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Top 10 IMD Portfolios

In an effort to ‘give back’ [cheesy phrase I know] to the degree that got me to where I am today, I wanted to pass on some words of wisdom to the current year group. Interactive Multimedia Design, a primarily web design focused degree offered at the University of Ulster in Belfast, continues to produce a steady stream of top quality web designers each year.


The students recently had to submit a portfolio site to promote themselves and their skills, so I thought I would display my chosen top 10 out of the 90 strong class to give them some praise and exposure for their work.  I didn’t judge them on any particular aspect but simply on overall quality, design and unique appeal. Hopefully the remarks I make about each will be of use to both the rest of the class and other web designers.

So in reverse order…

#10 – Chris Fearon



> Interesting design, a break from the norm.
> Chosen typeface and spacing indicates a sense of professionalism.
> Unique name is a selling point.



> The ‘tag cloud’ look for the about text is a bit unusual. Perhaps changing the colours instead of size to pull out the key words would be better.
> Content could be structured more effectively, some links are hidden within the page.

#9 – Brian Burns

brian burns imd


> Clear indication of identity. This site is definitely Brian Burns’. :)
> About text is short and instantly pulled out with the blue background.
> Striking image is attention grabbing.
> Individual projects are nicely sectioned.
> Belfast Banter holding page is fantastic.
> ‘Available’ status is a nice detailed feature.

brian burns imd


> Make sure alignment is perfect on every page element. A couple of pixels off can ruin a page’s professional look.
> Could push the Twitter, Virb, Delicious links more instead of just on the footer.

#8 – Shane McAstocker

shane mcastocker


> Refreshing, unique style. It hasn’t got the usual web 2.0 vibe so it stands out from the crowd.
> Small details, like the Adobe icons in watercolour style, are also good ways to subtly push Shane’s style.
> Twitter status’ prominent location will encourage people to follow.

shane mcastocker


> The ‘tweet tweet’ image could link to your twitter profile.
> Instead of scribbling out the active page link on the navigation you could circle it so it’s still readable.
> More alignment of the links at the bottom of the page keeps visual consistency.

#7 – Jonny Campbell

jonny campbell


> Clear, professional and clean layout.
> ‘About text’ length and size are perfect. Including a funny remark puts the viewer at ease. Offering more details below the short intro in a much smaller font size does not overwhelm the viewer with text.
> Pushes ‘Gonzo Design’ but does not neglect ‘Jonny Campbell’.
> Including ‘In Under 150 words’ is a nice idea, puts the viewer at ease before starting a long piece of text.

jonny campbell


> Strikethrough on visited links is a good idea for lists where you need to see where you’ve been, e.g. list of blog posts. Should not be used on navigation as people will come back to click multiple times.
> Perhaps larger images of your projects in the ‘work’ section, they should really speak for themselves with very little text.

#6 – Ryan Carlin

big panda


> Fun branding with the Panda, memorable.
> Great use of icons to illustrate your key points. Love the Panda ears through the helmet. :)
> Simple colour scheme is a plus.

big panda


> Too much text on the homepage. Should limit it to a few choice words with a ‘read more’ link.
> The capitalisation and 3 exclamation marks on the YOU!!! makes it look a little unprofessional along with the rest of the text, which is perfectly worded.
> The ‘check it out’ buttons could be improved visually.

#5 – Paul Wilsdon

paul wilsdon


> One page layout is a nice change among the other portfolios.
> Simply using black and white is refreshing.
> I like the visual style with things like ‘By 2010 Digital Advertising…’. You’re saying a lot by just structuring the text in a creative way.

paul wilsdon


> Scrolling could be smoother, would give it a nice finish and not make the viewer uneasy about using a different method of navigation.
> Perhaps the change in typeface is too drastic. Could be a better choice for the section headings.
> Could align up the text fields on the contact form.

#4 – Ciaran McGettigan

ciaran mcgettigan


> Love the header, makes your name very memorable which is a big factor in a portfolio site.
> Automatic appearing contact panel is a great idea, saves the user from losing the page they are currently on.
> Cow icon is nice, adds a little bit of fun to the site. :)
> By using few colours and a clean look you allow people to focus on the content.

ciaran mcgettigan


> Could perhaps make the navigation stand out a little more, perhaps with subtle rollovers.
> Seems to be nothing in the footer, perhaps you could put in contact details here also.
> You are missing a couple of link images on the right hand side links.

