Ditch the flashy portfolio

A portfolio by definition is “a large, thin, flat case for loose sheets of paper such as drawings or maps.” I see lots of these when evaluting the merits of leveraging someone’s expertise, especially graphic design expertise.

It seems like the goal is to cram in as many images as possible as some tribute of quantity to indicate expertise. Many of these designers are highly talented in creating stunning images, so it’s difficult to determine why I would work with any particular designer.

The trouble is, the portfolios only show the visual dimension of what they helped someone accomplish. Sometimes a little blurb is included after digging into a sample, but it rarely helps clarify what impact it had. I’m no expert in results designers hope to achieve, but I imagine work related to a web presence would be a candidate for leveraging analytics. Measuring these before and after a redesign, for appropriate periods, could help determine the impact.

Imagine if the portoflio contained the following, front and center, not buried several pages deep:

  • This design resulted in a 50% increase in the duration customers spent reading the resources we provide.
  • This design resulted in a 80% increase in sharing our content on social media platforms.
  • This design resulted in an additional 10% increase in sales profit per visitor.

With this information, I’d be able to identify if the designer had demonstarted prior expertise in getting results that I myself may be looking for. They may even educate me about results I’m unaware of! Results are a universal language anyone can understand.

I can’t image designers see their work as simply producing cool visuals. I imagine many of them have techniques, given the right guidance from a customer, to maximize a particular outcome.

Perhaps they are relegated to tasks like “update my business card, create a new web design” and not “help us keep customers on our site longer, help us increase our social media presence, help us increase our sales.” I know the perils of producing an impact if you aren’t privileged to what that impact is supposed to be. It’s impossible to hit a target you can’t see.

I’m in the software business, we often fall prey to showing off the “cool” software we’ve built. Recently I received feedback about the outcome of a prior project. The feedback quantified that their customer base grew by more than 20%. That’s what I want in my portfolio.