Lately, I’ve been reviewing my website, www.designmarie.co.uk, and decided that it was time for a redesign.
Before I set out as a freelancer in mid-2016, I’d never had an online design portfolio, simply because I didn’t need one. I’d been working in-house for 12 years and most of my other jobs had found me through recommendations, so I’d been faring well with my print portfolio. But the last decade really changed how designers display their work, and so I rushed to set ‘something’ up – and knew straightaway that it just wasn’t good enough.
To be fair, I’d come from a strong print design background and web … well … user interface (UI) design wasn’t my strongest suit. A couple of years earlier I’d taken a HTML/CSS course but, not being able to apply what I’d learned in my previous job, my coding abilities became rusty and my user experience understanding was fairly basic.
That all changed when I took the plunge and enrolled in General Assembly’s User Experience (UX) Design course at the beginning of 2017. It gave me a good grounding in how to approach any kind of UI design, may it be on websites, apps or other digital products. It also pushed me to learn more about digital design principles, good web design practices and brush up on my coding skills.
So armed with Sketch, fresh UI understanding and my personal in-house web developer on hand, I’m setting out to really crack my website and make it one of my first real-life UX/web design projects. It will probably take me a while to get it done (using my evenings and weekends) but I’m confident it will be worth it.
I’m keen to practice what I’ve learned and apply as well as show off my new UX design knowledge. I took time to go back to my study notes and started from scratch, really thinking about what my audience needs from a portfolio and pinning down the problem statement before I even thought about any research. I also dived deep into lynda.com, taking more advanced courses on user experience design and how to set up web portfolios. The more I learned, the more I understood that my portfolio would be one of my strongest tools as a freelance designer – once I’d done it right.
I’m gonna use my blog to document the process – after all, presentation is a big part of the UX process. So without further ado, here is what I’ve done so far:
1. Breaking the design process mould
In the beginning there was Sketch … err … oops! Well, because I was keen to practise my Sketch skills and because I love visual designing so much, all my good intentions went straight out of the window and, within a couple of evenings, I’d come up with a new design direction for my new website. Yep, naughty.
What can I say, it’s what I’d done many times before: get a vague brief, fill in the gaps by myself and start designing. Quite often it actually works: most smaller projects have space for quick improvements, or I might know the client so well that I’m good at second-guessing what they want. But that was not the point now. I had a new design process to follow!
So after spending a bit of time playing with Sketch and getting to grips with some UI design principles, my UX conscience held up a stop sign and told me to focus: You know better than this – do it right!
2. Discovering the problem
And so I asked myself: What’s my actual problem?
Well, I have a website – but I’m not proud of it. While there are elements that work (the single page layout, the colour scheme, the animated feel), there are so many design and functionality flaws that I don’t like sending people to my site. Instead I’m pointing them to my Creativepool portfolio which is simply more user-friendly.
But the technical and visual aspects aside, I’m convinced the website is confusing because it wasn’t designed with my users in mind. For a starter, there is too much text right at the beginning. Will people ever read that? The work samples seem in no particular order and the infographics at the bottom, as cute and funny as they might be, I wonder if they’re actually what my users are after.
So that’s my problem: I have a hunch that my portfolio website is confusing to my users and they need a better and quicker way to find the information they are looking for.
3. Discovering the users
Luckily I knew my client pretty well – and I knew exactly what I wanted: a fresh-looking and clear design portfolio that would show off my work and personality, tell great stories and help me expand my freelance business. I also knew what I didn’t want: a box-standard website that looked like so many design portfolios out there – full of trendy-looking projects but, in the end, indistinguishable from the others. But most of all, I wanted a website that is useful to my audience.
With my client’s objectives spelled out, I wondered who my users actually are and what exactly they want from my portfolio. Reading articles about design portfolios, freelance designer audiences and doing some intense thinking, I came up with three groups:
- Recruitment agencies who are looking to place freelance designers
- Design agencies and other companies as well as individuals who are looking to work with a freelance designer
- My current and previous clients
Now I might discover in my research that design agencies are watching out for different things in a portfolio than individuals or other companies. I might also find that I have to narrow down my target audience even further: After all I really enjoy working with start-ups and charities – do they have different needs when searching for design help than, let’s say, FTSE 500 companies? Well, to find out I will interview different representatives and see what the answers bring.
And that’s it for now. That’s how far I’ve come. The next step will be to set up, prepare and do user interviews. Stay tuned on my discovery journey to the best portfolio website I can build!