Does this make my butt look fat?

You are your own worst client.

After weeks of sketching, planning, and brooding, I’ve finally started to hatch my new portfolio website. One hangups of web design is that you never really know how your ideas will look till you get them on screen. When you start working on the computer, there’s really nowhere else to go, no other form to see ideas manifested. Every time I design a website, I think, “This time it will be different. I’ve improved at mentally converting inches and points to pixels and ems since my last project!” But when I come to that realization that there’s nowhere else to go, it’s like smacking into a brick wall while rollerskating full speed. It happens each time, yet somehow I never see it coming.

Then the claustrophobia sets in. A print designer should have a field day with just a screen, right? No cuts, no folds, no expensive paper, no printing technicalities. You’re drawing your own map of uncharted territory. But really, a screen is just a screen. You are limited by its size and particular shape, color issues and processing speed. All the basic design classes I took, where I learned about color, shape, repetition, form, the 7 principles and 9 elements or whatever they are, all these skills were acquired through excercises with bits of paper. There are different issues with computers. I haven’t even really defined those issues for myself (I see another essay down the line about this), but they’re there.

Consequently, I went from a 4-color, 3-font design down to a grayscale, 2-font layout within the space of a couple of hours. I’ve noticed a lot of designers, even ones that have award-winning work, don’t necessarily have the coolest, most easily navigated websites. It’s simply a vehicle for to get their print work to a wider audience. This is what I’ve decided to accomplish in the new design.

The other reason for the drastic simplification is that I have a lot of doubts and second guesses about “branding” myself. Yes, there are certain things that I like and that I do well. Maybe even some characteristics a perceptive eye could identify as my style. But I don’t want to be pidgeonholed because I’ve worked with a variety of clients and wish to increase that variety. Styles and trends come and go, and web design is probably the biggest fashion victim out there. (More on that later),

Although my current site has worked for two years, I think it’s time I applied some of the more sophisticated web design knowledge I’ve acquired since then. Sayonara, slices. Ta-ta, thumbnails. The concept and layout must strike the balance of uniqueness and simplicity.

Marc Lefton, copywriter and Grand Poo-bah of Adholes, asked my opinion on his new web portfolio a few weeks ago. He said he wanted a design craigslistian in its simplicity. Designy-ness and over-calculation were out. He’s a copywriter so it probably doesn’t matter quite so much if his website isn’t all that, but for someone with his background not to want a bad-ass portfolio site says a lot about how creatives approach presenting their own work. Go to his site, he says it better than I ever could.

It’s easier to talk about your work when it’s in a portfolio. You can point to things, answer questions, hold the piece in your hand. Being able to showcase it in a book or presentation kit is more intimate. Not only is it hard to design something you hope will express yourself for awhile, even just putting your work on the web is like the Jerry Seinfeld joke about being naked. When you’re clothed, you can make those little fidgety adjustments that make you feel in control, that everything looks right. But when you’re naked, it’s so final. There’s nothing more you can do.

Thus, the minimalist approach is probably the easiest way to present your work. There is still a lot of stewing involved, but when you’re putting yourself out there, it’s almost like there’s no sense in trying to distract the viewer with a lot of bells and whistles to avert their eyes from the fact that you’re naked and they are just an anonymous voyeur. It’s necessary to accept that web-viewing is an anonymous transaction of information.

Some designers like to be exhibitionists in every form. They don’t care if their website is out of style in a year. I think I’m too self-conscious, too perfectionist. Creating this new design is like trying on a lot of clothes, asking that eternal question: “Does this make my butt look fat?” Trying to find something that expresses who I really am. If I come across a cool shirt, I’ll save it for a crazy night out. But there’s no doubt that I still need that comfortable, nice pair of black pants to wear with anything.

Here are a few sites I’ve looked to for inspiration.

Testsite: The design works great for this unique collaborative project that hooks up artists and writers. The layout is streamlined and serious, but the yellow makes it approachable.

focus2: Yellow again! It’s one of my favorite colors. I love the break-up and yet poking fun of the structural labels of the content areas (e.g. ‘content’, ‘selections’, ‘description’). One of my pet peeves of web design is that it’s so hierarchical. The figure outlines probably seemed cool at the time it was designed (maybe a year and a half ago?), but would work much better if they used something less trendy and more original.

ora-ito and McGarrah-Jesse: More iconoclastic layouts, but a good balance of not going overboard with the color and letting the work speak for itself.

Marc English: This notorious public has won many awards and been featured in tons of design mags, so I feel rather presumptuous in even slightly dogging his site. The colors and textures are cool, but it’s not that consistent or user-friendly.

MundayMorning: This little shop has inspired a lot of my corporate print work, but the orange is a bit grating. And what’s with the cheezy lightbulb in the top right?

wacker eins !: Here’s a classic example of minimalist design that lets the work speak for itself. It says, “Wow!”


  • César

    I nearly chocked up in tears when I viewed the source for Mark Lefton’s site. It’s so clean, so clear, so concise. Perfect. Yes, his website is bare-bones but that’s what he is shooting for. I also like wacker eins site. I’m curious and excited to see your results.

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