This post is adapted from a talk I recently gave about portfolio branding and blogging basics to students at The Iron Yard’s Austin campus. What follows are some branding and blogging tips, tricks, and pitfalls I’ve encountered over the past couple of years.
Before we jump into a discussion about branding, it’s important to level set on a definition of branding. For this purpose, branding is defined as representation of your personal voice, either in the tone and/or design of your portfolio. There are three big reasons why it’s important to have a brand. The first is so people (especially potential employers or clients) have a sense of who you are. The second is so that your sense of self is clearly communicated. And the third is so that you can stand out.
There are some simple ways that you can brand your portfolio.
The first is color. Colors communicate meaning. Most of these meanings are subjective, but there are some general cultural color associations. Smashing Magazine has a wonderful series on color theory.
The colors you pick for your portfolio matter. For example: if you want to communicate a sense of calm, using fire engine red wouldn’t be the best choice because it conveys a sense of urgency. Make sure the colors you use in your portfolio are also accessible. WebAIM’s color contrast checker is my go to resource.
Another way you can brand your portfolio is typography. Basic typography on the web includes typeface selection, spacing, and size. Much like color, typefaces convey meanings. For example, if you want to communicate that you are consistent and methodical, a geometric sans-serif would be a better pick than Comic Sans. Smashing Magazine has a list of tips to choose type. Google Fonts is a free, bountiful resource for typefaces. And my former teacher Sam Kapila has a wonderful design starter kit, which has excellent and practical tips on typography.
You can also brand your portfolio with the work you show. Initially, your portfolio will be mostly or completely comprised of class projects. But your class projects don’t have to just be class projects—you can add your personality. My class projects include a hackathon project that is a garden planning app and a redesign of parts of the National Park Service website. People who are viewing my personal site might not know a lot about me, but my projects help them get a sense of who I am as more than just a designer/developer.
One of the best branding tools you have is your blog. It’s more of a long term commitment than choosing colors and type. It’s best to set a schedule and stick to it. Treat it like another homework assignment, and set aside 30 minutes to an hour to work on a post. Your posts don’t need to be lengthy or revolutionary—they just need to share your thoughts in your voice.
Why is it important to blog? Blogging shows your process; it allows people to see how you think and approach a problem (and find solutions). It shows your voice and allows people to get a sense of who you are as a person. Blogging also gives people something to remember. it increases your chances of being more than just another portfolio and helps you stand out. Blogging ultimately helps you present yourself as more than your work.
Blogging has many benefits, but it also comes with some anxieties. The two most common I hear from bootcamp students are fear of saying something wrong and fear of not having anything original to say.
You might say something wrong (and that’s okay!). No one knows everything. The people who make the design and dev communities fun to be part of will be kind and help you learn. One thing you can do to lessen this fear is use your community for a fact check before you publish.
Everyone brings something to the table. Even if you are blogging about an established concept, the way you understand it, explain it, and use it is unique. Add your voice to the conversation! We all benefit from it.
Another thing I hear a lot when talking to bootcamp students is not knowing what to write about. Here’s a brief list of ideas, written with bootcamp students in mind, but that can be tweaked for wherever in your career you are:
- Something you learned in class and how you understand it.
- Something you built in class and how you made it.
- Something you didn’t understand at first, but now you get, and what helped you understand it.
- Something you’re excited about learning.
- A programmer/designer/website/app/product you admire and why.
- Something you’re excited about building.
- What your TIY experience is like (day in the life kind of thing).
- What music you listen to when you code.
- Your origin story.
Put thought into the colors, type, and projects you use in your portfolio. Dedicate time to blog. If you do so, your personal site will be an accurate representation of who you are and you’ll be well prepared for the post-graduation job search.