10 Tips for Building a Beautiful Web Developer Portfolio

10 Tips for Building a Beautiful Web Developer Portfolio

Web developer portfolioWhen you submit an application — whether it’s for a job or a client project — you probably know that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of applicants who want the job as much as you do.  

So, what do you need to stand out from the crowd? You need an outstanding portfolio.

A web developer portfolio isn’t just a collection of work samples. Instead, it’s an opportunity for you to showcase: 

  • Who you are
  • What kind of work you do
  • How you do that work
  • Where you want to go next 

It should demonstrate the depth and breadth of your abilities as a professional, showcase your thought process and approach, and give potential employers insight into what it might be like to work with you.

Your ultimate goal should be to create a unique online presence that represents your personality, and displays your work in detail. But crafting an amazing portfolio isn’t easy.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 tips that will help you tell your story and get the job you want.

You might also like: How to Create a Compelling Web Design Portfolio.

Your portfolio is a website, not a PDF or LinkedIn profile

A quick word on how your web developer portfolio is packaged.

Although many companies still allow you to upload a PDF version of your portfolio, or provide a link to your LinkedIn profile, sending a URL link to your own website is a much more convenient way of presenting yourself to a recruiter/client.

Sending a URL link to your own website is a much more convenient way of presenting yourself to a recruiter/client.

There are two strong benefits of using a website: 

  1. For web developers, your website is more than just a description of your work — it is your work. It’s a place where you can demonstrate what you’re capable of. If your portfolio is well-designed, potential clients might think, “I want to see the same design on my website!”
  2. You can show and tell much more through a website, by guiding the viewers through your work in an interactive and more in-depth manner. Think of your portfolio as a virtual showroom, and include all required multimedia objects (such as HD visuals and videos).

Finding Clients: Building a Solid Portfolio Website

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1. Start with a teaser

It takes about 50 milliseconds for visitors to form an opinion about your website; whether they like it or not, whether they’ll stay or leave. In addition, first impressions are mostly design-related.

Try to make the best first impression you can, start your design with a nice intro page. Give brief but straightforward descriptions of yourself — this is a great way to engage users and encourage them to browse other sections of your website. Think about what you want to say and how you want to say it:

  • Write a short but valuable (for a visitor) description of who you are and what kind of job you’re looking for.
  • Be concise and friendly in your copy. Try to write in the first person to make it feel more personable. 

When it comes to visuals on your homepage, consider using your own photo as a hero image to inject some personality into the website. Adham Dannaway did this with his website; being both a designer and developer, he found a unique and creative way of showcasing who he is and what he’s capable of right away on the homepage.

Web developer portfolio: Adham Dannaway
Adham Dannaway is direct yet creative in explaining his skill-set on his portfolio homepage.

Alternatively, if you’re not a big fan of including a shot of yourself, you could make a cartoon of yourself, just like Wendy van Veen and Miriam Knijff (Studio Schurk) did.

Web developer portfolio: Studio Schurk
Studio Schurk uses cartoon depictions of themselves on their homepage.

This is a fun approach that highlights some of the personality you might expect when working with them. Overall, what’s most important when crafting a first-impression is that you feel comfortable on your own site.

2. Design clear navigation

When designing a portfolio, you want a website that’s straightforward. Nobody wants to deal with clunky or complicated navigation. So, when it comes to navigation, following the basic principles is a solid way to go: 

  • Navigation must be simple. Without exception, your portfolio website should have the simplest structure possible. Limit the number of navigation options to the absolute required minimum.
  • Navigation should be clear and its function self-evident. There should be no explanation or learning curve required. Avoid creative navigation patterns.
  • Navigation should be consistent. It should be the same on every page. Avoid changing the position of the menu, or hiding it on some pages.

Strive for few navigation options. Most of your visitors only want to navigate to the following sections to find out more about you:

  • Work (or Projects)
  • About Me
  • Contact

Take a look at the Viget website in the example below. Their online portfolio has a simple structure, and a large amount of whitespace creates good visual hierarchy — differentiating the menu from other content on the page.

Web developer portfolio: Viget
Viget has a clear and straightforward navigation structure.

3. Tell the story of who you are

The web design industry is ripe with designers and developers, and it’s up to you to set yourself apart.

Your personality is as important as the tools you use, because most employers aren’t looking to hire a list of great projects — they’re looking for a great person.

Your personality is as important as the tools you use, because most employers aren’t looking to hire a list of great projects — they’re looking for a great person.

So make sure you present yourself in the best possible way.

A good place in your portfolio for this type of information is the “About Me” page. Some might think that this type of page is useless because often, people go straight to your projects overview for information.  

However, I personally think that portfolio websites should be presented as a reflection of yourself, rather than just a place to list your projects.

Let people see a real person behind the website:

  • Share a point of view.You likely have your own unique perspective on your industry, so don’t hesitate to describe it. Share the backstory of how you developed your point of view, too.
  • Express your current level of expertise. You should include your skill level, passions, interests, as well as what you wish to improve and learn in the near future.
  • Describe your achievements. Mention details that demonstrate your connection to the creative world. For example, if you’ve been mentioned in the press or have won an awards, do include them.
  • Let people know where you’re from. This information is always interesting to visitors, and some clients prefer to work with people nearby or in the same area.
  • Round your story out with some personal trivia. Say something about your hobbies, taste of music, or anything that describes you as a person.
Web developer portfolio: Eric Bue
Eric Bue does a great job on his portfolio of explaining who he is in a simple yet fun way.

