In an ocean of Squarespace sites and Behance portfolios, it can be easy to forget that there are limitless ways to represent your work. Not all of them require custom coding, or even fancy images. In fact, some of the most compelling portfolios we’ve seen use what you could call “off-the-rack” solutions that designers have taken advantage of to bring a fresh perspective to presenting work. Learn more about how four designers pulled together their portfolios.
Carly Ayres: Google Docs
“I put up the site in 2015. A lot of people were experimenting with domain forwarding at the time, and I realized that you can actually just forward to anything. I also really loved websites that were very interactive, but despite my best intentions, coding has never really stuck for me. I was working mostly as a freelance writer at the time, and it was either right after or during my time working at the Google Creative Lab. I was using Google Docs all the time, so it felt very natural to just kind of fold everything into a Google Doc.
“My boyfriend and I teach a class on building the foundation of your creative practice. We teach that there are three artifacts you need to get a job when you’re working as a creative person: you need a website, which really acts as more of a calling card. You need a PDF—something you can share and send and can stand on its own—and then you need a presentation. I would say my site fulfills that first need. I would hope that you’d be able to land on my site and get the general gist of what I do and how I approach my work, as well as who I am as an individual—then reach out for more if it feels like the right fit.
“I had a Cargo site before my current website, and I had a Behance page when I graduated from college. My Behance is actually still active and online. As someone who is doing a lot of different things, I wanted a bit more control over how people encountered my work. On my old site, I said that I was “a specialized generalist or generalized specialist generally specializing in…” and then described whatever I was doing at the time. I’m a very “more is more” person, and a lot of times, if you have absolutely everything on your site, and people don’t see what they want to hire you to do, they might assume you can’t or won’t do it. So that was also part of the impetus for switching over to a site that wasn’t such a “traditional” portfolio.
“With a Google Doc, the beauty is in the constraints. You’re limited in what you can do, so you get to kind of push against the constraints of the format to figure out how to make it work for you, which I think is fun. You can change the background color and you can change the dimensions. The last time I updated the design was in June of last year following George Floyd’s murder and the Black Lives Matter protests. Since this is my space online, I wanted to use it to say the things I want to say, and I felt like, instead of self promotion, it should serve a different purpose. So I updated it with resources.
“The fact that people can edit the page and leave comments has also been a really nice element. It’s nice to meet people, and it’s nice to have a guest book on the internet and to see who is visiting the site. I’ve only had someone drop porn in there once.”
Prem Krishnamurthy: Google Slides
“It was a gradual process of coming to the format of Google Slides, which culminated in a flash. I had the idea for many years to make a Google Slides presentation or portfolio of my work, since it would be much easier to update and share. I never did it, though, because of inertia: I had spent so many years making Keynote presentations for talks, performances, and publications that it felt difficult to change platforms.
“The tipping point was an invitation in June 2020 to give an artist’s talk at Goldsmiths MFA program. The talk came with a serious tech constraint: the school used Jitsi, but had experienced serious problems with bandwidth and people not being able to share their screens. Also, to try to make the situation work, the organizers asked everyone to turn off their video, making the whole event rather solemn! I decided rather quickly to use Google Slides so that, in the worst case scenario, I could easily give the audience the presentation link to follow along.
“Since I had limited time to develop the portfolio / presentation slides for Goldsmiths, I started from something already existing and close at hand: the Google Slides doc for Present!, the Sunday sermon / experimental performance series / karaoke artist jam that I developed starting in March 2020, co-produced by Emily Smith and assisted by Julia Iglesias. For this series, we used Google Slides to hold the “show notes” for each episode including links and resources. It was a slightly clumsy container, but easy to update and share on the fly, and it felt appropriately low-fi, which fit with the whole approach of the show. Another piece of the decision to use Google Slides was my desire to play with being able to enter content into the document “live” during the talk. I’m often interested in collapsing the distinctions between production, presentation, and performance.
“I generally let one context of presentation inform the next one. This is nothing radical or new, it’s just a practical and conceptual desire to not start from scratch every time. In this case, what I developed as a presentation for a specific talk became a document that I tweaked and then used for a job application for a professorship due a couple of days later. I knew this timing from the start, so I let one set of constraints inform the next one. From then on, each time I needed to present my work for a different context, I would add or hide certain projects, until the portfolio reached its current form. This kind of working out ideas and formats in public—trying to both frame and create one’s work iteratively and with a high degree of transparency—is something I’m invested in.