#3 – Caroline Smith

caroline smith


> Fantastic subliminal messaging with the word ‘Beautiful’ in huge type. A great change from typical words usually found to describe web design.
> Striking homepage content, all done with text, subtle colours and gradients and not one screenshot. Well done.
> Portfolio showreel is effective.
> ‘Hire Me’ as a section heading is a great idea, stands out to potential employers.

caroline smith


> Maybe make some distinction between the three call to action buttons on the homepage. Tell the user where you want them to go first by highlighting that button in particular otherwise they will always go for the leftmost one if they are all the same.
> The dark brown links and pinkish rollovers are a bit hard to read.

#2 – Suzy Johnston

suzy johnston


> Has to be the simplest site of the top ten. Amazing what you can achieve if you strip it back to the basics. Very effective.
> Fantastic use of space, especially above your name, makes it really stand out well.
> Large but light titles are perfect.
> Great self promotion in your footer.

suzy johnston


> A tiny piece of text with each project, even as a transparent rollover on the image would perhaps help out viewers.
> Apart from that it’s perfect. :)

#1 – SkipSkap

I had to choose SkipSkap as the number one portfolio. It’s superbly designed, very memorable and achieves everything it should.



> Getting your name out there straight away in the centre of the homepage, will be remembered.
> Great branding with the name and logo, also very memorable, and fun to say. SkipSkap!
> Contact form design is great.
> Ripped up image on homepage is very unique.
> Colour scheme and background textures are really well suited.
> Choice of font and style are very professional.



> Too much text on the about page. Strip it back to exactly what employers will want to know and pull out key words with colour.

Information to Everyone

Well that took a lot longer than I thought it would, but I think it was great to see what talent there is in IMD. I had it narrowed down to about 20 earlier and then scaled that back to a top 10. It was tough job and there are many other sites in the class that have fantastic features. These top 10 however have a great mixture of everything and deserve the credit in my opinion.

These choices are of course my opinion and everyone else would make different decisions about the best portfolio sites. I tried to make most of the suggested improvements useful for everybody.


If you want to find out more about the Masters course you can read either my blog post or Lee Munroe’s to find out some of our opinions and thoughts.

Talk to Me

Be sure to follow me on Twitter @PaddyDonnelly and if any of you who weren’t chosen want me to talk about their site then just email me I’ll be more than glad to give my thoughts on how to improve.

Comments (21)

  1. Thanks for taking the time to do this Paddy. I know a post like this is a considerable investment in time and I am sure the students will very much appreciate the hard work you’ve put into this and all of the great advice you’ve given.

    As I think you know we’re looking into organising an informal, open, on-the-web Campfire crit over the next week or so, it would be great to invite you to join this.

    This kind of post is exactly the kind of constructive criticism our industry needs if it’s to keep moving forward in Northern Ireland and, as you’re proving admirably, internationally. We have a lot to offer when academia, industry and a vocal and passionate alumni work together to build a better creative community. Thanks for helping and contributing to this process.

  2. Paddy

    6 Mar

    Not a problem Chris. Yeah I think it’s important for the NI web industry to get involved with IMD, giving their advice and thoughts. So a campfire crit would be great. I’m definitely up for it.

    Hopefully some other people in the industry will do similar posts in order to get a varied opinion.


  3. My top 3 from your list Paddy are Susie Johnston, SkipSkap and Paul Wilsdon.

    Paul’s being my favorite from a design perspective (I would have one or two navigation related suggestions though) because of it’s simple but sophisticated design and lovely typography. I disagree with Paddy’s point that the change in typography in Paul’s site is too drastic – it’s great and the thing that really makes the design work.

    Contrast is one of the four basic principles of good design (along with repetition, alignment and proximity) – and that translates too ‘if you’re going to make something different, make it really different’ – because ultimately it’ll achieve the best juxtaposition. I find nowhere are the results of this more pleasing than in type.

    On another note, Caroline Smith’s homepage borrows far to closely for Giant Creative – and this is something that all IMD student need to be very careful of. There is a fine line between being inspired and plagiarism. In fact just the other day I came across a second year IMD student who had literally stolen someone else’s site, was using it as their portfolio site, and touting it as an original design. Plagiarism is serious – if you do it when you graduate you open yourself, your employer, and your client up to being sued by the originator of the work. Caroline hasn’t copied the entire Giant Creative site, but her home page and favicon are far too close to the bone.

    Without going through each of the other sites mentioned individually, while there are some good ideas most of them don’t feel fully resolved. The devil is in the details. What sets say Susie Johnston’s site apart is that it feels finished – every element seems fully considered and in it’s ‘right’ place. It has polish. Many of the other sites miss this mark – and a little extra care and attention make a big difference. This is imperative for graduates to understand as they enter the workplace in a few months.

    All-in-all there is some good work coming out of this year’s final year IMD class and I look forward to seeing how this translate into professional careers over the next few year.

