The Making of a Portfolio Site

In July, 2009, I decided that I was going to seriously redesign my portfolio.  I had always had a website, but there was no dynamic content, nor was there any updated work, nor was there any real reason for people to visit the site.  The last time I redesigned my website was when I applied for my current job (which was over five years ago….yikes, has it been that long?). Chalk it up to being too busy, or too lazy; I could never get around to working on it.

I’ve always sought freelance work, and have always been as busy as I wanted to be.  If a client wanted to see samples, I would simply send links to the dev directory on my web server, which worked well enough, but was far from professional. The final straw was when I went to talk to a friend from college at the design firm he works at in KC. Of course, they wanted to see my work, so the night before, I did a ‘quick and dirty’ redesign. This was passable, but not the caliber of quality I strive for.

The main features I had in mind for this new site were:

  1. Updatability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Expandability

Seems simple enough; but after I finished the design work (conceptualization, mock-ups and revisions), I realized I had only just begun.

Updatability

The problem with my other portfolio websites was that of updatability. In the past, my work had been displayed in a static manner, meaning, if I added a piece, I  had to go into each page and add a link in the menu, add a new page for the work, add the work, then upload all of the files to the web server. All of this contributed to why I never updated my portfolio — It was simply too time-consuming. This had to change in order to maintain a current portfolio.

Accessibility

I wanted to be able to update sections of my site from about anywhere. Having an iPhone allows me to upload pictures to Facebook, update my Twitter status, and just about anything else that can be done from my computer. Why shouldn’t I be able to update images in my portfolio, update project information, or post a new story on my blog?  I needed a content management system that wasn’t machine-dependent. I wanted to update my site on any machine or device that could access the internet.

Expandability

Initially I wasn’t sure how many pieces I would add to my portfolio. I only wanted to add specific projects at first, as I’ve never thought it to be a good idea to show every piece I’ve created. I hate to say it, but sometimes a designer has to take on a project just to pay the bills, and will never be ‘portfolio worthy’ for one reason or another. Though I avoid this as much as possible, it does happen. I needed a system that will allow me to add a constant stream of work, which will help me lunch the website more quickly, while expanding sections later.

These factors and budget lead me to a popular choice, free blogging software. Many popular platforms can be manipulated to fit the needs of a full website content management system. While there are a number of great options, I narrowed my choices down to two: Textpattern and WordPress. Both are free, and both would fit my current needs.

Textpattern is free blog software that I have used in past projects.  While it works perfectly well, and has a relatively low learning curve, it isn’t as widely used as some of the other blogging software platforms. I felt that with the potential complexity of this growing site, the support system just wasn’t in place.  My ultimate choice was WordPress.

Seeing the countless forums, documentation, knowledge base, and contributions that WP developers constantly add, meant that there was a wealth of resources available. Also, a large number of designers have turned to WordPress, meaning that a lot of  plugins and functionality is available.

The single, most helpful resource I found was a developer by the name of Elliot Jay Stocks. His video how-to screen-cast on Carsonfied detailed how to build a portfolio website using WordPress. I had the design work finished, this was exactly what I needed to start the development.

His code is elegantly organized, modular, and easy to understand. His site, blog, and screen-casts were instrumental in the development of this site. I loved the way his site was organized and got a number of great ideas for my site from it. I urge you to visit his site, and check out his screen-casts. Thank you sir, for your posts. I definitely owe you a drink!

Photography

I am no photographer. I mean, sure, I can take a decent picture, but there are many nuances to photography that slip past me. If it wasn’t for my wife Holly, I wouldn’t have gotten very far. We set up a mini-studio in our dining room, where I compiled all of my work. I borrowed a tripod from a friend, and away we went. I started with my package design pieces, and made everything else feel similar. I liked the look of the package pieces so much, I thought shooting the web stuff with a camera could give an interesting feel while breaking out of the boundaries of the norm. I liked the new visual interst, angles it created and the screen patterns it added. Since everyone can visit the link provided on each project page I didn’t feel like it took away from the project.

This got way longer than I expected. I promise not to write as much on subsequent posts. There was just too much to cover.  Thanks again to Elliot and Holly! Hope you enjoy the site.


3 Responses to “The Making of a Portfolio Site”

  1. Will Gleason says, or rather, writes:

    Lookin really good Trent! I will check back often to see more and share with friends. Good work as always bro!


  2. Joe Wilper says, or rather, writes:

    Can’t say it better, so I won’t. Great work.


  3. Scott K. says, or rather, writes:

    Trent,

    I absolutely love the new Web site. It’s very well done (and, of course, well designed).

    It’s exciting to see your work again, my friend.

    I’m off to subscribe to all things T. White.

    Scott