Interview

Stop Trying to Fit in With Your Portfolio

Tobias van Schneider

He's renowned for his work as a designer and an entrepreneur. Now, he runs his own product called Semplice, a fully customizable portfolio system. In this interview, Tobias van Schneider shares key insights into what he has learned from browsing thousands of portfolios.

Photo Credits by Marion Luttenberger

Hey Tobias, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Let's cut straight to the meat. You're the founder of Semplice, a portfolio system that has become leading in the design field. Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind it?

Like most products, Semplice started as a problem we wanted to solve (mostly for ourselves at first). As designers, my co-founder and I were both frustrated with the limited “one-size-fits-all” options out there for portfolios — especially when it came to case studies. We wanted to build custom portfolios and advanced case studies in a simple, beautiful way. Aside from using a template or a developer, the option didn’t seem to exist. So we decided to solve the problem ourselves and boom, Semplice was born.

What does the future hold for Semplice? Will you continue to grow or have you found your sweet-spot?

We continue to grow each year, but we will always be focused on portfolios. That’s our sweet spot. With every feature we add or product we create, we aim help creatives do their best work and feel a sense of pride about it.

You obviously spend a lot of time looking at portfolios, do you see any common trends from the ones that stand out?

Right now I see a lot of Swiss-style, minimalist portfolios. So the ones that stand out do something playful and different, whether that’s with animations, color, copy, type or layout.

A few recent examples from our Semplice family:

Matteo Giuseppe Pani Portfolio
Matteo Giuseppe Pani
Fernanda Sousa Portfolio
Fernanda Sousa
Marton Borzak Portfolio
Marton Borzak

That said, it all comes down to great work. The best portfolios are the ones that set the work up so well, I barely think about the portfolio design itself.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see designers make in their portfolios?

Neglecting case studies. Dumping a bunch of images on a page and leaving it up to the user to guess what they’re looking at. Or, on the other extreme, writing case studies so long and boring I can’t make it past the first two sentences.

"I want to understand your process, but I don’t need to know your user persona better than I know my own mother."

It’s all about finding the perfect balance.

You're a big believer in case studies and were one of the first to tell stories in your own portfolio. What is important to keep in mind when making case studies?

The person reading your case study is busy. They’ve probably looked at dozens of portfolios today. Respect their time. Write something that makes them smile. Tell a story, but get to the point.

With our own portfolio, it’s easy to forget the design and web practices we know so well. Things like: People scan, they don’t read. They want captions, not chapters. They’ll exit fast unless you keep them wanting more.

Ask yourself if you’d enjoy reading your own case study. If not, your audience probably won’t either.

UX is in high demand right now, and is getting increasingly competitive as a result. How can designers position themselves to stand out from the crowd and grab people’s attention?

Avoid doing the trendy thing. We usually look to our peers when building our portfolio, and we end up repeating the same phrases (“crafting solutions through strategic storytelling!”) everyone else is already saying.

UX is not only in high demand, but it is also a title everyone uses now because it’s what gets you the job.

"To stand out from the crowd,
you first need to stop trying to fit in."

And if I look at most UX designers these days, they all try to fit in with what they’re saying, what they’re designing and how they present themselves.

Lack of work experience is a challenge for many designers making their portfolio, is there any way to overcome this?

Side projects. Do as many as you can afford, whether they are self-initiated or small client gigs. Your friend’s wedding invitation. A small-budget project for a non-profit organization. Business cards for a family member. When I first started out as a designer, I accepted nearly every opportunity that came my way. (I actually wrote about about this in detail on my blog.)

"Do great work with even the small stuff,
and it will lead to bigger things."

Do you have any last advice for someone first starting out in UX or transitioning from other design fields?

Learn to write well. Communicating your work is important for any design field, but especially for UX design. Your work doesn’t always speak for itself the same way a poster or packaging does. It’s your job to not only make it tangible for people, but to also make it interesting. The better your UX work, the more we enjoy the result and the less we think about your UX work. You have to point it out for us.

Where can we go to find out more about you and Semplice?

You can go to Semplice.com or browse the portfolios in our Showcase, which we update every week with fresh picks from our Semplice family.