The sad fact about being a graphic designer is that we need a web presence; yet even typing those two little cliché words has sent my hypothetical balls crawling back up into my body cavity. It’s partly because they’re a ball-ache to maintain, it’s also partly because there’s an expectation for these sites to be dazzling when I firmly believe portfolio sites should be anything but.
Though they’re simple enough to code —for the last two years my portfolio site was hand-coded— they probably shouldn’t be: if you want them to look so fresh and so clean, with a nice sturdy back-end —pause— then a portfolio hosting service is the clear choice.
It’s important to have a few specific needs in mind when you’re considering a portfolio service. I like to outsource as much as the hard work as I can, as I’m a lazy shiftless bastard; but you might require a service that allows you to tinker with the source code a little more; well not me.
I’m looking for:
- Ease of Use — I want to be able to upload new work as fast as I can physically produce it, and I don’t want resizing thumbnails and myriad other fiddly tasks slowing me down.
- Quality Templates — Nice clean templates with a few customisable options. It’s much more important to me to spend my time producing quality work than it is to be figuring out flashy ways to display it.
- Excellent Tech-support — As a millenial, I’m used to 24 hour supermarkets and microwave meals; if the tech support can’t accomodate my needs as and when I need them, then —for me, at least— they’re dead to me.
Koken — I heard about Koken through Swiss Miss, where she showed reticence in investing too much time in a free start-up lest it be bought out a few months down the line, which is hardly surprising after the Teux Deux subscription switch. I figured I’d try it anyway as I barely use my Linux hosting for anything but side-projects, and it seemed simple enough to use.
Squarespace — I heard about Squarespace as it sponsors Jeff Garlin’s brilliant podcast “By The Way…” and after watching the demo video, I was instantly smitten.
Cargo — I’ve been with Cargo on their free plan for about a year now and though I was hardly blown over by the functionality; I don’t need an advanced degree to operate the back-end, it looks good, and it rarely has any down time. I also like the fact you have to request an invite, it appeals to the teenager in me who was never invited to parties.
Koken has a lush letterbox site, and appears simple enough, but you have to make a choice between cost and ease-of-use straight out of the box. Koken is the only contender to offer unlimited functionality for free —For free— but don’t think that means there’s no cost. They’re the ‘Teach a man to fish…’ of this whole scenario in that they give you the fishing rod, but after that you’re on your own. Screw that, I want the fish.
I hit a few snags installing the back end on my server, but nothing that couldn’t be remedied by a lovely CPanel rep named Amber J. Once they’d been ironed out, the problems with Koken itself took much longer to resolve; in part because of their glacial tech-support. I realise that as a start-up that they’re unable to offer truly dedicated support, but they fell at the first hurdle. I am currently two days into an email back-and-forth with them, which may pale in comparison to The Pony Express, but in real time it gave me two days to consider how much better off I’d be with Cargo.
Squarespace is the too-sweet porridge in this Goldilocks analogy: It’s just too good. Look at that demo video!
The only thing that is holding me back from choosing Squarespace is the price. Even though the cost is extremely reasonable, and I can seriously see myself using Squarespace in the near future, for now it’s just out of reach. The Squarespace basic package works out £20 more p/a than Cargo’s pro account, and it ended up clinching the deal in favour of Cargo.
The whole reason I was considering a Cargo pro account was because their free plan caps the amount of projects you can display at 12 and I needed more. Squarespace’s lowest-end option caps your pages at 20, but that includes any possible extra pages such as an ‘About Me’ page, a shop and a blog, and it still clocks in at £20 more than Cargo’s much more usable pro plan. For me, the extra money I would cough up for Squarespace doesn’t equate to the extra functionality I could get out of those eight pages.
This trade-off is personal to me, and other users might find the comparison trivial, in which case Squarespace could feasibly edge out Cargo. It seems here that Squarespace might have narrowly priced-out personal sites, but makes up for it in being the ideal choice for small studios and start-ups, especially on their Business plan that offers up full e-commerce functionality, and at less than £200 a year, promises to do everything for you but wipe your ass.
I signed up for the free trial and had a functional portfolio site up in minutes:
So here we are, Cargo has seemingly won by default: the ‘just-right’ porridge, so to speak.
Cargo is offering me everything I need for £40 a year, and it may not hold my hand and wait on me hand and foot, but that’s okay, because I don’t need it to. I work better using my main site as a hub, outsourcing my work, blogging and shopping needs to satellites sites. For that £40 I get unlimited projects, (capped at 6gb, but still more than I will ever need) and unlimited possible templates; and though the usability is sometimes unusually counter-intuitive, there’s lightning-fast tech support and an extremely active support forum to seek advice from.
You’re damn right I am.