When was the last time you saw someone using a Hotmail or Yahoo address? For me, it was yesterday. And the day before that.
The following may seem like common sense, but it doesn’t appear that way based on the dozens of portfolios I see every day. For some reason, many designers still operate in the past when it comes to their online presence.
As a designer, presentation is everything. We are expected to have good taste and a certain level of awareness – and that’s reflected most in the small things. Aside from solving problems, an employer or client hires us to make them look better and more professional. So shouldn't we lead by example? If you’re seeking a job or looking to establish yourself as a designer, these small details can make or break you.
A non-existent or outdated portfolio
I get it. Everyone is on Instagram, and it's easier to just upload your work there or some other gallery-based social platform. But having your own website is a matter of pride. It shows you care about what you create beyond just slapping it onto your social networks. As a client and an employer, I hire those who put in that extra effort.
Think of yourself like any other business. Would you trust another business if they didn't have a website? Probably not.
Of course, I still recommend adding your work to Instagram and any other design-related communities to increase your exposure. But it's your website that makes the real difference. Your portfolio is your home base, where you can present your work in the best possible light.
If you do have a portfolio but it hasn't been updated in months or even years, it's almost as bad as not having one at all. Based on a recent (informal) poll we did, it seems that 80% of people completely neglect their portfolio unless they are actively seeking a job. Whether or not you are looking for a job, your portfolio should include your latest work and show you have a pulse on contemporary design. We feel suspicious if our local dentist or insurance company has an outdated website. Imagine how much worse it is when trying to find a designer – someone who typically builds those websites.
It might not feel like a priority to update your site when you already have a full-time job. But those who do are the ones that get ahead, who have opportunities land in their lap without even looking for them.
To get a beautiful, personalized portfolio up quickly, I recommend using Carbon. If you're a bit further along in your career and want to build something slightly more advanced, try out Semplice.
An old-school email address
Unless you’re known for your artistic irony, using a Hotmail or Yahoo address (or let’s be honest, even an iCloud address) makes you seem out of the loop. It may be unfair, but it’s true. Plenty of other modern platforms exist and they’re all free. Create an email address there. Preferably something straightforward, like your name.
Even better, get a top-level domain (see below) and use it to create your own firstname.lastname@example.org email address. An email address on your own domain is the easiest way to position yourself as a serious, established designer.
Using a free website domain
Free domain names that come with your platform or host (something like cynthia.randomcompanyname) come across as cheap and sketchy. Plus, they are more difficult for your potential employer or client to remember. Most top-level domains are typically around $4 - $10 a year. It’s worth spending a few bucks each year to own a personalized domain.
Buy your own URL and keep it clean and simple. It's the best investment you can make when it comes to your brand as a designer.
A poor quality profile picture
Again, with exception to intentional style choices, your profile picture should not look like it was taken on an old Nokia phone. If you don’t have a professional-looking photo of you, ask a creative friend to take one. You don’t have to pay for headshots, but you should have a polished picture that represents you well online.
That goes for your portfolio, your socials, your LinkedIn. Because as much as we’d like to think some of that should be personal, potential clients or employers will find it. And given how easy it is to take high-quality photos with just a smartphone these days, there’s no excuse to have a low-quality one.
Empty social networks
Aside from adding a good profile photo there, consider the content you have on your social channels. If you are linking to these sites from your portfolio, they should be regularly and thoughtfully updated.
Don’t link to a Twitter page that includes two tweets, both of which are complaints to United Airlines. Don’t link to your Instagram if it’s not representing you and your taste the way you want to be represented. Don’t hook up your Dribbble account if all your posts there are outdated, or promote your LinkedIn if the only job you've listed there is designing your college newspaper.
We all have great intentions of polishing up our social platforms but until we do, we shouldn’t be promoting them professionally. In fact, if you aren't actively using your socials in a way that represents you well, consider making them private. As I mentioned, potential clients or employers will find them whether we link to them or not. Often, your portfolio and your social networks are your first impression, whether you're aware of it or not. Google yourself and see what comes up. Are you proud of the results?