Creative Portfolio Communities: Do designers need to be on them?

Four creative portfolio communities

A discussion on the social network Quora had me thinking about whether or not having a standalone website is that best way to promote yourself as a graphic or Web designer. Having a portfolio website used to be and still is a common way to promote your design skills online. But now there are more options available, and they’re gradually being taken more seriously. 

It’s within the realm of possibility that a business would promote themselves using only a Facebook page. While it would have been unheard of years ago, networks like Facebook are now legitimate options for those who want an online presence without necessarily having a webpage.

Designers now have “creative portfolio communities”, which are sites that provide them personal profiles and portfolio pages. The top CPC sites are Coroflot, Behance, Cargo, and Dribble.

These sites take care of all the technical aspects of your portfolio such as hosting, as well as much of the design. While you give up some creative control and having your own domain, these sites offer a uniform place to display your services to potential clients.

Also, because CPCs offer a community, they have a social layer that most websites lack. The social layer involves letting users interact with your page often with comments, questions, and reviews. Because these sites socialize your brand, they help people get to know you and your business better, and people like to do business with people they know.

And because CPCs are designed to be communities, someone can go to these sites to find an individual who meets their particular needs, and it won’t necessarily be the first designer they stumble upon. Rather than browse dozens of individual vendor websites, you have access to the portfolios of hundreds of individuals in similar wrapping. It’s sort of like the difference between authors sending their books to bookstores and selling them on street corners.

It’s important to go where your audience expects you to be. So, right away, CPCs have an advantage because lots of people go to a site like Behance with the goal of seeking out great design and/or finding a great designer for their project.

But with creative portfolio communities, you want to make sure that it’s not only other graphic designers who are visiting your profile. Also, there isn’t one network to rule them all. For bands, Myspace is a site that people recognize as a place to find new music. If there’s a band worth listening to, chances are they have a Myspace page. There currently isn’t a Myspace for design.

While the Justin Biebers don’t necessarily compete with little-known indie bands for different fan segments, there is a tendency for CPCs to create competition between various creatives. Because of ranking systems, star designers will be over represented, giving them more prestige and burying middle-of-the-pack designers and those new to the site.

Is it worth competing? In my opinion, you should have a standalone website and use CPCs to promote yourself, and lead people back to your site. Just like Facebook fan pages, CPCs are yet another tool you can use to help people find you online. At least for now, CPCs aren’t mainstream enough for the typical non-designer to rely upon them solely. People often find their designers through their friends, work colleagues, and Google searches.

Give people lots of ways to find you online that point back to your website. I recommend getting on these networks because they’ll increase your visibility, let you see how you stack up against competitors, and you’ll be part of a design-centric, online community. CPCs are something that have come a long way in a few years, and, as they grow in prominence, they’ll surely be another venue for finding new jobs, and even some inspiration.

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