Your portfolio repels jobs

I look at game artists’ portfolios on a regular basis. These websites are usually designed so poorly that I close my browser out of disgust. They’re even bad enough to turn away potential employers, regardless of the quality of the artwork. Tragic!

Most artists make mistakes like these, but fortunately, they’re very simple to understand and correct. I’ve come up with a quick and easy way to help artists think about how to improve their chances of employment by building a better website.

The core truth here is this:

Usability is just as important as content.

A portfolio website should be a simple, effective, uncluttered experience from start to finish that leaves a lasting impression on the visitor. An incredible number of websites fail to do this. And it’s always for silly, completely avoidable reasons.

Your website should be focused on one purpose, be easy to use, and offer a clear line of action. Here are three simple questions to ask yourself:

1) What’s my website’s focus?

Your website exists to get you a job. Its only purpose is to showcase your art and present your contact information for potential employers. You should make your art and contact information so fantastically easy to see that someone find it accidentally. If someone wants to talk to you about a job, don’t be hard to find.

Include your name and contact information at the top of every page of your site.

For example, any visitor should understand clearly that you are an environment artist and you intend to get a job as an environment artist. Anything else is confusing. Silly MS Paint drawings, photos from trips you’ve taken or a blog about your daily life have nothing to do with that, and should be removed. These things are not added value. A portfolio is not a personality test! That’s what an interview is for.

The second common mistake is making a website that’s difficult to navigate. So ask yourself this:

2) Is my website easy to use?

You might be thinking “but I’m an artist, not a web designer!” This is a poor but common excuse for making a bad website. On the other side of the coin, many artists that are web designers make their website so flamboyantly artsy that it’s practically impossible to use.

The first thing a visitor should see on your website is your art. First impressions are formed in an instant. Attention spans can be shut off in an instant. Your top priority should be to make that first instant be compelling enough to keep the viewer looking and to give them what they’re looking for. Don’t tease… satisfy.

After all, did I go to your website to look at a splash page, or art? The faster I can see your content, the better.

Forget splash pages and news pages or any other starting page that isn’t putting art directly in my face.

Your portfolio’s highest purpose is to show off your art quickly, easily, and with the minimum of hassle. A good portfolio should be so easy to navigate that someone could view your work accidentally.

Anything that doesn’t support that basic goal breaks your focus and should be removed or relocated. Make another website for your personal stuff if you have to, but keep your portfolio clean and relevant. More isn’t better.

If it doesn’t help show your art faster or sell you as an artist, it shouldn’t be there.

Here’s a quick list of aggravating features that are common in portfolio websites:

  • No image branding - Every image on the entire website should have your name, email address and website URL on it. People save images off of portfolios and forget where they got them. If one of your pieces of art finds its way to a studio, how will they find you? Make each image stand on its own, removed from context.

  • Vague thumbnails - A thumbnail exists to offer a relevant preview of a larger image. Yet I see thumbnails of random parts of a model that give me no indication of what I’m about to see. If I’m looking for medieval characters, how does a grainy thumbnail of the bottom of his foot help me find it?

  • Multiple layers - It’s as if bad portfolios follow a common navigation pattern:

    Splash page -> News page -> Portfolio page -> 3D Art -> Characters -> Man with Axe thumbnail -> Man with Axe enlarged.

    Do you expect me not to hate clicking through seven pages just to see your art? Flatten your site. Put the art in my face and show me the quickest, simplest possible way of navigating. One page full of art is better than any of the multiple layers shown above.

  • Multiple popups - A splash page shouldn’t even exist, much less stay open when you click on it to enter the website. Neither should a thumbnail opening an image in a new window that I have to manually close. I’ve been to websites that open as many as FIVE WINDOWS. That’s inconvenient, wasteful, and downright hostile toward the visitor. Be a courteous host.

  • Poor navigation - Every page should offer buttons to go to the next image, to the previous image, and to return to the main page. They don’t pop up new windows unless it’s for an enlarged image, which should be extremely easy to close to return to the thumbnails. It’s convenient, it’s considerate, and it’s easy to implement. It also encourages them to keep looking forward at more art instead of accidentally closing your site altogether. Keep guiding them along a path.

  • Small images - Small images convey nothing. Keep it large enough to be easily seen and understood. Also keep in mind that the average screen resolution is usually around 1024×768, so make it reasonable from that standpoint. Also, remove as much dead space as possible. Nothing irritates me more than loading an enormous image that you only used ten percent of.

  • Bad lighting - Why would I hire you if your work is so badly lit for me that I can’t even see it?

