The Hard Questions of Personal Site

Last night, in the midst of thinking about what should be on my site’s homepage or even if it needs a homepage at all, I posted (noun and verb): “The really hard thing about personal site is not design or engineering, it’s the content. It’s thinking deeply about how you want to represent yourself, what you want to put out there and why.”

This evoked some discussions on Posts. Ron Bronson:

my theory on the personal site vs portfolio as someone who changes mine often or not at all, is it depends on the audience.

a portfolio site is fine but if also want a presence to “express” yourself, it’s a different task. combining those jobs is what makes it so tough

It’s true! The resolution among multiple identities and purposes is a tough one, which is why portfolio-making often induces dreadful existential crisis.

For now, my approach is having everything under one roof, but downplaying my professional identity into one path (Note: I also have redirected to it). Of course, it is possible to have a portfolio site separate from a personal one, but I’ve found that design is—at least to me—more than a job. It is what I think and read and write about and one of the most profound ways through which I understand and see the world. Therefore, rather than dying to keep it away from other aspects of life, I let it spill over. (Note: I detailed some more decisions about this site in a meta post)

Ultimately, I don’t really see personal site and portfolio as two kinds (one for self expression and one for job search). Instead, I see the latter as a pattern of the former. Personal site is just...personal site, websites owned by individuals. Portfolio, blog, or “About” page, these are all common patterns people adopt in making their sites.

For designers, the practical necessity of having a portfolio often imposes itself a prominence over the concept of personal site. If the prominence is rightful, however, is in question.

This is hardly an original thought, mostly a derivative from Andy’s answer to the question “what is the optimal amount of effort that should go into a personal website” in his recent interview:

The main thing to think about is: what is it that you want to put out in the world? What is the ideal form of that thing? And to try to find some way of organizing it and expressing that. We have these common patterns, like a blog or a portfolio, and often people end up forcing themselves into these patterns.

In the reply, Ron continues with what I was trying to say in my original post:

Once you arrive at the “i dont need this site to land me a job” is where it gets both fun but annoying because it’s figuring out how & what to present and why. But it’s freeing not to have to preen for disparate strangers.

It is “annoying” because the lack of literally any constraint put you in a spot to think really deeply about all those hard questions and also PM yourself into prioritizing them. But precisely because they are difficult, very interesting websites often come from an earnest answer to these questions. From Andy:

I think very interesting personal websites often come from people who are thinking about that question – the shape of the thing that they want to put out into the world and making something that speaks to it.

Here’re some sites that make the medium of web sing: Chia’s web-making practice, Shen’s land, Nikhil’s conversational navigation, Spencer’s wall of windows, Lucy Ives’s wall of (digital) windows, and copywriter Joel Coleman’s hard sell slider.