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Impact + Beauty: Top tips for designing compelling portfolio websites

Photographed by Sabrina Ahern

Photographed by Sabrina Ahern

Jessica Wyman is principal and creative director of Wyman Projects, a graphic design and web development consultancy based in New York City. As a graphic designer with a degree in architecture, she has ten years of experience collaborating with architects, interior designers, engineers, and A/E/C consultants, to create meaningful print and web experiences that communicate professionalism and integrity. Jessica is currently art director for Oculus, AIA New York’s quarterly publication; and she regularly presents at the Chapter’s annual Fellows Workshop for FAIA candidates. 

By Jessica Wyman, Wyman Projects 

Have you ever visited a website where the copyright or blog posts date back to 2006? I have, and it saddens me to think that those companies spent a small fortune designing a website that quickly became stale and forgotten.

Thankfully, website development has come a long way since then. With out-of-the-box Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress and Drupal, building dynamic online experiences that are easy-to-use and easy-to-manage is within every design professional’s budget.

Still, building an effective website that will showcase your portfolio, communicate your expertise and get you new projects requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Before you begin designing your new site, here are some things to think about:

Design Smart. One of the first things you should determine before designing your new website is its purpose. Who are you trying to reach with this new site? Potential clients? The media? Fans? All of the above? For most AEC professionals, a website is a tool to communicate your expertise and to convince prospective clients to take action and connect with you.

While your new site should reflect your firm’s personality and culture, its format, content, and design will need to appeal to prospective users. Unfortunately, design professionals often make the mistake of designing a site that they like rather than designing one that will be effective in reaching their target audiences.

So how do you do this? Understanding your company’s mission – and which clients you want to serve – is key to pinpointing the needs and habits of your target audiences.

Will your visitors be using a computer or mobile device to view the site? Is there anything you can learn from your current website’s analytics, such as pages with the highest bounce rate? What information does your target audience need most and how will you shape the user’s journey to satisfy those needs?

Think Big. Gone are the days of table-based layouts and small browser sizes, which resulted in small-scale images on the user’s screen. You are a design professional with beautiful project photography; so don’t be afraid to go full bleed. Consider using a full browser slideshow on your home page or project pages to make an impact and to define a mood.

Less is More. The impulse to feature or list every single project on your website is a mistake many design professionals make. A website should have enough curated content to communicate expertise and personality, while leaving the visitor curious enough to contact your firm for more information.

Cross-Pollinate. Create relationships between content and pages on the website to engage visitors. Curiosity keeps users clicking and strategies such as suggesting links to “Related Content” or crosslinking press items or bios will retain visitors and improve site analytics.

Don’t hide your contact information. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many company websites hide contact information under submenus. Include a phone number and email address on the home page; and consider designing a special splash page with contact information and a map for mobile visitors.

Launch Strategy. Once you’ve designed and launched your website successfully…now what? Don’t let all your hard work go to waste. Create a content strategy that includes a schedule for updating your new website with new projects, news items, blog posts, and links to your social media platforms.

Clients and prospective employees want to work with design professionals who are active and innovative thought leaders; providing these visitors with fresh content monthly, if not weekly, is key to engaging, and ultimately working with, your ideal clients.

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