  • Obscure web plugins - Don’t make someone download a plugin to view your website. This will ruffle some feathers but I find Flash websites to be obnoxious and unnecessary, and most aren’t worth the time to navigate. There are a lot of people that don’t even have Flash. Do you want to risk losing a great job opportunity over that? Just keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler.

    Hiring managers look through dozens of portfolios every day. All the portfolios they see blend together. It’s just a job. You are either on the “Portfolios To Review” list, or you’re not. A poorly designed website makes this poor hiring manager’s job a little more annoying. Accordingly, he is less likely to invest the time into looking at your entire portfolio. And he certainly won’t read your blog. Is he hiring a Metallica fan or a level designer?

    Imagine that your target visitor is a tired, indifferent hiring manager whose only desire is to find the shortest path possible to looking at your art. Nothing else matters. So design your website for him. Give him what he wants. Remove what he doesn’t care about. The clearer your message, the better.

    For example: “I am Phineas Fogbottom, environment artist. This is my art. Email me at mastapimp420@yahoo.com”

    That’s all he needs to know. Keep it simple.

    3) Do I provide a clear line of action?

    This is also important. Sadly, good art doesn’t sell itself. It’s one thing to present art, and it’s quite another to funnel them toward offering you a job. First you serve up the art, and then you show them that they should offer you a job, and here’s how to contact you. The easier this is, the better.

    Here are two huge mistakes people often make along these lines:

  • No stated desired position - The desired position usually isn’t obvious. Most artists feel the need to put all their 2D art, 3D art, animation, illustration, paintings and even poetry on their website. That makes it impossible to divine what kind of position you’re looking for! Be specific. Companies do not set out to hire generalists, they hire specialists. (Whether or not they ultimately USE them as specialists is another matter entirely.)

    If they’re hiring a character artist, seeing you say “I do everything!” isn’t going to make them think of you for the job. It’s easy: Be the guy they’re looking for by being specific. If they’re looking for a character artist, the more ways you can match the pattern they’re looking for, the better. A good place to start is by saying “Hey, I’m a character artist.” :)

  • No contact information - If I like your work, how am I supposed to contact you? Keep it visible at all times and don’t make them hunt for it. If you’re concerned about spambots farming your favorite email address to add to spam lists, make a new email address solely for job solicitations and just deal with the spam.

    That’s all there is to it, really. It’s simple enough if you think about it, but that’s the problem: Most people don’t. If you start thinking about it, you’re already ahead of the game!

  • 44 thoughts on “Your portfolio repels jobs

    1. Hey, could you post some portfolio websites that you like? I am making a new website and it feels a little uneven, getting all these tips but no interactive examples of how the whole thing should work IYO. Thanks!

    2. lol, ur from irvine.

      Seriously though, great text. It’s simple and more informative than a bucket of wisdom. Keep at it.

    3. Thanks for the kind words, guys! :)

      The only website that springs immediately to mind is one by a friend of mine, Chris Holden:

      http://www.chrisholden.net/

      He doesn’t go by every single thing I say, but it’s still a simple, straightforward website that has — and makes — a point.

      If I can find more sites like that, I’ll call attention to them.

    4. A nice read, pretty informative. And I wouldn’t worry about flash sites, they’re blatantly dying out nowadays.

    5. I dont know what all that text and words above this stuff mean… I would read them… but that would take work.

      hey when are we going to hang out and eat tapas again?

    6. You mentioned that you should specify the type of position you would prefer. Would it be a no-no to list two – say character artist or environmental artist?

    7. Yes. :) Those are two entirely different disciplines, and there’s no such position as a Character\Environment artist. Applying for two at once seems indecisive, and people love the idea of specialists.

      Put your strongest foot forward and commit to one. Once you get the interview, or the job, then roll that out as a useful secondary skillset you have to increase your value. So it’s like “Hey, this character artist we hired is also skilled at environment art!”

    8. Hey Jon!

      Just recommended this to a local art school. You never know, might make a dent.

      I stumbled a bit on your sentence “You should make your art and contact information so fantastically easy to see that someone find it accidentally.” Accidentally? I think you meant something more like “…that someone can’t miss it no matter what.”

      Thanks again for the great read.

    9. That’s awesome, Eric, thank you for the recommendation! I really appreciate that.

      Yeah, two ways of saying the same thing. When I wrote this for some reason the idea of something being so ubiquitous that you can find it without meaning to cemented itself in my head as “accidentally.” Your version is more readable.

      Thanks for the kind words! :)

    10. Thanks for the advice. What are your views on artists that host tutorials on their websites?

    11. I think tutorials are awesome! Just make sure you’re right. :)

      Anything you can do to differentiate yourself — in a good way — is a huge plus. Tutorials can also draw more traffic to your site and improve your overall visibility.

