How to Build a Strong Web Design Portfolio that Will Land You Clients

Published 31 May, 2023 Updated 01 August, 2023

Before you can start booking web design jobs, you need to establish a professional portfolio. Discover tips that will help you on your journey!

How to Build a Strong Web Design Portfolio that Will Land You Clients

Are you an aspiring web designer ready to start working on real-life projects? First and foremost, congratulations for taking the leap! You are on a path of an exciting, dynamic and ever-changing career. If you believe you already have what it takes to take on clients, your next step is building a web design portfolio.

If you have some experience, you may begin building your web design portfolio, but if you have not yet had many opportunities, this is when you may start feeling stuck. Without a portfolio, you may have a hard time attracting potential clients. But how can you build a portfolio without actually working with clients? 

You may think this is a catch-22 situation, but there is no need to panic. Everyone starts somewhere, and there are steps you can take to not only build a portfolio but also stand out. Even if the first step entails completing an internship!

Before we dive into how to build a web design portfolio, let’s look at the responsibilities of a web designer and why having a professional web design portfolio is so important.

What is a web designer, and what are the responsibilities?

A web designer is a professional who creates a website’s design and layout. In layman’s terms, a web designer is responsible for how the website appears to its visitors. Some mistakenly believe that web designers simply insert images or text and reuse the same templates over and over again. But that is pretty much what anyone could do.

A professional web designer, on the other hand, has a clear understanding of what it takes to create a website that is both attractive and easy to use. Which is easier said than done.

Web designers are usually expected to be able to:

  • Develop a website concept to demonstrate a professional thought process
  • Plan the website’s layout for the best user experience (UX)
  • Introduce design guidelines and best practices
  • Use visual design tools, such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator
  • Employ web programming languages, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript
  • Work with different content management systems
  • Ensure that information is presented in a clear and accessible way
  • Test and improve the website’s design 
  • Understand SEO (search engine optimization) best practices
  • Design websites for different screen sizes
  • Continue learning

In short, it is not enough for a web designer to know how to use a web builder efficiently. They must understand how people navigate and interact with websites, how to make them easy to understand and use, how to present content in the most efficient way, and how to represent brands optimally.

Why do web design portfolios matter?

When you start looking for projects to work on, you need to be able to prove your skills and knowledge. And what’s a better way to do that than to present your clients with a professional web design portfolio? Basically, your business card. 

Clients are used to hiring designers who are able to showcase their past work, and they use portfolios to decide whether or not a particular designer is the right fit for them. Although web designers are usually flexible enough that they can cater to specific requirements, clients are more likely to hire designers who can already demonstrate their ability to achieve the results that the clients are after.

Moreover, a good web design portfolio can help build rapport with potential clients as you can introduce yourself, tell your story and make clients feel like they already know you before they even start working with you.

Top reasons to build a web design portfolio:

  • Showcase your skills and abilities
  • Stand out from other web designers
  • Build trust with potential clients
  • Position yourself as a professional
  • Introduce yourself as an individual

All very important and valid reasons, right?

Tips for building a killer web design portfolio

Now that you know how important a portfolio can be, let’s look at the most important steps you can take to create your own showcase of your best work. 

1. Create your own web design portfolio website

If you wish to design websites, there is no better way to showcase your skills than by building your own website. Since any specific requirements from a client do not restrict you, you can let your imagination and abilities shine when building a portfolio site. It could even turn out into the most ambitious or experimental project that shows exactly what you can offer.

Moreover, a website is the perfect platform for showcasing your best work. This is especially helpful if you have experience working on different kinds of projects, including website design, logo design or branding. In this case, you can create dedicated landing pages for each category.

Most importantly, there are no limits to where you take your website. It can showcase minimal design. Or it can be full of videos and colorful graphic elements. What you show is all in your hands.

Although you would need to pay for the website’s hosting and domain name registration, this is something worth investing in if you are serious about attracting serious clients. Discover more reasons to build your website here.

How to build a portfolio website

Here are a few important tips on how to create a website that stands out.

  • Focus on the homepage first: This is where you want your clients to land, and the more landing pages you create, the more confusing your site might appear. With time, you can expand your site. But first, plan its layout carefully and employ UX best practices to ensure that website visitors can travel through it intuitively. 
  • Add dynamic elements and interactive design examples: Long gone are the days when clients looked for images and screenshots. If you can, create videos, interactive elements, animations and other components that represent your skills. 
  • Pick what you want to showcase: You will read about why it is important to only showcase your best work in the following section. However, one thing to note is that quality is always better than quantity.
  • Add customer testimonials: Do you have positive reviews from your past clients? Why not add them to your website? Make sure the reviews are legitimate, and, of course, get in contact with your clients to check if they are okay with you sharing their testimonials online.
  • Help clients contact you: Have you ever felt like you were digging for gold when looking for contact information on a website? If you want to attract new clients, you want to make it as easy as possible to contact you. Whether you use a contact form or share your email address and phone number, make it visible. 

