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The First 5 Seconds Of Your Portfolio Website

January 5, 2011

(Illustration by Thomas James)

In the first 5 seconds that an Art Director visits your website, they are making critical judgements about you and your work, for better or worse. That’s why it’s so important to give your landing page the attention it deserves.

While I’ve always believed in the power of making a strong first impression with your portfolio website, I have gained a new appreciation for this fact in a recent Portfolio Workshop that I conducted with artist Tim Read.

Overall, Tim’s work and the layout of his website was pretty solid. One of his main questions, however, was about how to make more of an impact with the landing page (or Home page) of his site. He wasn’t quite sure what he should include, or how to increase his chances of drawing his visitors in and piquing their interest. After our one-on-one consultation, Tim’s improvements to his site, and especially his landing page, really helped to take his brand to a higher level. For me, this reinforced the importance of an evocative landing page.

I don’t have a screenshot of the “Before” picture, but you can check out Tim Read’s new Home page here.

How do you make a strong impression in the first 5 seconds?

This happens to be a question that I hear from a lot of Illustrators, which is understandable because your Home page is one of the most important parts of your website, along with your actual portfolio. After all, if you turn Art Directors off with a poorly designed landing page that makes you look like an amateur, they’ll go elsewhere quicker than you can say “Hey, wait! Come back!”

The way I like to think about the design of a landing page is to imagine that you’re an Art Director who has never been to your site before, and consider the impression that your website makes in the first 5 seconds.

Are you putting your best foot forward?

Are you showing off your greatest work?

Is your design clean and clear?

Is your style evident?

Are you making an impact?

What is the first thing the eye is drawn to? The second?

Asking these types of questions can be very worthwhile when designing (or redesigning) your website, because they can help you to take control of the way you “introduce” yourself to your new visitor.

An Outside Perspective

In fact, I would also recommend enlisting the feedback of one or more fellow artists that you trust, just as you might when asking for a critique of your work, because sometimes it can be hard to get an objective viewpoint of your own design. When asking for help, try to ask specific questions, such as the ones listed above, so that the criticism will be more useful to you.

Another enlightening activity is to visit the websites of Illustrators you’ve never seen before, and pay close attention to the way their Home page affects your impression of them. You might even want to have a pen and paper ready to jot down notes of the things that turn you on and/or off about their landing page. Then, you can apply these ideas to your own design.

Keeping Them Around

Remember that the Home page of your portfolio website, just like every other element, has a very specific job to do, which is to impress your potential clients, make them want to see more, and get them to your portfolio as quickly and easily as possible.

Spending a little extra time getting this part right can do a lot to help achieve these goals.

What things turn you off when you first visit an Illustrator’s website? Please share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Cynthia jabar permalink
    January 5, 2011 3:46 PM

    HEY ILLO ISLAND. Good food for thought. I’m redesigning my site 2launch at the end of the month. Noticing that lots of illustrators give too much away with overkill. I think it’s important to keep the attention of editors/art directors and pique their interest, not bombard with too much stuff. I like the web redo of Tim Read. Cleaner and room to breathe so AD can interject their own vision to the work and have room to imagine what they can do with your work too. Good stuff, thanks.

    • January 5, 2011 9:24 PM

      Thanks for your comment, Cynthia. I agree that it’s easy to overstate things, which can turn Art Directors off and even seem like desperation or lack of confidence. I hope your redesign goes well. Cheers.

  2. January 5, 2011 5:54 PM

    I think the biggest turn-off for me is pages that take forever to load. Other than that, I think there is a lot of gray area for what works and what doesn’t. I think it often has to be a balance between creative vs. professional.
    My current site basically has my general illustrations portfolio page as the home page with other pages listed to the right. I would like to get into designing a more interesting layout, but for now it gets the job done.
    Great article. Thanks!

    • January 5, 2011 9:26 PM

      I think getting “the job done” should be the most important part, without “overdesigning” your site, and I like your point about reaching the balance between creative and professional. I’m also a big fan of sites that allow you to get right to the images from the home page, or better yet, every page.

  3. January 5, 2011 11:19 PM

    Very usefull, but a difficult topic, how to optimize a website. I think that sometimes it is that a website try to do too much, and that there are many choises to make.
    One question, How do you controle, what page are the landing page ?
    When I look at statistic from our website,, landingpages are scattered across the site.

    • January 5, 2011 11:46 PM

      Good question. When I say “landing page”, I generally mean the one main page that you generally send people to on your site, which in most cases is the Home page. So, the focus here is on the first page that your visitor sees, and so the idea is to make the best impression you can in those first few moments.

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