Hannah Oppenheimer


Product Designer, Ice Cream Maker

Death to the One-Dimensional Portfolio

20 November 2017

I recently struggled with designing my personal portfolio. I started off the project by sketching a few ideas on paper and researching the qualities of good and bad portfolios. I visited website of friends and websites of popular design "heroes."

But I was struggling because I didn't know how to "brand myself." Some designers have personal logos of their initials, some have entire design systems for all their various personal sites, and some are what we might call "beyond design" as their websites are simply markdown.

I was struggling because I was trying to put myself and my work into a two-dimensional cultural box. We all want to be seen as professional, creative, and consistent. But that doesn't mean we can't be personal and relatable.

I am, after all, a human, not a brand. And I hope that my website changes as much as I do.

Helen Tran recently updated her personal website and took some criticism over the amount of space her portfolio gives to her own image over her work. Women take criticism like this often:

The website welcomes you with a full-screen background video of Helen, followed closely by a portrait of Helen, scroll down a bit further to reveal 3 more photos of Helen... I really want to like Helen, however now I sort of think she's a bit vain. Maybe dial down the Helen-ness at the top a notch and move some of it to an "About me" section. Otherwise the top feels like a really well-designed dating profile.

Yes, sometimes our obsession with our own image can be nauseating. But the entire point of a personal portfolio site is to sell ourselves. If we remove ourselves from our sites, we portray the idea that we're robots, or at least could be replaced by them. And we're not. We're real people with real personality and passions.

My passion happens to be ice cream. Not discovering the latest Sketch plugin or finding new ways to sell your product. I love those challenges, but that's not all that I am, and that's not all you're hiring for the job. I'm showing you my work, without hiding the rest of myself.

But, it's still hard to fit me into a website. Helen did a great job of it. Mines still very much a work in progress, but at least it feels more like me than my initial ideas.

I found it much easier to design a website for an actual 2-dimensional character, Wednesday. A few weeks ago, I made a few pins inspired by the Addams Family aesthetic. I vented my annoyance at creating my personal wesbite by designing one for a theoretical grown-up Wednesday, a young woman branding herself but also struggling to fit her creativity inside the box of her career's limitations.

If you're interested, check out Wednesday's website and pins on Etsy.