    12. Wow! What a helpful article with many good points in it.

      The article was very useful to me when it came to avoiding bad website design for my own site.

      I do have a question about image branding I would like to ask though.

      When it comes to image branding you said:

      “should have your name, email address and website URL”

      Is the name necessary in the image if the website address includes the persons name, or can it just be left out to save space for the image?

      Example: My name is Warren Fuselier, my site is warrenfuselier.com.

      Also, if the point of image branding is to remove it from context, so a person can find the pictures creator, why have the email and website URL together?

      Seems to just take up space away from the image (even if it is just a small amount).

      The website URL should be enough, with contact information easily found if a person really wants to get in touch with the pictures creator.

      While I am nitpicking at the moment, these really are just minor points that are not big deal, that I was wondering about.

    13. Great advices :) I’m just going to simplify and specialize my website, I’ll keep all you said in mind.

      Regarding the layers of navigation on the page – it’s sometimes hard to put all artworks into one gallery; possible but messy if someone does a lot of different art – though I think here of a general gallery, not a specific portfolio. Alternative I would see in creating portfolio pages specific for a job one is looking for, with general gallery divided into sections deeper in the background. Is it good idea? I saw it on a few artists sites – separate links to portfolio and gallery.

      Last question – what do you think of frames? Another article about portfolios advised against them, while for me they are good way to keep navigation accessible all the time. The argument was it’s impossible to link a certain image in the gallery with frames. I would link the image itself if I wanted to link, or right clicked and linked the sub-site with image only, but not everyone uses this function of browser. Gallery plug-in with easy navigation might be alternativn option, but then it will open the full view image in another window.

      Regards,

      Karolina Wegrzyn

    14. Warren, thanks man! I appreciate the kind words.

      As for image branding, yeah, if the website is your name you can leave the name off. You want it to be visible and obvious for someone that’s looking, without being intrusive — or too easy to remove.

      For the URL and email address together, that’s just my preference. You can find an email address from a website, or request a URL through an email. If they want your email address immediately, it’s right there and saves them the step of going to the website first. It just depends on what the viewer’s intent is. And if it doesn’t take up *that* much space, I say, why not just do both? Just my preference.

      Karolina, thank you! :)

      When I see the words “portfolio” and “gallery,” at least in the context of my industry, I see them as interchangeable terms.

      My first instinct before even considering separate sections would be to brutally edit down what I choose to show. :)

      I greatly prefer seeing all the work in a single place at one time, but if there really is *that* much work worth showing off that’s all very different, I think it’s fine to have separate sections dividing them, as long as each section feels full enough on its own. i.e., each section has roughly the same number of pieces (8 – 10 or somesuch).

      Frames are all about quality of implementation. As long as they load the right images in the right place the right way, and aid in navigation instead of creating more unnecessary complications, they’re fine. They can be a very useful tool in navigation. I used them in my own portfolio in years past. :)

    15. Thank you for the answer :)

      I don’t have that many images, in fact I will brutally limit what is worth being in portfolio. I just have images that I did for my friends, some old artwork which I thought to keep on-line, but not in portfolio. I can have them on dA or hidden in any other personal site then.

    16. You know what’s funny? This is the first time I’ve reread this entire article from start to finish since I wrote it. And now that I am in a position where I’m actively looking over peoples’ portfolios and making decisions on whether or not to contact them for work, I realize how crucial it is to nail the points I’ve highlighted here.

      Self-aggrandizing though it may be, this is stuff I’m finding to be truer and truer by the day. Everyone can benefit from taking these steps to become more competitive and visible, and I hope they do. :)

    17. I disagree with the pop-up theory : I hate having to come back and load the whole thumbnails gallery after I checked a pic. Just make sure the pop-up always open in the same unique window and that should do it.

    18. Aleksandar, thank you!

      Cru, if it shows off the work effectively, is well-edited, and relatively short (~3min), yes, video presentations can be useful.

      Rob, thanks! :)

      Sam, if it’s cached, it’s not that bad. Mainly it just annoys me when every thumbnail opens a new window. I really don’t mind if it it takes me to a new page that leads to the next page or quickly back to the previous page. The Lightbox plugin Karolina mentions is great.

      Karolina, I LOVE those. They’re super cool, functional and simple. Can’t say enough good things about them! Thanks for the link, by the way.

      Thanks for commenting, everybody!

      Also, I recently gave a Your Portfolio Repels Jobs speech at the Game Developer’s eXchange put on by the Savannah College of Art and Design. You can view the video here: http://www.scad.tv/archive.php

      Click on “Jon Jones” and voila, there’s me! In the video, I’ve updated the article quite a bit, added some new information and greatly expanded on some points.

