With mobile on the rise there’s good reason to focus on responsive design. It’s the best way to support the widest audience and encourage more people to stay on your site.
Portfolio sites are especially fragile because they act as your online presence. You only get one shot to make a first impression so your site has to leave a good one.
Let’s dive into some common responsive design trends for modern portfolio layouts. I’ll share live examples along with some themes you can use to quickly build & launch your own responsive portfolio site.
Columned Portfolio Pages
Designing around columns definitely makes sense for larger portfolios. This goes double for visually-focused work like digital art, UI design, and photography.
Strict columns help to grab attention and guide visitors through your work. I like fixed-size columns but you can also do variable sizes or use masonry grids for your layout.
Take a peek at Julian Weidenthaler’s site which uses a fixed column display.
Each thumbnail teases the project work and you have to click to see more. If you do visual design this fits wonderfully because visuals grab attention first.
If you design a lot of different projects (print, digital, mobile) you’ll want your thumbnails big and easy to skim. Nobody wants to waste much time digging into your work so it’s crucial to showcase exactly what you do at a glance.
Olly Gibbs has another fantastic portfolio with a fully responsive grid design. This site uses CSS animations to move the grid while resizing the browser.
Some thumbnails even include animation to bring vivacity onto the page. Definitely adds a fun-loving feeling into the gallery but this works best for designers who do animation work(2D or 3D).
Overall the column/grid structure is great for showcasing all types of work. You can stylize project thumbnails however you want but strict columns always look great(2-col and 3-col are standard).
To launch a site on a strict columnar design check out the Regain theme for WordPress.
It’s super easy to install and it comes with a few varying styles with a dark & light theme. Plus it supports different homepages including large headings which is the next trend I wanna cover.
Large Homepage Typography
Visuals sell your work but typography explains it. Every portfolio site needs great copy and the homepage is especially important.
I like adding oversized type onto the homepage explaining more about the portfolio.
Who is this portfolio for? What kind of work does he/she do? Past experience? Current clients? You can answer a lot in just a few sentences & larger type is bound to get people reading.
The portfolio site of Bob Galmarini is pretty clear in this regard. It has one large page section near the top with some text explaining what Bob does and how he can help.
You could follow a very similar structure explaining what you do, maybe how many years you’ve been doing it, and the types of projects you specialize in.
Daru Sim also follows this format but keeps the main page all one color. This tends to flow a bit easier although minimalism can certainly include vibrant page backgrounds.
Think about the message you want to communicate to new visitors. This might include your location, your years of experience, or maybe some of the big name clients you’ve worked with. Large type should pique curiosity and get potential clients eager to learn more.
And to build this layout for yourself check out the Credenza theme.
It offers a wide variety of homepages you can restyle with your own text.
I especially like the 3rd homepage style featuring a large header along with some descriptive text. It runs on a single-page design which often fits nicely onto smaller portfolios.
If you want lots of color and fantastic visuals then try a fullscreen background design.
This can work as just a fullscreen header or as different sections on the page. For example Denise Chandler uses a fullscreen layout that spans the entire browser window but changes backgrounds with each section.
You could also try alternating color schemes between different sections on the page.
This takes a bit more effort to match colors accurately but the end result can look incredible.
Take a peek at the Port WP theme for a way to quickly build a portfolio with this fullscreen effect.
Naturally the theme is fully responsive and it lets you change all the background settings from the WP admin panel.
You can even combine this fullscreen effect with other trends like a columned portfolio layout or larger type on the homepage.
Vertical Navigation Menus
Most websites run horizontal navigations because they’re just easier to design. But if you don’t have many links you can get away with a vertical nav too.
This leaves plenty of room on larger browsers for people to see more of your work. Take for example Maarten Kleyne’s site with a slim vertical menu that leaves a ton of space for the main content.
Generally this is the type of layout I recommend for smaller portfolios or single-page designs.
You can squeeze a lot into that right-hand side and the vertical nav doesn’t have to be very wide either. On smaller screens you can change the vertical nav into a horizontal bar so everyone has a usable experience regardless of device.
The best way to launch a vertical nav portfolio site is with the Bramble theme. It’s a fully-featured WordPress portfolio theme so you can setup portfolio items and design your page layout without any coding.
This is also fully responsive so it should work on mobile devices too. It’s a super clean portfolio design and it has all the default features you need to showcase your work—plus a really cool vertical navigation style.
A freelancer who works in different specialties should use custom filters on their site. These act like sorting links so visitors can browse certain projects based on specialty.
This way potential clients can easily filter through your work and dig into projects relevant to their interests. These filters can be split by the project style or the type of work(posters, websites, icons, etc.)
Joel Mertz has this feature on his portfolio site which also runs a sweet vertical navigation.
At the very top of the page you’ll notice a few sorting links based on the type of work. You can sort by art projects, development work, and a few other categories.
This helps potential clients find the work they’re looking for to see if Joel’s quality is to their liking.
I also like Scott Thomson’s portfolio which filters by the work done on each project. But Scott also has a filter labeled “featured projects” which is a great way to show off the best stuff.
Most portfolio themes come with these filters but you always want to look at demos first. The best filters auto-arrange portfolio items without refreshing the page so the interface feels super smooth.
If you’re going for a minimalist portfolio site I recommend the Weston theme which does have a very clean filter UI/UX effect.
The nice thing about Weston is that it supports basically every other trend covered in this post. It comes with variable columns & alternate homepage styles with large typography.
It does not have a vertical menu but for the amount of extra features you’ll get with Weston it’s probably the most versatile portfolio theme out there.
If you’re struggling to launch a portfolio site then using WordPress is by far the best choice. But the key is knowing how you want your site to look and how to display your work.
These trends should help you figure out what direction to take your site and how to make it fully responsive for all users. Plus with so many incredible WordPress portfolio themes you can easily launch a responsive site that looks amazing & requires very little effort to build.