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Interview
December 1, 2021

Jens Nielsen

This is your sign to create a Design Portfolio

December 1, 2021

Having a portfolio is crucial for any creative digital specialist who wants to showcase their work, build a personal brand and land a prestigious job. But making it is not as simple as it might seem because you need to choose a platform, find your authentic style and develop a document, webpage, video, etc. We invited Jens Nielsen, a Senior Digital Product Designer at the LEGO Group, who has been CSS Design Awards Judge, to talk about design competitions and share tips on building an eye-catching portfolio

Jens Nielsen, a Senior Digital Product Designer at the LEGO Group

Jens is a 40-year-old Digital Designer with 15 years of experience designing unique content for screens. He is currently employed as a Senior Digital Product Designer at the LEGO Group. He has been working on various projects, such as LEGO Ideas, LEGO Kids Website and LEGO Life Magazine. Jens lives and breathes Digital Design, and he is really into UI animations and micro-interactions

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Jens, do you remember your first design portfolio? How much time and energy did it take you to create it?

I graduated from Køge Business school as a multimedia designer in 2002. Back then, no one knew what a multimedia designer was. So in the last 20 years, I created a ton of portfolios. It was my thing in the beginning. The first time I put some elbow grease into it was in 2014 when I was about to leave Kathart: I wanted to present my work in the best way possible. Back then I still used Photoshop, so exploration for me wasn’t as easy as it is today. I settled on the look and layout pretty quickly so I could get started on coding and made adjustments on the fly if I ran into problems with the code.

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Do you remember why you decided to create a portfolio at the time?

Kathart was my first real workplace, where I created projects I was proud of. After 7 years there, I thought it was about time to try something new. I wanted to create something cool to show off my work and to supplement my job applications. That was pretty much the main reason.

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With 2346+ sites rated, I have learned to scan a page to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. If I stay and explore this page/site a little bit beyond 1–2 minutes, that’s a good sign
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After 15 years in the design industry, do you think having a portfolio is still crucial for a designer's professional success? Why?

I think it's vital to have something to show, even if it's just a Dribbble profile. I think most employers want to see examples of your work. It should be able to speak for itself, while the platform should be secondary.

 However, having a personal website that can showcase you as a person, as well as your unique style/brand more clearly is at least, in my opinion, a better way to go. It makes you stand out more and gives you a place to explore your creative side without any interference. You might also learn to appreciate yourself more once you start working with clients :)

Jens’ work process

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What benefits can designers get from having a portfolio? 

A portfolio gives you several benefits. 

 

  1. A personal playground
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  2. An additional exposure
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  3. Online presence.
  4. New skills. If you build it yourself, it's a great way to learn a little bit of code and get a better understanding of what it takes to implement a design.
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If you don't mind sharing, how did the portfolio help you get a job at LEGO if it did?

To be honest, it wasn’t the deciding factor. The LEGO Group still has its corporate office in Billund, a small town in Jutland. So when a digital designer from the agency world with 15 years of experience applies, he automatically ends on top of the pile! 

 

However, not many people provide a portfolio when they apply, so you will stand out way more if you have one, especially a creative PDF or a web page.

 Having a big wall of LEGO boxes behind you during a remote interview also helps :)

Jens’ wall of LEGO boxes

But I did put a lot of effort into my portfolio, specifically for job hunting. I was about to go on a new journey, moving away from my safe space and network in Copenhagen to a new place where I didn’t necessarily know anybody. I wanted to stand out and make a good impression on my new potential employers.

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What type of design portfolio do you find the most efficient: website, PDF or profiles on platforms like Dribbble?

I like to think that I have a hybrid solution where I have my portfolio landing page, a one-pager where I can express myself creatively and, through that, also communicate that I do a little bit of front-end.

Color variations for a webpage

Let’s stick to Dribbble for this part, as it is my preferred platform. It serves the same purpose as the portfolio itself: a permanent presence online to demonstrate your work, a place to refer people to, a place for people to discover you. On these platforms, your work is also shown more organically, through search and algorithms. It's easy to get started, and they have tools designed specifically for you to upload your designs fast and easily.

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As an experienced CSS Design Awards Judge, you've screened tons of portfolios. From your perspective, what features of a portfolio make it stand out among other participants'?

It’s the little things. When you can see that every little detail has been taken care of, that nothing is left to chance. The site doesn’t need to be overly flashy as long as the core idea is solid and well-executed. With 2346+ sites rated, I have learned to scan a page to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t. If I stay and explore this page/site a little bit beyond 1–2 minutes, that’s a good sign.

Top-4 online platforms to build design portfolio:

Behance (or Dribbble)
Behance (or Dribbble)

Here the barrier to entry is pretty low. You don’t need any coding skills. It’s easy and fast

Webflow
Webflow

Webflow is an online editor for creating websites. It’s the Figma of web editors. They boast that you don’t need to code. But it doesn’t hurt if you know a little about CSS and HTML and how it works unless you are OK with using templates

Semplice
Semplice

Semplice is similar to Webflow, but it is based on WordPress and relies more on pre-made elements that you tweak to your liking

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We are approaching the end of this interview. How do you think the design industry will evolve in the next 10 years?

That's a good question! I think we will see a higher level of automation in work processes. I also believe that we will see a much bigger interplay between design and development. 

 

I’m sure we will see a continued focus on design systems. We need companies to know the difference between a design system and a component library, as well as the fact that having a proper design system is not a one-and-done deal, but a continuous process that needs upkeep and attention.

 

Animations, look and overall feeling also seem to become a bigger part of design. Animations are used more and more to make a site look more modern, convey meaning and help elevate the user experience. So if you are new to this field, I would strongly recommend that you get a grasp of animations in UI. Learn about easing and timing.

Jens recommends resources for inspiration:

Muzli chrome extension. Muzli gives you a literal wall of inspiration every time you open up a new tab. I have been fortunate enough to have my portfolio featured there.

Codrops. Their playground is a gold mine of creative experiments, and their newsletter is one of a few I really open up and check out.

Awwwards. Awwwards has an incredible archive of sites categorized in topics like navigation, transitions, animation, footers, etc.

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Portfolios of which artists/designers do you personally like?

Aside from the platforms mentioned above, here are designers whose work I follow and find inspiration from:

 

  • Ben Mingo. Here’s his website. Everything he does is absolutely stellar.
  • Aristide Benoist. Here’s his website. He is the very definition of a creative developer. His Instagram is also fantastic. There, he shares the process of creating web products.
  • Zhenya Rynzhuk. Here’s her website. Zhenya is an absolute beast. I love everything she does.

 

FlowMapp did an interview with Zhenya Rynzhuk about balance in design. You can read it here.

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Any final tips for people who want to create their first design portfolio?

Just do it. Don’t overthink it, just start creating. There’s a ton of inspiration out there. Find the tools you are comfortable with and get to work.

 

The main advice from Jens

 


 

If you want to tell a story about your career or share your expert opinion, send us a pitch at serafima@flowmapp.com