    19. Some really great tips there. personally I never wanted to bother with learning to create websites so I used a free portfolio site. After scouring and trying out different sites I found that carbonmade.com worked best for me, and i plug it to anyone who asks me what portfolio site to use (I[m not affiliated with them in any way whatsoever). I find their direct, no nonsense approach when it comes to portfolios really refreshing.

      What I’m not entirely feeling is the marketingon the image. I personally feel that any kind of unnecessary text on an image turns me off personally, so I try not to do it myself. I may one day just try updating all my images to see if this results in increased pageviews though.

    20. Hey Jon, thanks so much for the information! You’re so helpful. I was wondering about what you felt about an amateur artist having a free domain as their site. For example the sites that end in “.co.cc” or “.uni.cc” etc are free and have short urls. Is having a site like this okay for beginner artists who want to get their work out there? Or should they spend on “.com” or “.net” sites?

    21. 4) Stop using white text on black background. Seriously, save visitors eyes.

    22. haha! Yeah, this was a temporary colors\theme update. Going to figure out something else that’s more friendly.

      You’re absolutely right and I’m glad you brought it up. Thank you!

    23. Wow amazing advice I’ve been trying to build my first site and have been looking and looking and researching what it needs. I’m so grateful for your short list of dos and don’ts. I took a ton of notes and have tossed out all kinds of artsy ideas that I thought would be fun. You’re right its not about being cute its about getting a job. Thank you thank you. I hope others have learned something from this.

    24. Not trying to disregard what was said, and maybe that’s in flavor of personal tastes, but some people can hate flash, though isn’t it used by AAA? I’ve seen positions strictly for flash developers within core groups of certain criteria. It’s also the fact that the User Penetration Rating for Flash is 1.3 Billion users which makes me not fully understand why it is such a good thing to abolish it. Technical Designers use it, UI Artists use them, etc. The list goes on as far as how Flash really does help implement and rapidly. Iterations of prototyping is used in AAA that I can’t say someone should necessarily discount. Understandably maybe it’s just because you see more bad than good out of it, but Seniors use it to this day… I’m not trying to say that you don’t have a right to this, and not saying I’m sure their are plenty that don’t use it the way you’d appreciate or find useful, but does that mean to completely disregard all flash??

      Understandably their is HTML5 that a lot of people have invested the transitions to, but HTML5 is still in early birth of development in comparison to Flash and Flash has matured far past where HTML5 will be in the next 6 years as far as iterating, polish, etc. Plus AAA uses it for many different kinds of implementation and scripting, along side Javascript, but also C++ Compilers these days in Flash, as well as Java Extensions in the program – It’s a very hybrid program. Am I being wrong in this situation, because I don’t see how if companies are openly hiring for it, also in Flash Development, how that is necessarily something to get rid of. I wasn’t trying to say your views aren’t valued but even in Social, also Casual it’s a common use too. Is their a preferred methodology that typically works better or you feel is the next big thing?? I’m just curious because 99% of the entire video gaming market has some elements of flash involved in it, also on Steam, etc. I mean that with no disrespect but Indie, Social, Casual, AAA, Mobile, Online still use it. I’m not trying to get in your face about it in the slightest bit, I’m just trying to understand why? But also better…

      Plus I see Art Directors, and Seniors use Splash Pages on their sites… I’m just asking, and I know this is old, but times are changing, also I know that trends change/stop/grow/slow-down/plateau/progress/change/come-back. Maybe I should be asking what your views are now, or what do you feel is the best answer. Not trying to be a problem or disrespectful or trying for inclinations in things, but over the time is their anything that these days may have evolved into or grew or shifted as far as portfolios, what you’ve seen, what you’ve experienced but also what makes things different or maybe what has improved??

      Plus I know Unity has in the past partnered up with Flash in Development, and have plug-ins specifically built for the Flash-to-Unity Development also. I mean this with absolutely no disrespect I’m just trying to understand fully and not trying to disregard your honest feedback or current feelings about it. Do you think it’s going to stop at some point, because I know even EA, Bioware, Kixeye, Ubisoft, Popcap Games, Klei Entertainment, Riot Games, etc. use it.

    25. Your urge to artists to pick one thing you want to be and put only that on your website irks me a bit. How do you know who’s looking at your portfolio, or what they’re looking for? Do you just sit around and hope that someone is looking for that particular kind of art on your portfolio, while your other talents go unadvertised? If you’re going to put that kind of advice out there, I think you should amend it by advising artists to have a link for another website advertising their other talent(s). It would be unwise for an artist to put all of their eggs in one basket, seeing how difficult it is to find a job in the field, especially when you’re just starting out. Other than that, the rest of your advice is pretty much spot on. :)

    Leave a Reply