects to include in their portfolios, they used Sketch to form their websites’ wireframes and create their own design system. Meanwhile, they searched for inspiring interactivity and site behaviors and tried to incorporate those elements into their sites using Wix Code. Then, each student paired their wireframes with the visual language, and incorporated the site behaviors into the Wix Editor.

Ester Mejibovski‘s portfolio website

Finding your ikigai

Designer and director of TDK, Frankie Ratford, spoke to the students about how to find their own ikigai – a Japanese concept that means “the reason of being” – through the intersection of passion, mission, vocation and profession. Frankie shared her ideas on the importance of assessing your personality traits and skills, while also really understanding what you want to do with your life. This helped the students remember the big picture behind the exercise – that is, showcasing their work exemplifies this intersection of personal passion and professional ambition.

Frankie Ratford in the Wix Playground

Frankie Ratford in the Wix Playground
Frankie Ratford sharing her insights

Identifying design principles

A major challenge many non-digital-focused designers face is presenting their work in a new medium and language. A way to tackle this challenge, according to Yotam, is by identifying key design principles in your projects and finding its digital or web synonyms. An example for this transition can be found in Marta Urbez’s portfolio. “Marta’s work showed great sensitivity towards the way people use printed materials,” says Yotam. “She wanted to translate simple movements, like flipping through paper, into a digital action. First, she recognized a design principle she wanted to maintain, then coupled it with a metaphor – the hover – and her digital design process started. The result was impressive.”

Marta Urbez portfolio website
Marta Urbez’s portfolio website

Curating both your work and yourself

Unless you’ve established your own style throughout every piece of your work, putting together all of your projects while ensuring it results in a cohesive, accurate portfolio is a huge challenge. The core of that challenge is creating a container or packaging for an entire diverse body of work. Approaching a portfolio project has to be made from a curatorial perspective. “While we were working with the students on their portfolios, if they felt like they were missing projects or pieces of works they were excited about, we encouraged them to independently develop a passion project,” explains Vuong.

Yotam added how important it is to have your portfolio reflect not just the work you’ve done – but also the kind of work you want to be doing. This means, if you haven’t had the opportunity to work in a certain style, genre or medium you’re drawn to – think about the portfolio as an opportunity to change it. Create passion projects as a way to pivot the work you’ll be getting. “A great example is Calvin Han’s fantastic portfolio, which reflects an aesthetic, approach and style he is interested in. Though he has a much more varied work portfolio, Calvin decided to leave it out and focus the result on a style he wants to work with.” Adding to important elements in the curation process, Vuong mentioned trial and error: “If an idea you have doesn’t work – keep trying. If it still doesn’t work, it’s ok to change it and evolve it into something else that you’re proud of.”

Wix Playground design students

Making the final touches to your portfolio

For the final stage of the project, designer, educator and podcast host Debbie Millman and art director Alexandra Zsigmond reviewed each portfolio and gave the students individual feedback. Both Debbie and Alexandra shared some tips on creating a portfolio that will stand out, like check spelling and grammar, cut content that is irrelevant and showcase content that you’re really proud of, because your passion really shines through when you describe your project. At the end of the day, designing a good portfolio means you have to look at it as a showcase of your personality. More than anything, this is a curatorial work that reflects your expertise and many passions.

Wix playground design class

Bruce Yao’s portfolio website