I often browse personal websites of freelance designers & devs. After you visit a few sites, you start seeing patterns. Their “personal” websites become homogenised, stripped of personality, almost identical to the previous or next site. There’s nothing personal about it anymore, besides the URL. And this makes me sad.
I’m not talking only about presentation style. But also about the site’s language, its structure, and its goals. Most of the times, the structure of a freelancer’s site looks like this:
menu bar *avatar* Hi I’m Alex born in, bla, bla skills/what I do, bla bla experience, bla bla CHECK MY PORTFOLIO contact me
Say I’m trying to find a designer for my startup. I’ve already seen twenty websites, all which have a very similar visual style, structure, and language. Unless your work really stands out—and it’s getting harder to stand out because the overall quality of design is going up—I won’t remember any of those. No one really understands experience and I’d be inclined to say they’re copying each other. I don’t want copycats for my startup. Moving on…
If you structure your website the same way as the other freelancer, you’ve lost an important tool that could’ve helped you lock the client. Congratulations, you are now relying only on your portfolio to land the client. But dude, the portfolio is the only thing that matters, right?
Wrong! I used to believe that too, to such an extent that I had my portfolio on the homepage, even before introduction. But the portfolio is not what separates you from me.
Six degrees of separation
What separates you from me is personality. That’s what makes me who I am. Personality defines how I approach and deal with issues, design choices I make, how I analyse and evaluate results, and how I communicate. Moreover, personality determines my preferences, emotions, and behaviour patterns. Remember that skills can be taught, but personality is inherent.
The best thing about personality is that it can’t be copied. It’s unique for each individual because it’s influenced by many factors like society, social situations, culture, language, even birth order1. Going back to my previous example of the startup founder looking for a hire, a designer that doesn’t deal well with change and can adapt quickly won’t be a good fit for a startup.
So just like electronics have a fingerprint scanner that can uniquely identify you, use your unique personality to leave a mark on your site’s visitor.
Some freelancers get this “show your personality” approach. But they execute it in a wrong way. Why should I, the potential client, care if you like milk in your coffee, or the Star Wars trilogy?
Sure, these facts can be linked: if you don’t have milk, you won’t drink coffee, and you’ll be less productive in the morning. But potential clients search to find what’s in it for them. So unless you can link these facts about you to the big picture leave them out. Think how your personality can help the client, if they were to choose you, live a better life, make more money, attract more clients, and so on.
The original weblog idea was conceptualised in order to allow you to publish your personal thoughts and ideas. When you add a blog to your site just because everyone has one and it’s good for Google’s search engine, you’re doing it wrong. You’re also doing it wrong if you publish news articles related to the release of the iPad Air. Unless you can provide me with an insightful, personal review on the iPad Air, I don’t care. For gadget news, there’s The Verge.
Your blog posts should include part of your personality. I might want to learn more about you by reading your blog. Are you really who you say you are? Personality can’t be faked and in the long run, after I’ve read three-four articles of yours, your true personality traits come out.
If you want to have a blog, you must enjoy teaching. And your blog doesn’t have to consist of words—you can do podcasts, screencasts, or photos. But you should try to convert your experiences into articles that inform and educate people. I recently went to a conference and most of its speakers were like “I’m not here to give you advice…”. I hate that. Give me your advice, draw your conclusion, offer your suggestion, and if I like what you’re saying I’ll listen to it and act upon it.
Have a goal
It’s wise to set goals for your website. What action do you want your visitor to take? The goal for your site shouldn’t be to get them to see your portfolio. The goal for your website should be to persuade them contact you. If you add a bunch of actions before the CTA, which you have at the bottom of your site, you’re reducing the percentage of them clicking on that contact link.
Redesigned this site
In any case, I wrote this post to introduce you to my new redesigned personal website. I didn’t want to just write about the redesign, so I wrote more stuff in my effort to educate.
When redesigning this site, my thought was to make it personal. If you’ve been following me, you know that I was operating under the brand “SicanStudios” for design and under my name for photography.
This is no longer the case. From now on, in my efforts for more transparency, I’m putting my name on everything that gets out.
Since it’s a personal website, I’ve decided to “put my face where my name is” and design the site around my mug. This should somewhat impede “cats” from copying my site.
With this redesign I focused on simplicity, typography, and animations—showing the progression of an element on the page. Animations were certainly the most challenging aspect of the project.
As I wrote before, I want to push the boundaries of design. Animations look best at 60FPS. This is difficult to achieve when you animate large images, SVG elements, and entire webpages. I needed to do heavy optimisation and code refactoring to pull it off. And this was only possible with the help of Google Chrome’s dev tools which allows you to measure site rendering time.
Create an experience
On every page, I tried to create a unique and immersive experience. The site’s menu simulates a restaurant menu, which provides a funny twist to the term “website menu”.
I directed much attention to small details. When you hover the Twitter share button it emulates a beating heart. Or the order of the menu items was established based on the river created by each word. Keyboard shortcuts for every action were added. You can also navigate the site only with your keyboard. The previous/older post link, situated at the bottom of each blog post is cut off by the edge of your screen, to intrigue you and make you click. All these small details add up to create a unique experience for this site.
In conclusion: be bold. Make a statement. Upset people. Stand out. Keep hustling. Stay foolish.