Things I Learned While Making this Website
Putting together this website took longer than I had hoped it would. I learned a few things along the way that might be helpful to you if you are assembling your body of work for the world to see.
It’s scary putting yourself out there
This one may seem obvious but I thought it was worth including. Sharing your work publicly online can be a scary thing. Creatives tend to fall into the trap of thinking it’s never good enough, and comparing it to the work of their idols. I’m all for putting in the time and making your best work, but you can’t let fear stop you from shipping.
So what if it’s not the best portfolio out there? So what if you wish the quality was twice as high? Get it out there, and then just keep iterating on it and adding to it.
Being you’re own client is not easy
Half way through making my site, I realized that I really didn’t have my stuff together yet. I didn’t have the images prepared, the text written and I was trying to design the website anyway. In a weird way, I was being a “bad client” to myself.
Wait what? How the hell can you be a bad (or good) client to yourself?
When you work with a client, it’s important to receive all of the necessary content and information up front, so that you can design the best solution within the timeline. And this can work the same way when you work for yourself.
When I finally got organized and made organized file folders for each project, the project got much easier to manage. I recommend doing all of that legwork before you even start designing a site, so when you go to design, that’s all you have to focus on. And then all you would have to do is lay out/crop the images and format text to fit your layout.
Break it down
This used to have as an item on my to-do list: “work on website”. Do you see the problem with that?
It means nothing. There are too many moving parts and things to do. “Work on website” became this overwhelming task that I never knew how to tackle.
I needed to get more specific. The way to stay on top of it was to break it down into small, bite-sized tasks. I made a whole separate to-do list just for this project.
The tasks need to be specific and fairly easy to tackle, otherwise you can get easily distracted or discouraged. “Write content for about page”, or “prepare images for branding project page” are much more manageable than “work on website”. If your to-do list is full of small, actionable items, it’s easier to takes steps towards accomplishing the greater goal.
What platform to use
I’ve used a lot of different platforms over the years to showcase my work, but many of them were too limiting or too complex and frustrating for me.
Last year, I saw the need to start fresh. I had done a lot of new work that was not on my old sites, and I wanted to present it in a way that really told stories about each project.
At first I started building this website on Wordpress, thinking I would just purchase a theme and modify as necessary. After all, I wanted to have a blog and a store section, and Wordpress seemed like the best option. Well it turns out that it’s not that easy. I would make a little progress but I kept running into walls and not knowing how to solve the problem.
I needed a platform that was more intuitive, with good customer support so I switched to Squarespace. Unfortunately I lost everything I had built up on Wordpress, but the good thing was that I had those files organized and ready to upload to the new site.
Squarespace can’t do *anything*, but it saved me a lot of headaches that I was experiencing. If your making a website, I’d recommend doing the proper research up front and finding the right platform for your needs.
Remember the reasons for making it
As with every large project, there’s a certain point that feels like it’s not worth finishing. I experienced this creative “resistance” while working on my site. Why finish this project? What’s the point? Do people even want to read this?
The way I got through it was by clearly outlining my motives:
- Build up my client base by sharing my past and current projects
- Share what I know with my audience through this blog
- Bring inspiration into people’s lives by selling prints, shirts and other products
These reasons for finishing really helped and motivated me to keep going.
If you’re starting any kind of big project, I would recommend writing a purpose statement down somewhere, maybe even in a private section of the website so you can refer to it when you start feeling the resistance. If those goals are important to you, you can and you will finish it.
Make it Important, Put it on the Calendar
Parallel to that feeling of resistance is the demon of procrastination. It’s incredibly easy (and tempting) to say, “I’ll work on this later”. I fell into this trap for a long time.
The harder, way more efficient way to do it is to block off time in your schedule for working on the project. Rather than “I’ll get to it this weekend”, I decided “I am going to work on it this Sunday from 2-5pm” and put it in the calendar.
If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not really important.
When you fulfilled a time commitment, it frees you up to take a purposeful break to do something fun. Rewarding yourself like this will build discipline, and it won’t feel as hard the next time.
It’s okay to ask for help if you need it
I’m not talking about getting someone to do *all* the work for you. As a designer, it’s important to have ownership over your online presence, ensuring it reflects your point of view. You could hire a web designer to code and put it all together for you, but the meat of the work is still on you.
For me, I had a picture in my head of what I wanted the imagery on my site to look like, but I was having trouble achieving those results on my own. So I hired an old friend of mine named Mike Finkelstein who’s a professional photographer, to help me document my newer projects. Working with Mike ended up being way better than I imagined. He was really able to take what I wanted and add his personal touch to create the beautiful images for my site. This was just a small investment that’s well worth it in the long run.
Always be updating
“Hey man, what’s new?”
“Oh, you know, same old stuff.”
How lame is that response!? This is exactly how it feels to come to a portfolio that hasn’t been updated in a while. That’s exactly how I felt with my old website.
No one likes a static website that never changes. It needs to be a living breathing organism to hold people interest. Every time a visitor comes back, there should be new additions, no matter how big or small.
Keep iterating, and after a while, your new work will be worlds better than your old stuff, and you will have documented and shared the journey. That’s a beautiful thing.
I hope this article was helpful to you. If you have any feedback or additional questions, please contact me. Good luck!