How do I audit my own design work?

You need to audit your portfolio of work and determine if your old work is still serving it’s purpose.

by Darian Rosebrook
October 05, 2018

Back in May, we had been planning, panicking, and preparing the whole month to welcome our son into the world. A cute little button who is now almost 3 months old.

But in that process of getting things ready to expand our home to another new member of our family, it required that we try to cut out a lot of things from our home that we didn’t need anymore or things that no longer serve a purpose in our home. It took a lot of mental energy figuring out what needed to stay and what needed to go.

We’ve upgraded furniture, moved things around, fixed things that were broken or breaking down… You would be surprised how much work goes into preparing your existing space to host something new.

Since we’ve been building out the new version of the Compass of Design community, I have also been finding things that we can cut out that no longer serve a purpose, and found things that need to be reworked or fixed.

The same goes for my personal website and my design agency’s site.

I’m going back through the things that I’ve created. Since I’ve got new projects coming in and big plans for the future, it’s time to tidy up these sites and put my best professional face forward.

You need to audit your portfolio of work and determine if your old work is still serving it’s purpose.

When I had talked about Crafting a Design Portfolio that Converts, I had pointed out the most crucial point of having a portfolio:

It’s about the goal

  • What do you want your portfolio to achieve?

  • How do you plan to guide someone through your work?

Your portfolio is an acquisition channel, there’s a reason you put it up there, make sure that it’s serving that reason.

As a piece of your arsenal, your portfolio is a tool to use in your marketing game as a designer . You’ve got to make sure that what you put in your portfolio is purposeful and relevant to what you want to get out of using it.

And if you’re not going through and auditing your own work, you may be missing opportunities to make your presence online as effective as it can be.

What do I need to do to audit my own work?

If you’re not using analytics for your portfolios (or whatever you call your collection of work), it is probably time to start.

I won’t go over how to set up analytics today, if that’s something you are interested in for the future, let me know and we can talk about it, or I can create a newsletter about it.

Data is a good indicator of what content you have made already that pulls in a lot of people. Things that are popular bring in more people, things that are less popular are probably slowing down progress that someone makes through your content.

In order to be objective about finding out what things slow others down, bring in somebody who hasn’t seen your stuff before (or at least in a while) and have them go through your work with a fresh set of eyes.

There are a number of things that I am looking for when I am doing a portfolio review for somebody in our Compass of Design community:

  1. What is the goal of their portfolio?

  2. Are they showing their work as case studies on their portfolio?

  3. Is the work they display their most recent work?

  4. What skills are they trying to sell in the words on their portfolio?

  5. Are the projects shown an accurate depiction of those skills?

  6. How many projects do they have? Too few? Too many?

  7. What are they doing well in the actual design work they show?

  8. What highlights can I bring back to them at the end of the review?

  9. What does it look like that they are struggling with in their actual design work?

  10. Does it detract from what goals they are trying to achieve from publicly showing their work?

My portfolio reviews can be quite intensive, but, my goal with Compass of Design is to help people succeed. These are just a snapshot of what I might go over when looking at previous design work. These are steps that I take to audit my own work.

If you’re in our community group, and you would like me to go through your portfolio, let me know inside the community and we can review it together. (:

Don’t compare your work to other peoples

If you constantly are trying to measure your work against what other people are doing in the industry, you’re going to have a very unpleasant time in the design world. There will always be someone who is better than you are.

Skills come with understanding. If you want to be like the other designers, you need to understand how they created the work that they did. If you only compare to other people, you won’t have understood how or what they did in their process to get their work the way that it is.

Instead, you should be comparing your work to what things you know now.

You are allowed to look at other people’s work. Just learn to look at the detail and choices they made rather than the whole thing as a pretty piece.

Look at the ornamentation around the borders, look at the way they crafted some element on the piece, take note on what typography choices were made. You need to learn to learn from other’s work.

This is how you compare your work to others. You learn from their decisions, and you compare if your decisions that you’ve made match what you already know works.

Comb over how you would improve the aspects of previous work.

Take a look at the design that you did for the projects you show. (this also works for current projects, but it’s easiest to learn from recently completed works)

With what you know now as a designer, what is it about that work that looks really bad to you now?

I’ve gone through my logo designs after I had learned kerning and improved the kerning on the logos I’ve done. Though it’s a tiny change, it’s something that helps show that I know what I’m doing. I’ve updated some of the files I display in my capabilities deck, and it’s best that I took the time to do so, because it represents what I know how to do now.

Think about it as redoing the old work you’ve done as a way to show your best work.

Other areas that might be good to look at are the steps you used in the process. Do you remember vividly where the most frustrating parts of that last project were? What would happen if you apply what you learned from that into your next project?

I have a written process that I use for interacting with clients and for completing branding projects. It’s a working document that I update constantly as I continue to take on new work.

There are always things you can do to streamline how you work and to improve upon your specific interactions with other people in the process.

Cut out the old work that no longer serves its purpose

It is time to bring the scissors out now.

I want you to pick 2 projects that you are currently displaying on your portfolio now. (You don’t have to do anything with them yet, but I want you to picture two projects on there that you feel aren’t as good as the rest)

Is this project the best representation of what you can do for the people who hired you?

Is this work the best representation of what you want to be doing?

Is this project really good work but still unrelated to what you want to be doing?

Has this project been sitting here for a long time and not received any attention/views/likes/etc in the past few months?

If these questions kind of make you cringe when looking at your old work, maybe it’s time to start phasing out some of the old work that you prominently display.

If you are creating new projects and taking on better clients, be sure to keep your portfolio up to date. Auditing the work that you display is not only good practice, but it’s good business.

You want to be representing yourself the best way you can be.

I’ve got a lot of work to do if I am updating my own sites. There’s always something to be improved upon.

Try switching out old verbage or rewriting certain sentences in your portfolio.

Try displaying better mockups of the work you’ve done.

Try framing your case studies like the ones that get the most traffic on your site.

Try going through and rearranging what order people experience your content as they go through your portfolio.

And remember, your portfolio shouldn’t be a “set it and forget it” sort of deal. You should be always trying to display the best of your work to potential new work.

Darian Rosebrook, Compass of Design