You might also like: 12 Beautiful Portfolio Websites to Inspire Your Own Design.

4. Describe your work in detail

Your work is the most important piece of content in your web developer portfolio, because it’s what most visitors have come to see. And you want to tell a great story about your work. This means providing the proper context with each piece of work, and describing the approach and solutions with just enough detail.

Create a promising preview

The preview section should come first, and explain basic information about each of your projects. This section is important, because not everyone has time to look through all the content you wrote for each project. If they’re interested, they’ll click through to read more about a specific project.

A rule of thumb with previews is to contextualize the project with a short paragraph. Add a title that best reflects the project, and gives a hint on what this project is about. You want this to be a quick read — a visitor should be able to glance at it and understand what it’s about. The combination of title, short paragraph, and cover image should be engaging enough to make people want to look at the entire project.

Sean Halpin’s portfolio provides a great example of what a nice teaser for each project looks like.

Web developer portfolio: Sean Halpin
Sean Halpin get to the important stuff quickly and effectively with his project previews.

Feature process, not just final product

When you finally get to describing your projects in a case study format, ensure that you’re doing more than just showing a well-made product, because most employers/customers want to know how you created it.

Remember, the work won’t speak for itself, meaning it’s important to show that your work had a process, and that it didn’t just magically appear.  

They best way to present your work is totell a story, and it’s very important to make the story as interesting and informative as possible. Try to present each project case study in the following format:

  • The goal. Clearly state the purpose of the project. Explain the goal and problem you’re addressing with it.
  • The process. As a web developer, following and explaining the overall process is something that you should take very seriously. Your case-study should express how you think and use step-by-step explanation. Explain, briefly, each step of the process from the initial concept to the finished product, and give context to the images. Outline behind-the-scenes processes through visuals: sketches, early screenshots, testing notes — these are all just as valuable as a flawless final product picture.
  • The final product. Demonstrate the end results using both visuals and text. Always include a link to the live version of the website you worked on.
  • The outcome. Show how your work benefitted the client. For example, if you have user research results that show the impact of your work, you should definitely include this information in the outcome section. Also, explain what you’ve learned from the project.

Arturo Wibawa's portfolio contains detailed breakdowns of projects he's worked on, complete with wireframes, flowcharts, and plenty of information about his process.

Web developer portfolio: Arturo Wibawa
Arturo Wibawa goes deep on his project case studies.

Pro tip: Don’t obsess over visual showcases. Avoid dumping images into your case-studies without explaining the step-by-step development process. Although a picture can be worth a thousand words, it’s better to avoid placing too much focus on visuals in your project description. Keep in mind that pictures need words, and words need pictures. Use both.

Design your case-studies for skim reading

You spend hours on your portfolio. Sadly, visitors will spend less than one minute looking at it. Prospective employers spend an average of 10-15 seconds looking at a portfolio. So it’s vital to make sure you present information clearly and strikingly:

  • Once you write all the text for your case study, read it again, and see if you can cut it in half.
  • Break your copy into small chunks, and add headings and subheadings to improve readability and scannability.
  • Limit the number of characters per line (45 to 75 characters is a comfortable length per line).

Pro tip: Be sure to include buttons to share your case studies on social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). They can help increase your exposure, and bring more people who are interested in your skills to your site.

Describe obstacles

Ultimately, design is about problem-solving, and anyone hiring a web developer is hiring someone for their ability to systematically figure out the best solution to their problems.

As you describe different projects in your portfolio, make sure you tell a clear story about what problems you faced during development, and how you overcame these situations as a team/individual.

As you describe the problem and eventual solution, walk people through the process you took to get there:

  • Explain the business problem you were trying to solve. Just a few sentences to create context.
  • Describe your approach. How did you find an approach that worked for your clients and why did it work?
  • Describe the impact of your work. Relate your design/development back to the business problem.
Web developer portfolio: Joshua Taylor
Joshua Taylor effectively outlines project outlines in his portfolio.

In his portfolio, Joshua Taylor identifies the challenges he faced in each design project, describing his team’s problems and solutions. Joshua creates a narrative arc that sells his experience and expertise effectively.

5. Structure your projects

The best way to tell a story with your work is to start with your audience. Figure out what your audience seeks, and then show them how your skills can fit their needs. Spend some time thinking about how you‘ll present your projects in order to maximize value:

  • List the best works first. While there are two common ways of presenting your work — list the most recent projects first or list the best projects first — I suggest listing your best projects at the top. Typically, these projects get more views than the others, and are a better reflection of your current web development knowledge.
  • Keep in mind that your portfolio, as a whole, should demonstrate past work, but also future direction. Thus, always showcase the type of work you want to be doing in the future.
  • Emphasize quality over quantity. The quality of your portfolio is only as good as your weakest project. It’s better to choose three to five projects, where you can describe the process from start-to-end in detail, than to throw all the work you’ve ever done into your portfolio. It’s also perfectly fine to have a portfolio with just one story — just make it a good one.
Web developer portfolio: Michael Nino Everson
Michael Nino Everson’s entire portfolio is built around a single project — SoundCloud for iOS. The process that he follows is described in-depth and is backed up with great examples of imagery, giving clear insight into the way he works.

