The 3 types of projects every web designer / developer should include in their portfolio

3 projects every web designer / developer should include in their portfolio

Are you starting a web design/development business? Ready to take on a few more freelance projects outside of your 9-5? Maybe you've been thinking about the best way to represent your work online?

The wild and wonderful world of freelance web design/development is a rollercoaster of an undertaking. Some days you’ll be thrilled with the projects you’re working on and other days? Not so much.

When you’re first starting out, you won’t have the luxury of being super selective about the type of projects you take on. Those bills won’t pay themselves, yo! Instead, you’ll likely be reaching out to contacts within your network for a chance to work on projects in exchange for a beginner’s rate and a testimonial. And that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Keep in mind that during this initial stage of your business, a variety of projects will not only build your portfolio, it’ll also strengthen it.

Through hands-on work, you’ll learn how to cater your services to specific client types and along the way, I have no doubt that you’ll identify and refine your ideal client.

For example, when I started out I thought I’d get the most out of working with independent creative entrepreneurs but I soon realized that I loved working with small professional businesses instead! If I hadn’t been open to working with a variety of clients at the beginning, it probably would have taken me much longer to figure that out.

Getting experience across several types of projects will make you a better designer and will help you niche down when the time is right. 

Once you start taking on projects, you’ll also have to consider the portfolio you present on your website.

Believe it or not, putting together a portfolio that showcases your work involves a surprising amount of strategy. How many pieces should you include? What order should the projects be presented in? You could honestly spend months preparing your portfolio and humming and hawing over the details but at the end of the day, you must take action and put your work out there!

Today’s article will identify the 3 project types that every web designer/developer’s portfolio MUST include - and why.

Project #1 : The Pride & Joy

The strongest way to open your portfolio is by showcasing a project that represents your best work. Not only should it showcase design work that you're proud of, it should also exemplify the kind of work you'd like to do more of in the future. 

My favourite way to think about the Pride & Joy is that it's the "hook" that will attract the attention of whoever is looking at your portfolio. 

This first project can highlight your skills in a variety of ways, including:

  • cool design functionality
  • unique or memorable layout
  • striking style
  • neat add-ons or integrations
  • etc.

Remember, the goal here is to wow your potential customer from the start so it's really important that you have at least one stand-out project to include in your portfolio.

Pro tip: If you don't have any client work that fits the bill, don't panic! Instead, spend some time creating a project that showcases your work in some way. It could be for an imaginary company or a passion project that you want to get off the ground. Go ahead and pitch a local company and offer to do the work for free if they cover all the associated costs (e.g., domain, monthly Squarespace fee, stock photo costs, etc.). It doesn't really matter who or what it's for, so long as you showcase that you are capable of impressive work.  

Project #2 : Clean Corporate Project

Let's be honest, not every client project is going to challenge you as a designer or require a fancy development solution. If you work with professional (read: corporate) clients, more often than not those projects will call for a more straightforward and classic style.

Corporate projects can get a bad reputation and some people call it "boring" and "uninspired". However, I encourage fellow designers/developers to embrace the challenge of producing something neat within the client's restrictions. If you go at it from this angle, you'll see corporate projects in a whole new light. 

When working on corporate client projects, your work should always be:

  • clean
  • straightforward
  • effective

Instead of bemoaning the limitations of corporate projects, embrace the areas you can control such as layout, composition and typography so that you can really showcase your skills in this type of work.

Pro tip: Corporate projects might not be the most inspired parts of your portfolio but that doesn't mean that you should slack on them. It's true that corporate projects are often more utilitarian in nature and don't require as much fancy design or development, but people will be able to spot your half-assed project a mile away. Corporate projects should receive just as much attention as the more imaginative projects you work on, and who knows! You might even end up loving them like I do.

Project #3 : Stop & Stare

The Stop & Stare, otherwise known as the eye-catching project, is the perfect way to balance out the corporate work you just showcased in your portfolio. This is where you can include a design/development project that really "pops" and is even a little zany or out there. It's totally cool to include work in your portfolio that is alternative since this shows potential clients that you're not a one-trick pony.

This project won't necessarily attract corporate clients, but it will make sure that you have at least a little variety in the projects coming down the pipeline.

Pro tip: Feel free to include work that is technically simple but has fascinating design elements, or vice-versa. This project should be included because it packs a punch and is a real conversation piece. Go wild with colour, video, social media integrations, personalized code or design elements, etc.  

Final Thoughts

And just like that, you've got a better understanding of the 3 types of projects every designer/developer should include in their portfolio.

Variety is the spice of life, especially when it comes to showcasing your talents in a digital space. When you're starting out and haven't yet niched down, this can be a great way to line up new projects with clients in several industries.

When creating a portfolio, go for the "bookend" approach : start and finish with standout projects that you're proud of and which help attract your ideal customer. By doing this, you'll nail your first and last chance to make an impression with prospective clients. Trust me that having these strong and focused examples of your work will help you more than a huge collection of scattered project types.

As you refine your ideal customer, you might play around with the types of projects you include in your portfolio or how much weight you give each project but by following this guide, you're off to a strategic start.

Shameless plug: looking for a web designer / developer for your latest project? Check out my Design & Development package - I'd love to work together!

Now it's your turn to tell me about the types of projects you've included in your portfolio? What types of projects do you most enjoy working on? Do you stick to a particular industry or type of client? Are you more interested in a variety of projects? When was the last time you thought critically about the work you include in your portfolio? Leave me a note in the comments!

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