How much is enough? How much is too much? How much work you should show in your freelance graphic design portfolio depends on a variety of factors. Let’s examine some of them.
But first, let’s say a few words about the reality of freelancers showing their portfolio. In the “old” days, like several years ago, it used to be that you had to bring a portfolio to an interview. The rules for how many pieces are appropriate for an interview are pretty established. The consensus seems to be 10-15 pieces, depending on the work. If your primary focus was for some reason business cards, a few extra pieces per page of portfolio wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, if your portfolio presentation was a series of 20 page full-color catalogs, just a few pieces would be fine. In the end, having 10 or 12 pages to flip through at a meeting is more than adequate.
What is the client not doing while you are flipping through these pages? They are not thinking very hard about specifics. They are taking in a general sense of you. Your clothing, breath, personality, body language are probably 80% of what they are taking in. How you flip your pages (fumbling or confident?) and what shape your portfolio is in (dinged up? nice and crisp?) is part of that too. About 20% of their attention is focused on your work. You are package deal, which is the unspoken but pragmatic truth about in-person freelance graphic design portfolio reviews. In all my many years of presenting portfolios, the same one with little change from year to year (my best work is timeless…hehe), I only had one person, who was not principle interviewer, ask me a remotely technical question about what they were seeing. I would say that 95% of the time, the portfolio review was flipping page while I talked in beautifully vague language about my experience working on the piece. For instance “Ah…this piece was a fun one. I got to tour the factory after I met the client and got free Asian frozen meals. The president of that company was…blah blah blah.” Many times I would not even talk directly about the work. And nobody asked. It was like a slide show of my summer vacation, more or less. I got a lot jobs that way.
But let’s get back to the issue at hand, which is namely presenting your work on the web. Once again, the final number for the web is really quite a different number than a live presentation would be for a variety of factors. First, there is no you in the flesh for them to be thinking about. But what replaces the you-factor if someone is perusing your website, sans you? In this case, it is your overall web design and usability that takes that place. How thoughtful have you been in designing the site? Have you nested the categories down inside several layers and clicks with “clever” small type that is hard to click? Did you (please say you didn’t) do a Flash portfolio with some “clever” “advancement” of standard user interface behaviors. If you did, well, all I can say is it’s never too late to change your website. A hard-to-use, overly clever, obliquely usable website is the equivalent of doing your live freelance graphic design portfolio presentation using a sock-puppet and pop-up book that doesn’t quite function correctly to present your work, while at the same time you are mumbling your words, and not to mention you are smelling like onions, lavendar, and fresh hot road tar baking in sun. Not pleasant and also self-defeating. Stop defeating yourself! Your interface is entirely in the way, is what I’m trying to say. You need to rethink your website and make it as easy as possible for a visitor to get to the one thing that matters – your work.