1: Planning and Pre-Launch - 2: What happened and what’s to come?

I’ve been meaning to get my portfolio and redesigned and rebranded for a little while now, but time has always been a huge constraint. With the career fair coming up in April, I figured that would be a good deadline to meet. My hope for these little blog posts is to document my process and hopefully be able to learn from it in retrospect when I do another portfolio.

Secondary Objective: Better Flows and Integration

The secondary goal I have for this project is to integrate my social media and blogging presence more on the website itself and keep everything (especially the blog) connected to the website. Plus, even though I don’t intend to blog for attention, I also don’t want it to be hard to find. Keeping things purely on my server would prove difficult to expose to the rest of the world, so I eventually decided to keep using the tumblr that I had for my Digital Culture class. Since I don’t want the entire site on tumblr, that means I’ll need to recode my theme in regular code and then adapt it for tumblr later. This part comes pretty naturally to me though at this point, so I won’t dedicate much of this post to it. The real challenge of this redesign is, well, the design.

Primary Objective: Professionalize

The main goal of the redesign is to professionalize it more. I turned 20 in January, and I haven’t done a serious look at my typography, graphics, or any other assets since I designed my card and portfolio when I was 17. All the graphics on the website need to be updated to match my design ideas and the current design trends. (To give you a better idea of where I started out, my first portfolio wasn’t viewable on phones and the first avatar I commissioned was wearing a sweatshirt and headphones.) I’m not abandoning everything from my original branding. The general format of my business cards is remaining the same, as well as the main fonts and theme of them. However, the rest will be updated and modernized.

My Design Block, and How I Got Rid of It

For a month or so, design was the biggest block I had. I come primarily from a developer background, so neither art nor design were something I emphasized as much in my initial learning. I always wanted to be a programmer, but learning design followed natural as I began to freelance. “How can I create a design that will manage an accurate level of expectation for incoming clients?” became a guiding question for me during my design process. And, by the way, those design decisions mentioned earlier in this post did not come easily. At all. I can get inspired and turn a good product occasionally, but overall I feel like it takes longer to get the idea than it should, the design isn’t unique, or that I’m just not satisfied with it. I’m exposed to many points of reference in the form of other people’s designs, (useful for research purposes) but it feels that ultimately they just add pressure to the design process, especially since most I look at were designed by trained designers. But perhaps most importantly, I want to manage expectations and make sure that people don’t expect a design I can’t provide them. I also feel it’s also difficult to showcase the quality of my development skills to a regular viewer, because most people don’t and won’t really know what that all entails. Every idea I had and drafted felt bad after an hour into the drafting, so I kept giving up and working on something else. But, a few things happen that I think let me “break the block”, so to speak.

Outside Influences

First, I had a look at other portfolios (curated by Web Designer Depot’s monthly portfolio post) to see what other people have been designing right now. Using this information, I could see what trends are around and what portfolio viewers will be expecting. From there, I thought about which trends made sense to me from a usability perspective and which I thought were just novelty. I took some notes, and then used those to sketch a wireframe for the homepage. Another big influence was a conversation I had with my web design professor, while we discussed designing “mobile first”. I generally have a preference for function over form, and feel that mobile layouts have a tendency to strip out more complex functions. However, I was able to shift my focus from “losing functionality” to being able to get a minimum viable product and design that works.

Internal Realizations

Perhaps the biggest problem I had was acceptance of my own style of design. My designs tend to skew towards utilitarian versus aesthetically driven, and I prioritize usability and user experience. A combination of those things plus my lack of aesthetic inclinations tend to result in design that is more plain than what I’m used to seeing. I used to try to force in additional elements to boost the visuals, but they never looked natural. After starting some draft work on the website design, I’ve come to terms with my style and am actually quite satisfied with how it’s turned out. It’s in progress, for sure, but I feel that a ton of progress has been made that I wouldn’t have worked out if I hadn’t gotten out of my design block.

Going Forward

I’m still in the middle of the redesign, but since the beginning I’ve gained much more confidence in myself and my skills. Hopefully design sketching should be finished in a week, and then I can start writing the code and creating assets. By the end of this process, I hope to have some drafts released and sample documents available. Finally, thanks for reading this, I hope it gave you some insight into my design process. :)