6. Get over NDA

To a lot of web developers, non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are the greatest threat to a good portfolio. With most companies these days, your work and process are proprietary to them.

However, NDAs shouldn’t be a reason to exclude a project completely from your portfolio. Here are a few ways to handle an NDA problem:

  • Request for permissions. If you have a good relationship with your client, they may allow you to mention the project, especially if you offer to remove all sensitive details.
  • Anonymize the work.You can get your main point across by omitting certain information or censoring sensitive elements with blurring. A prospective employer is likely more interested in the big picture (what you’re capable of) and less so in the specific details of another company.

7. Provide testimonials

Social proof is an excellent way to build trust on any site, but they’re especially good for portfolios. Typically, prospective clients/employers will encounter your testimonials when they’re looking for specific services, considering different developers, and evaluating whether you’re the right fit.

Remember, they haven’t worked with you in the past and don’t know you. Help them overcome their hesitation by giving them a clear idea of what it’s like to work with you. Include testimonials from previous customers or co-workers. A few simple rules will help you with collecting testimonials:

  • Ask for testimonials, instead of waiting for them to come to you. Unless prompted, clients will rarely volunteer a testimonial regarding your work together. Thus, when you finish a product you’re proud of, ask the client to write a testimonial for you.
  • Making sure the questions you ask focus on the business outcomes you’ve helped the client achieve. Ask the client open-ended questions, such as “what did working together help you achieve?”, “what were three other benefits about working together?”, and “would you recommend this service to others? If so, why?”.
  • Avoid using jargon in testimonials. Testimonials need to reflect the actual language clients use to describe working with you.
  • Urge your clients to go beyond your work, and to also talk about what they liked about working with your person-to-person.
  • Build a habit of regularly asking for testimonials. 

Kai Davis provides a lot of useful details on how to collect testimonials, and the differences between weak and strong testimonials in his article Ultimate Guide to Getting Powerful Client Testimonials (With 6 Simple Questions.

Edmund Yu’s portfolio, below, has a great collection of projects, full of details.But what really stands out in his portfolio is the “Mentions” section, in which Edmund displays testimonials about his work.

Web developer portfolio: Edmund Yu
Edmund Yu’s portfolio makes good use of client testimonials.

8. Never lie

It’s not hard to take credit for an entire project that was completed by a team, but claiming other people’s work as your own is a certain way to lose an interview. There’s always a chance that potential interviewers either know someone who’s worked with you, or has seen the work you presented before.

And even if you’re invited to interview, employers/clients will likely ask a lot of questions related to your past projects, some that you might not be able to answer properly.  

Honesty is always the best policy. Being honest in your portfolio applies mostly to differentiating your role from the role of your teammates. In the example below, Charlotte Tang explains her personal role in bringing a project to life. Notice how she refers to the team as “we” and clearly describes what her role in the project was (“My job was…”).

Web developer portfolio: Charlotte Tang
Charlotte Tang describes what role she played in a team project.

9. Make contact easy

The contact page is one of the most important elements of a portfolio website, but it’s often hidden or even neglected.  

Imagine a potential client or employer has browsed your website, is impressed with your portfolio, and wants to meet with you. Make it easy for them to get in touch — use a contact form.

Forms from Wufoo, JotForm, Gravity Forms, or Type Form allow you to customize fields, so you can ask for all the information you need up front.

Graphic designer Gareth Strange even added an illustration next to his contact form to make the experience a bit more personal.

Web developer portfolio: Strangelove
Strangelove, Gavin Strange’s portfolio site, not only makes it easy for potential employers to get in touch, but he adds a touch of personality to the proceedings.

10. Improve your portfolio with analytics

By installing tracking analytics on your website (e.g. Google Analytics), you can visualize who has recently visited your website, how long they stayed, and which specific projects they looked at.

Analytics can also help you build a profile of visitors, including their country of origin, as well as browser and devices they use to access your site. All of this rich and useful information will help you make changes to your website in order to present your projects better.

You might also like: How to Use Google Analytics to Improve Your Web Design Projects.

Create a solid web developer portfolio

Creating a great web developer portfolio is a journey that involves a lot of effort (time, learning, and iteration) — but it’s definitely worth it.

If you succeed, your portfolio will demonstrate the depth of your abilities as a developer, showcase your thought process, and give potential employers or clients insight into what it might be like to work with you.

And remember, people hire people, not portfolios.

And remember, people hire people, not portfolios.

What tips do you have for web developer portfolio sites? Tell us in the comments section below.

About the Author

Nick Babich is a developer, tech enthusiast, and UX lover. He's spent the last 10 years working in the software industry, with a specialized focus on development. He counts advertising, psychology, and cinema among his myriad interests.

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