“I’d like them [people looking at the portfolio] to have a sense of my work and thinking. To be more accurate, I’d like them to have a sense of who I am more holistically. Ideally, it’s a bit like meeting a version of me for the first time. I’ve always found portfolios extremely difficult as a genre. As someone who is usually most excited about whatever project is coming up on the horizon, I find it difficult to be too retrospective about finished projects. In fact, if you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have answered that a portfolio is a dead thing. Michael Rock, one of my teachers at Yale, tried to simplify the task: He told me to just design 5–10 pages with text and images of projects that could be easily mailed and printed out. That worked for getting my first internship and was also a useful tool for me: it helped me realize what my work was lacking at that time. But making personal portfolios generally felt like a burden or a chore.
“I guess that I used to think of portfolios as vehicles not only for self-presentation but also for self-discovery. Nowadays, nobody probably has time to look at sprawling, self-reflexive documents that unfurl a person’s process and methods—but I still enjoy making them. It runs a bit counter to the speed of the world.
“The irony, or maybe just the next step in a constant process of change, is that just a couple of weeks ago I made a new portfolio, for a different professor application. This one was very very simple: an 18 page PDF with some texts and images and very few frills. Probably the most minimal portfolio I’ve had since the 1990s! So, who knows, maybe my portfolios are shrinking, and one day I’ll be able to say what once took me hundreds of pages in a single one.”
David Reinfurt: Downloadable PDF
“I started making portfolios when it was an actual physical thing. With this portfolio, I wanted it to be a more committed experience that requires a certain amount of attention. When you’re looking at it, that’s it. A PDF is static, and you have to want to get it to engage with it. Rather than a collection of web pages, you have to download it and open it separately, so it has a little bit of the quality of an object. It’s also a format that’s been around forever, but by today’s standards, it feels a little bit off from the normal way in which you might see a portfolio.
“I’ve had a portfolio of work for a long time, and it’s been just an InDesign file that I use to generate the PDF. There’s usually only 10 projects in there at a time. I had originally designed this to be printed out as a print-on-demand book, and I just kept that format. I think I was putting it together for something specific and then was like: well, I may as well go ahead and put it up on our website and make it available.
“I do write about each project, but I’m trying to be as concise and as clear as possible. I thought the presentation should be really quiet. The last thing I want to do is work on a portfolio, so I update it only when I have to submit it for something, like awards or upcoming projects or things like that. I just do it once, and then try not to worry about it and go on to the next thing.
“I want to make it just absolutely practical for myself to use and to send when it’s asked for. People who receive this are usually people who have requested it or ask for it in some way. I don’t need it to be a promotional tool—I’m more interested in [making it available] than just ambiently promoting.”
Gemma Copeland: Are.na
“I’ve been tending to this iteration of my website since late 2019. I had just left my full-time job, and my good friend Piper Haywood generously offered to build me a new website. It was mainly an excuse for us to work together and explore some of our ideas about web design and development in collaboration.
“At the time, I was focusing all my energy on getting my worker co-op Common Knowledge off the ground. I wanted to direct any potential work through the co-op, so my personal site was intended to be more of a space for learning and play. I’ve never been one for carefully documenting my work, and I never liked the thought of having a slick portfolio website either. I just wanted somewhere to collect my current interests and half-baked thoughts. I strongly believe that there is no such thing as individual genius and I’ve always worked in close collaboration with other people, so I feel strange when presenting projects as my own. I try to see everything as a conversation – I think that every project becomes richer from having a multiplicity of inputs and perspectives.
“We wanted to make the most of existing tools and workflows to make the site really easy to update, simple, accessible and resilient. (Piper put a lot of effort into making the site super simple to update, and the code easy enough for a beginner to understand. She’s written a lovely README too. The whole thing is open source and I know at least one friend who has forked it.) I was already using Are.na profusely, so it made sense to just hook into that via the API. Anything that I add to “My Website” channel on Arena will show up in the Thinking panel. This is also where I host any images that I add to the Writing section.
“I think Are.na is a really interesting tool because it allows for a kind of ambient research. If I’ve come across something I’m interested in, but don’t quite know the shape of it yet, I’ll make a channel and just add things to it gradually. This process is quite intuitive: I search for loose connections and don’t edit too much. Over time, patterns will emerge. The process of revisiting these channels later will often tell me what I was subconsciously looking for. I think presenting these channels on my website, and exposing the content inside, is a way for me to keep looking for patterns and reflecting on my current interests.
“I also wanted to have a space to practice writing, transform loose research or observations into something more coherent and share what I’m learning with other people as well. I was hoping that putting a Writing section on my website would encourage me to write more, although I still don’t make enough time for it. I hid that section from the homepage – I think of it being on the verso of the website – because I didn’t want to feel like I needed to keep anything regularly updated.
“The site is intended more for myself than anyone else, although of course I hope that other people find it interesting or useful. I don’t track visitors because I think it’s totally unnecessary for a site like this, but it is lovely when people occasionally email me about something.”