.: 20 December 2015 :.

Should You Design Your Portfolio For Web Or For Print?

Did you ever ask yourself whether you should design your portfolio for web or print? Were you ever worried that you can’t deliver in the format your visitor will ask for? Did you design for print and are you wondering whether to put your PDF portfolio online?

These are fair concerns. The format you are delivering in is a fundamental decision. It is one of the first decision you will have to make when building your portfolio. Therefore it greatly impacts the tools you choose to build.

Today I want to help you choose the right portfolio format. I am purposefully making this personal because the right decision is not the same for everybody. But before diving into what you should do, here is what you should not do.

Don’t design for print and show your portfolio online. Don’t design for web and print your portfolio.

There is a reason that Adobe InDesign and Adobe Photoshop are two separate programs. Pixels are not the same as millimeters. Flipping a page of a book does not feel the same as clicking to the next page.

People interact differently with different formats. You should picture your visitor interacting with your portfolio when you are designing it. You should use the tools that are specifically designed for your format.

Before you start building you should know in what format you will finally deliver your portfolio.

I have seen a lot of people publishing their PDF online. They have designed it for print, but they try use the potential of the web. They think that they have nothing to lose by putting their PDF online.

Have you every enjoyed viewing a big PDF file online? Most PDF viewers are slow and ugly. They have unnecessary flipping pages animations and force you to scroll sideways. All of this distracts from the content. It distracts from your work. This bad experience translates to how your visitors perceive your portfolio. If your portfolio makes their pc crash, they won’t be happy thinking about you.

The reason of this bad experience is simple. PDF files are created with the tools to design for print, not for web. That’s why I really think that putting a PDF online is a bad idea, for the same reason printing your website is.

I am not saying you cannot have two portfolios. You can design a portfolio for print and a portfolio for web. I am just saying that you should not mix them up. Now we have got that out of we way, we can think about what is the best decision for you.

Should you design your portfolio for web or print?

Here is my short answer. You should design for web. In most cases atleast. Design for web unless the sensory experience of the printed is crucial in your craft.

There are certain qualities in a printed portfolio that cannot be replaced by the web. The smell of a freshly pressed portfolio. The rich feeling of flipping a beautiful piece of handcrafted paper. All of these sensory triggers makes consuming a printed portfolio a very rich, sensory experience.

This stands in contrast to consuming a website. If you design for web there will always be something between the user and your portfolio. A mouse, a trackpad or a piece of thin glass. The imperfections of your printout are now replaced by a pixel perfect webdesign.

If you design for web there will always be something between the user and your portfolio. A mouse, a trackpad or a piece of thin glass.

If you are a graphic designer you want to design the feeling of the paper. You want your portfolio to feel heavy. You want your portfolio to smell like it is just pressed. It is a way to express your skills. However if you are a digital designer your playground is the web.

If the sensory experience with paper does not matter in your craft, going for web is an absolute no brainer.

In the old days a portfolio was nothing more than a static collection of work. You would print a dozen of copies and send them out to companies. Back then, it made sense.

Nowadays, your portfolio should be more than a collection of work. The accessibility and size of the web offer you a huge opportunity. It enables you to push your content to billions of people. Your potential target audience is huge.

I think here lies the true value of an online portfolio. Using the web you can use your portfolio as a platform to attract people. You can attract those people that can boost your career.

Instead of you sending away a paper copy of your portfolio, using the web you can ensure people to reach out to you.

You don’t just have to focus on companies as your target audience. You can share your work as I way to attract likeminded people. People who are working on the same problems. Online you can create your own little universe. You can make people follow you and engage with them.

But what if I design for web and the company I apply for asks for a paper copy of my portfolio?

To me, a company asking for a paper portfolio copy is a useful sign. A sign to avoid that company. Those companies typically have a very conservative company culture. They are stuck in old processes. Especially as I digital designer myself, I don’t want to work for a company that does not see the value of the web. Do you?

© 2018 Martijn van den Broeck
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