Why should I even have an online portfolio?
A portion of working in architecture includes having to market yourself and your skills. "One minute networking" is a skill that many architects learn in order to be successful in the creative field, but having the gift of gab requires you to put your money where your mouth is. If you have an online portfolio which is accessible with just an internet internet connection and a digital device capable of viewing it, your work is always conveniently available during your networking conversations. It's also helpful for sharing your work in online conversations: while a pdf of your print portfolio can really only be sent by email, practically every messaging app or direct messaging service built into social networks will allow you to send a link, allowing you to take advantage of an opportunity even when you weren't expecting one to arise. Finally, if you make it right your website can even do some of the advertising and networking for you.
The most important thing to remember is that like your resume or print portfolio, an online portfolio is a tool to help you advance your career, so it must be useful towards your goals. Therefore instead of asking yourself why you should have an online portfolio, you should ask yourself what those goals are, and how your online portfolio can be optimized to help you achieve them.
Now that we've gotten that question out of the way, here are 8 other questions to ask yourself:
2. Should I just upload a PDF of my print portfolio?
Yes and no. Uploading your PDF portfolio to a zine hosting site such as ISSUU is an easy-click way to get an accessible sample of your work online. It's convenient for job applications when you can just include a URL rather than an attachment, or when you can include a QR code in your business card that links directly to ISSUU. But this method isn't for everyone.
Besides simplicity, the main advantage of uploading a PDF is that it allows you to demonstrate your graphic presentation skills in traditional print media, which is great if that's a skill you particularly want to highlight. But on the other hand, an online PDF is rarely the most convenient or effective way to see something online—just because your graphics looked great on a large format printout does not necessarily mean that it would convey the same quality as a jpeg on a 15 inch screen.. In addition, just as you may need different types of print portfolio for different purposes, having the same projects in both print and on your online portfolio could be redundant. Perhaps uploading a PDF of a two-page portfolio on your website is a happy medium. Do whichever you think your employers would prefer in your *dream* job.
3. I don’t have much time to learn how to code or to customize visuals—can I still have an online portfolio?
As mentioned previously, you could simply upload a PDF of your portfolio on ISSUU. An alternative to this is to create an account with Behance. The platform is hosted by Adobe and your free account displays a collection of all your work. There aren’t any customization features, which on the one hand makes the setup straightforward and easy, but on the other means that your work must stand on its own, without any added "wow factor." However, the value of uploading individual images for online viewing rather than spreads and layouts should not be overlooked, and Behance therefore offers a more digitally-native way to display your work than ISSUU. The site also offers a fairly comprehensive social networking component—almost like a Linkedin for creatives. You never know, this could be the source of your next job opportunity.
4. How should I create my website?
If you are quite adamant about having more control over the presentation of your work then this question is for you. There are ultimately more than a hundred ways to create a website but among the more popular these days are three platforms: Wordpress, Squarespace, and Format.
Squarespace and Format: Both of these sites are quite similar in terms of pricing scheme and the friendliness of the user interface. There are easy-to-use templates that give you a polished looking website in mere minutes. As for comparisons, Squarespace targets their service beyond portfolios while Format focuses solely on portfolios. Squarespace also has a simple logo making service which might be useful. The choice really comes down to which templates you prefer, as they are exclusive to each site.
Wordpress: It's important to be aware of the difference between wordpress.com and wordpress.org. The former is a hosting service which gives limited customization options, but on the plus side is free and relatively easy to use. The latter platform is quite possibly the most reliable website creation service that is readily available to the public, however it does require you to host your own site, with all the technical understanding that requires. However, the system is incredibly popular, with even large companies using the platform including CNN and The New York Times. In general, as an open-source platform Wordpress.org also gives you more freedom and control than Squarespace and Format thanks to its thousands of user-generated plugins you can install.
5. How many projects should I feature on my website?
The answer to this question goes back to what you ultimately want to achieve with your portfolio. With print portfolios, they always say that you should only feature your best work—not only does it demonstrate critical abilities but it also keeps the page count to a reasonable number. For websites, you are allowed to have as much data as you want, so it depends solely on your desired outcome. If you want to be known for just one innovation or type of building, or you want people to only see the best you have to offer, only upload the corresponding projects. If you want a comprehensive archive, you should obviously upload all of your work—but you should probably also think carefully about the next question.
6. How do I organize the contents of my website?
If you choose to have a comprehensive archive of your work, it's important to have logical organization system which makes it easy to quickly access whatever type of work your future employers are looking for. Many larger firms, such as Diller Scofidio + Renfro display their projects chronologically, but they have categorized their projects to different typologies. You may want to follow a similar technique. It’s best to look for inspiration towards the larger architecture firms like Foster + Partners or OMA because they have such a volume of projects that they need to have a good organizing system.
7. What is SEO and how will it help me?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It can be an incredibly complex consideration—after all, an entire industry has been built off of it—but in simple terms it boils down to a good mixture of links, content, and keywords on your website which increases the likelihood of search engines like Google to recommend your website on searches. There are many ways you can increase your website’s SEO ranking and here are a few ways to start, but perhaps the most important to remember is to include your name or the business name you with to go by in prominent places such as the url, the page titles and the headers in your page text. This may sound astonishingly obvious, but it's actually surprisingly easy to forget, as we'll discuss in the following question.
8. How can I make my portfolio standout?
The quick answer to this question is: Not with image based graphics! It’s very tempting to create beautiful image-based headers for online websites but the downside to this approach is that search engines cannot process image-based data which means that your website is not as SEO friendly as you would like. If you make the decision to have a beautiful, customized website, it's worth your tie to make sure it is done properly, as trying to "hack" your way to a beautiful website often does more harm than good.
Spending extra time on formulating a unique color palette, and investing in a tasteful customized font is an efficient and cost-effective way to stand out from the pack. But the most important thing to remember is that your portfolio will be compared with many others in a crowded online space, so you need to make use of your creativity to highlight your best aspects; whether that means putting faith in your design abilities with a design which highlights the work itself or by creating something a bit more unconventional is up to you.
9. How often should I be updating?
There are few things more off-putting to a potential contact than an online portfolio that seems abandoned. The rule of thumb is that you should probably update your online portfolio at least once every 6 months, provided that you have a new project to add. Alternatively, you could opt to make regular updates on a monthly or weekly basis much like what Bob Borson has done with Life of an Architect. Creating articles that are useful to other architects/designers is a great way to market yourself and your practice and shows that you're an engaged thinker, not to mention the fact that helpful articles with relevant titles are SEO friendly.