2. Showcase your best projects

If you have been working for a little while now, you may have already accumulated some examples of your work. If you are only just starting your journey, you might not have enough to pick and choose from, but if you do, always aim to present only the best of the best in your own portfolio.

Your prospective clients or potential employers will not care about past projects that no longer represent the skills and experience you currently possess. But do not let decision paralysis take you down. You can always curate your online portfolio to add and remove projects to represent who you are as a web designer at any given time. So, show what you want.

All in all, it is crucial that you frequently fine-tune the collection of your best work examples. Even if you start getting regular project offers, you want to refresh your showcase because a great portfolio will attract better-paying projects in the long run.

2.1. Make your web design portfolio stand out

When showcasing your best work, consider your competitors and their web design portfolio examples. If there is something unique about your work, use it to your advantage. After all, unique designers and unique portfolio pieces are the ones that new clients are most likely to remember.

Also, if you have hobby projects and special interests, and you want to attract clients that relate to them, highlight your expertise. Let’s say you are an avid biker, or you grow your own tea. The knowledge you have in these fields can help you stand out in a design niche that specifically caters to related businesses.

That said, do not forget to be flexible, as that will open more doors for you as a professional.

3. Tell your story and leverage social media

As discussed earlier, your portfolio also offers an opportunity to introduce yourself to a potential client. Why does that matter? People are people, and we are always more comfortable with what we understand and connect with.

You do not need to tell your entire life story, but a client might appreciate you sharing what inspires you, how you began your career, what training or awards you may have received, etc. Remember that a personal touch can go a long way, and since you are likely to face clients who have put all of their soul and heart into their business, you might stand a better chance of connecting with them if you show your soul and heart as well.

You can also link to your LinkedIn profile or other social media channels to help others to get to know you better. Of course, if you take this route, you have to make sure that you present yourself in a professional way to make your services appear more trustworthy.

How to build a portfolio without experience

All of these tips are fine and dandy unless you have limited experience and you think you have nothing worthy to showcase. Well, even if you have not yet worked on a real-life project, you can still produce great work.

Here are a few tips on how to start creating work for your portfolio. Note that for most of these opportunities, you will probably have to design for free, but remember that your time and dedication will pay off in the future.

  1. Call a family member or friend: If you know someone who has a business, you can offer to create a new website for them. If they already have a site, you can offer to refresh it and make it better. 
  2. Contact charities and nonprofits: Charities and nonprofit organizations usually rely on volunteers to help them with everything from running daily operations to designing websites. If you already volunteer for an organization and have a relationship with someone who calls the shots, you can easily land a job.
  3. Look around: Do you support any small businesses that do not have great websites yet? If that is the case, put your best foot forward and offer your services. The business you approach could be more inclined to work with you if they know you are already a customer who is knowledgeable about the brand.
  4. Use your imagination: Who said you needed to create business websites for real clients? You can make up companies to demonstrate what you can do. A good mock-up, even if for a fake business, can showcase your talents.

Grow your portfolio with WAcademy

Do you have enough experience to create custom websites, build a portfolio and seek out clients? While professionals in the web design industry continue to learn throughout their careers, you need some design knowledge and design skills to start your journey. Even if you do not have any real clients, there is still a lot you can do to get closer to becoming a professional freelance web designer.

The WAcademy internship program was designed to help aspiring web, UX and graphic design professionals gain skills and build web design portfolios through practical tasks. As people who have benefited greatly from internships ourselves, we understand perfectly how important it is to have not only theoretical knowledge but also real-life experience.

An example of WAcademy intern portfolio

To support our interns, we work with SMEs (small and medium enterprises) that need sites. If they match our criteria, we assign interns to work on their projects. Although we do not charge our SME partners for web design services, we are completely focused on providing amazing results. That is because we primarily focus on ensuring our interns gain the skills they need to jumpstart their careers.

If you believe you have more to learn about the web design process, and you want to build a professional web design portfolio while working on real-life projects, apply for the WAcademy internship program today! We are fully inclusive and accept interns from across the globe. Whatever your background is, if you have a laptop and the desire to become a great web designer, we cannot wait to meet you!