What makes a good portfolio website? Let’s write a viewer profile to help you sketch out the visitor experience of your website.

Portfolio Goals

In designing your website, you want to show your work in a way that speaks to your aesthetics and is easily accessible to interested viewers.

But what are your aesthetics? What is accessible? Who are your viewers?

This week, let’s sort some of that out. Let’s write a Viewer Profile and sketch out a Site Experience.

1. Viewer Profile

No doubt many of you will have multiple potential viewers of your work:

  • HR Director
  • Small Business Owner
  • Curator
  • Grad School or Residency or Grant selector
  • and so on

You can probably write a half dozen Viewer Profiles for your site. Let’s get started by thinking about one key visitor. And don’t be generic, think of a specific person:

Viewer Profile:
Jennifer, 35, Art Director at a Web Design firm in Santa Monica. Jennifer hires photographers & illustrators on a per project basis. Her shop is known for a whimsical, edgy, contemporary design sense. Their clients include media companies, athletic wear, and fashion.

Jennifer was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and she studied Marketing & Design at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. She moved to California 10 years ago, and has been an Art Director at Web Design Ltd for the past 5 years. She works a lot of hours during the week, but loves to go to the water on the weekend, and is a competitive standup paddleboard racer.

In addition to your “sketch” in words, you might also like to do a “sketch” with a pencil, pens, or other media.


You could sit down for 20 minutes and sketch out a good Viewer Profile. And that’s great!

But you might be even better served by putting in a little research time.

What does a Curator in a Culver City Art Gallery care about?

What is the background of an HR Director at an Animation Studio?

It could be very valuable to you to learn more about your target person.

Ways to get information:

  • Web Research
  • Email Interview
  • Phone Interview
  • Conversation over coffee

Many people try to be helpful to students. Sure, some won’t return your email, but some will. Also, when you ask someone for a job, they can only say “yes” or “no”, and it’s a big decision. A big commitment. By contrast, agreeing to let you come to their place, buy them a cup of coffee, and ask about their work for 15-20 minutes is a very small commitment. It’s a great way to get info, and it could end up being a way to eventually get your foot in the door.

When you tell someone that you think they have the greatest job in the world, now we have two people, you and them, who agree that they’re a fascinating person! 😀 Who wouldn’t want to spend a few minutes agreeing about that!?

I encourage you to dive into some research for your Viewer Profile. Try to connect to someone, online, or over coffee.

2. The Experience of Visiting My Site

Now that you know a little bit about one of your potential site visitors, you can think of Jennifer when you’re designing the experience of your website. You don’t have to super-target your site to this one theoretical visitor, but you can use her to help make your choices:

  • If Jennifer is interested in your work, what does she want to see?
  • What will she be drawn to?
  • What’s irrelevant or distracting for her?
  • Would Jennifer prefer one long page that scrolls and includes everything?
  • Or a clean homepage with clear & concise navigation to the things you think she’d like to look at?

Sketch out (with a pencil, or words, or both) the user experience of your site:

  • What do you want visitors to experience when they arrive on your Landing Page?
  • Where can they go from there?
  • What categories will you divide your work into?
  • How will your navigation help them find what they want?
photo of Daniel Caudill

Shinola Creative Director Daniel Caudill. Image: Interbrand.com

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