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Every successful designer realizes the importance of a well-crafted, professional, off- and online persona. That involves having a polished resume and c.v., business cards, and a portfolio of creative work.

Research and planning are the first steps to take before designing anything. Not only is it inspirational but it also provides insight into how other people approach the task. Inspiration can come directly from seeing the kind of work you are doing: looking at resumes when writing a resume, portfolios when creating a portfolio, and so on. The advantage is that it lets you identify trends, common elements, how people structure their work. Seeing what the competition is doing is great. Let’s take online portfolios, for example. The fun and creative sites as well as the unexciting ones are fairly consistent in their sections, with an about section, project list, a contact form, client list. There navigation is usually at the top or left. Knowing what’s been done gives you an opportunity to find a fresh approach and be a little unique. However, it wouldn’t be wise to try to be very different from the established norm. Conventions are popular for a reason.

This article explores the idea of consistency and understanding user expectations. People already have an idea of what should be in a site and when it is not there, they get frustrated. That applies to content, language and layout. A personal portfolio site is expected to have online, clickable samples of work. If its owner simply compiled all of the work into a huge multi-paged pdf to download instead, it would be seen as rather inconvenient. If a contact page didn’t have a form or a contact email available but just a phone number or mailing address – that would turn people off. It’s basic content that is so convenient that people expect to be available. If it’s not there, it’s an annoyance. Adhering to basic usability standards in design is helpful as well. When visiting a website, you look for certain key elements in certain places. Privacy policy and Terms of Service are usually at the very bottom. Breadcrumbs navigation is at the top, below the main and secondary navigation. If you want to break away from established conventions in your design, make sure that there is a good reason for it. There’s a small showcase of creative portfolio designs here to see.

Aside from using amazing competitors’ work as inspiration, there are also other ways to spark the imagination. Magazine spreads can be great to look at, as are lists of great typography and calligraphy. Flipping through an art history book or seeing some museum exhibits can be a good experience. There are so many sources of great art and design work from many different fields.
The other thing to keep in mind while designing things for yourself is to keep different pieces related to each other. Business cards, portfolio, resume and c.v. – and any other things designed for oneself – should all look good together. They are all part of one package and therefore have to be consistent.

More reading:

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug (book) a bit more information on usability, conventions and how people use the web.

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