The Elusive Portfolio -or- When Designers Work for Themselves

Interesting things often happen when designers work on projects for themselves.  When there is no client to say no, designers have to learn how to say no to themselves, which is a difficult thing to learn.  I’m learning this the hard way in my feeble attempts to design and assemble my portfolio and personal website.  I get a ‘great’ idea and spend hours working on a sample layout, only to discover that three days later, I can’t stand to look at it.  I study the design and make changes and work for hours more, only to realize that it’s still not very good.

I’ve started to understand what makes the difference between working for a client and working for yourself.  Clients give the designer constraints. Oftentimes constraints can seem annoying and arbitrary, but they allow for clarity and simplicity in the design.  [Good] clients provide clear constraints and goals during a project (hopefully with some lead time) which help guide the design to one of a few appropriate solutions.  I found a quote that states this idea rather clearly:

“Design is the art of gradually applying constraints until only one solution remains.” -Unknown

When I set up this blog, I had a few simple rules.  I wanted the blog to focus on content above all else, and display it in an honest and organized manner.  Those simple constraints led me to find and modify a simple wordpress theme, keep color to a minimum, and also helps encourage me to improve the content itself.  Because I told myself that the layout should not distract from the content, I am forced to improve the one thing that makes a blog worthwhile – the content.  If you want to have great design and still sleep now and then, make sure to provide yourself with clear goals and constraints.