Young Architect Guide: 7 Tips for Creating the Perfect Online Portfolio

Your portfolio acts as a visual representation of your business and should present the very best you have to offer.

Peter Eerlings (ArchiSnapper) Peter Eerlings (ArchiSnapper)

Peter Eerlings is creator of Archisnapper, an intelligent site management app that helps architects create field reports with incredible efficiency — read more here. He also hosts a series of informative articles about technology and business for architects on the Archisnapper Blog, a selection of which we are glad to present on Architizer.

In creative careers like architecture, having a good portfolio is essential for finding new business. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how much experience you have — a client is unlikely to hire you without seeing photographic evidence of your previous work.

Your portfolio acts as a visual representation of your business and should present the very best you have to offer. It can be a tool for finding new business, attracting industry recognition and winning design awards.

While in the past it was common for architects to compile their portfolios by hand in a large physical folder, now digital portfolios are becoming more popular. An online portfolio has many advantages for architects — not only are they easier to show to prospective clients without having to carry an unwieldy folder everywhere you go, but they are also great for attracting organic traffic to your website from search engines and directories.

Online tools have made it easier than ever before to create a digital portfolio — we’ll cover a few of the best ones at the end of this article — but for a truly effective portfolio, you need to do more than simply upload a few photographs of your past projects. Follow our top tips for building a portfolio page that’s designed to sell and wait for new clients to come flooding in!

SOMs digital portfolio contains a lot of information, but the focus is on amazing images that really sell each project.

1. Use quality images.

The pictures in your portfolio are, without question, the most important aspect overall. If the photographs of your previous projects look unprofessional, it’s unlikely that prospective clients will want to put their trust in you for their building project when they can’t even see the quality of your work properly.

Investing in good photography by working with a professional photographer is one area that’s not worth skimping on, even if you are on a tight budget. Skillful photography can make even uninspiring rooms and buildings look impressive, so imagine what it can do for good design! Take a look at these before and after photos to see what a difference professional photography can make.

It’s worth taking the time to find a photographer who really understands your vision and who can take photographs that tell a story and inspire further interest in your work.

Wherever possible you should use actual photography rather than just rendered drawings and plans, but it can be interesting for people to see the two side by side. Showing a progression from initial sketches through to building completion will demonstrate how skilled you are at turning your vision into reality.

Austin Maynard Architects quirky website expresses the architects’ unique personalities, while testimonials on the right show they have substance as well as style.

2. Integrate testimonials from happy clients.

Design skills are obviously very important when selecting an architect, but it’s also important to demonstrate that you are professional and a pleasure to work with. Coming up with a creative and inspiring building design is an enviable skill, but if the architect delivers work constantly late or over-budget, has an abrasive personality or causes problems with contractors, his clients are unlikely to recommend him in the future.

Demonstrate how great you are to work with by asking your previous clients for testimonials and including these alongside your project pictures. Testimonials can help build credibility, alleviate uneasiness or concerns with your product or brand and convert visitors to customers. Other people saying you are good is so much better than you claiming you are good!

Some architects choose to have a separate testimonials page, but this is not recommended because many site visitors will not even bother to click on to it and the testimonials may well go unread. Separate testimonial pages are also less effective than integrated client quotes because the testimonials are taken out of context and have less impact when there is no visual reference to view alongside them.

The designers at Olson Kundig are master storytellers, a fact illustrated powerfully by their digital portfolio; they use sketches and models to explain their thought process from conception through to construction for each project.

3. Show your enthusiasm.

When interviewing candidates for a job in any industry, it is often the case that the person who gets the job is not the most qualified or skilled, but the one who expresses the most enthusiasm and confidence. You can think of a client viewing your portfolio as a kind of interview — it’s your chance to express your creative aesthetic and your passion for architecture.

Rather than just including textual notes about the technical points of each project, try including some of your own thoughts and feelings over the duration of the project. You could write about your design process from start to finish, problems that cropped up and how you overcame them and how excited and satisfied you were with the final result.

Bunker Arquitectura keeps it simple with a rolling, full-page slideshow of their favorite projects.

4. Promote your best projects.

This rule applies for any creative professional. Your portfolio is not just an archive of your previous work, but rather a showcase of your best work. It’s better to have a slightly sparse portfolio with some really impressive projects than a portfolio with hundreds of pictures of mediocre work.

As well as showcasing your technically best work, include the projects that you found the most enjoyable and inspiring to work on. Not only will this attract more of the same work, but your enthusiasm will also come across a lot more easily (see previous point).

Foster + Partners explains exactly how each area of specialism can help add value to a client’s project.

5. Highlight your real-world benefits.

Your portfolio is a sales tool for your architectural services, and, as when selling anything, it’s important to focus on the benefits you provide, rather than just technical points about your work processes. Sales copywriters know that simply listing factual points about a product will not sell it. Technical and factual information can be useful for helping customers to compare different items or ensure that a particular product will meet their needs, but to really make the sale, it’s important to focus on how that product will improve the life of the buyer in some way.

The same principle applies when you are selling yourself as an architect — don’t just list your skills and types of service you provide, but rather aim to find the pain points of your potential clients and show how your services as an architect can provide a solution to this pain.

For example, you could demonstrate how working with a family to build their new home helped them escape from a building that was unsuitable and inconvenient for their day-to-day life and provided a new family-friendly space, which offers them comfort, convenience and happiness. Alternatively, you could explain how hiring an architect who specializes in passive and low-energy buildings can save the client money in the long term. This is a proven fact and defines a clear benefit for the client. Focusing on the quantifiable value you deliver and the problems you can solve will dramatically increase your perceived value.

Every time BIG begins a new project, it adds an icon to its website homepage, so prospective clients can always locate its most recent work.

6. Regularly update.

An out-of-date portfolio looks unprofessional and can cast doubt into the mind of your potential clients who may ask, “Why has nobody hired him or her for the last three years.” It can be difficult to find time to update your portfolio when you’re busy working with existing clients, but it’s important to make time to market your business as well as run it on a day-to-day basis.

Try setting aside a few hours a month to update current projects, add photographs of completed projects and remove older work that is starting to look dated. Staying up to date and showing off your best and most recent work can help you to attract better clients and higher budgets and ultimately to grow your business.

7. What if you don’t have a portfolio page?

Now that you know the basic principles of building an appealing and attractive digital portfolio, it’s time to get on with it!

If you can afford a web developer, a 100-percent integrated portfolio in your site is the way to go because keeping the user experience consistent is absolutely key. However, if you can’t afford it or can’t justify the cost at the moment, here are some alternatives that will cost you less or even nothing:

  1. FolioHD – A solution chosen by many architects to showcase their work due to its ease of use and simple, attractive interface. Images are resized automatically and can be organized into separate galleries. Plans range from free to $17 per month.
  2. Behance – Behance is another portfolio networking platform that is completely free to use. Behance is used as a portfolio solution by some of the world’s top design schools and attracts millions of page-views every month.
  3. Carbonmade – The appeal of Carbonmade lies in its ease of use and customization and the attractiveness and simplicity of the portfolio designs provided. There are no job boards or social networking features, but it’s great at producing minimalistic portfolios that place the emphasis on your work.
  4. Krop – Krop is a solution for both building portfolios and résumés with an emphasis on professionalism. It’s also a great place to find work through its creative database that allows recruiters and agencies to headhunt talent. Krop is free to get started with a 10 image limit and one template and costs $9.99 a month for unlimited image uploads and template options.
  5. Viewbook – Viewbook will show your portfolio nicely on iPad, as well, next to an online portfolio.

Create or Update Your Online Portfolio Today

Building and maintaining a digital portfolio is now so quick and easy, there is no excuse for having an ugly, out-of-date portfolio or even not having an online presence at all. Take a little time each week or month to update and tweak your portfolio and you’ll find it quickly grows into an effective and powerful marketing tool for your architecture business.

Enjoy this article? Check out more of our Young Architect Guides:

The 7 Secrets to Happy Interning

7 Tips for Getting Hired After Graduation

Building Great Architecture Models

Architectural Redlines

5 Lies Told About the Profession You Must Ignore

How to Convince Your Audience With a Powerful Project Narrative

How to Write About Architecture

5 Specifying Tips for First-Time Architects

Architects: Showcase your work and find inspiration for your next project through Architizer, and enter the One Drawing Challenge for a chance to win $2,500!

Top image via The Wire. This article first appeared on ArchiSnapper.

Read more articles by Peter Eerlings
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