  4. Paddy

    6 Mar

    Great points there @Leanne. I think in Paul’s site the section typeface choice could be a little more subtle and professional, just to refine the look. I’m not sure ‘if you’re going to make something different, make it really different’ is the right way to look at it. Sometimes a subtle difference speaks far more than dramatic changes.

    I see the two sites are extremely similar and it is a real issue that IMD students need to be aware of. Because the web industry is so small, especially in NI, if you get labeled as a copycat then it will be extremely difficult for you to shake that and find work. I think this is an issue that should be discussed between Caroline and the lecturers and not here though.

    Definitely I get that impression from both Suzy’s and SkipSkap that they are ‘finished’ although they should not sit back and relax from hearing this. Websites can always be tweaked and improved and why not start working on SEO and promotion?

  5. Great post Paddy, there are some fantastic examples of portfolio design here, and your constructive criticism will only serve to help these guys improve.

    Fantastic to see IMD is helping to produce such talent – the results seem to be improving year on year. A big well done to both the students and the lecturers.

  6. Ciaran Mc Gettigan

    6 Mar

    Alright Paddy and “Whata bout ye” as we say back here in Belfast. Just want to say thanks for taking the time to look over my site and I appreciate your comments. Your spot on with the chances that need to be made in order to improve my portfolio . As for the missing Graphic Hover Links in the bottom list, there’s seems to be a conflict between “Jquery” and the “Css” of this list (that I can’t figure out), You’ll notice that when you first enter the site the graphics are there but as soon as you click on contact link the graphics disappear????????????????????????

    Anyway good luck with your new job

  7. Ciaran Mc Gettigan

    6 Mar

    Spelling lol

  8. Paddy,

    First off well done with the top ten, thanks for taking the time and effort to help both IMD and individual students raise the bar.

    Also thanks for the mention, appreciated. I believe we have to be careful not to fall into the same trends. The object is to be noticed, recognised and remembered. Never before has it been so vital to stand out from the crowd and develop individuality, Through both branding and web.

    Well done IMD. Be proud.

  9. Paul

    6 Mar

    I’ll agree with Chris here – earlier a group of us were discussing the pros and cons involved with WordPress or other management systems and concluded that they’re powerful if not overused to the point of genericity (woah, I just created a term).

    Web Designer mag ran an article a few months back about the double-edgedness of WordPress titled “Shining saviour of web 2.0 or the end of web creativity” or somesuch, it was a very interesting read.

    In an era of such creative abundance (or at least when so many people think they’re a designer because Frontpage came with their Dell) it’s important to maintain some factor of originality without yielding to the powerful abilities of content management systems which may leave your sites generic and saccharin if over-indulged upon.

    Thanks again for the inclusion – best of luck mate.


  10. Hey all,

    Thanks Paddy for the spot on your top 10 and also for all the valuable advice.

    Just in response to Leeanne’s note, yes I agree when you compare both websites at first glance there are some similarities, but there are also a lot of differences. I looked at Giant Creative’s website as a source of inspiration and feel that my design is far enough from theirs to stand alone and be considered original. When you look closely there are only two elements of the design that are echoed on both sites which are the typographic style and the deer silhouette. Giant Creative’s design has a completely different colour palette, layout and navigation. I do not believe that this is plagiarism, but rather the development and extension of a trend which can, indeed, be seen across a great number of sites and not just these two.

    This was covered last year on Cultured Code’s blog in response to a case of blatant plagiarism that goes far, far beyond inspiration, “Creating a new design always involves a recombination or evolution of existing design patterns and styles. It happens every so often that one is inspired by another site’s design and that certain aspects are carried over into the new design ‚ albeit in a transformed and adapted way.”

    Read full post here –

    I think this opens up an interesting topic of discussion on design inspiration and trends. When does a design element – such as a footer background, drop shadow, gradient or particular style of typography – move from someone’s unique idea to become a trend? A good example is the footer image on this site, which has begun to pop up in a number of places and is even included in one of the sites on this list. This style, of ‘pinking shears’ style footer isn’t plagiarised, it’s merely current and popular.

    I appreciate Leeanne’s comments and understand where she’s coming from, but the discussion between inspiration and plagiarism can go on for ages with varying degrees of opinions.

    Plagiarism is a serious issue that I feel strongly about and in no way do I want to be associated with the word. The IMD lecturers do not see my design as plagiarism and I do not either, indeed, this has sparked an interesting discussion in the labs today.

    Thanks again Paddy for including me on your list!

  11. All art is plagiarism, just some sources are more obvious.

    I didn’t read @leelowe as having said anyone plagiarised though.

  12. Interesting point that all art is plagiarism.

    I didn’t mean to suggest she did.

  13. Caroline,

    As the Creative Director of a web agency and someone who has been designing websites professionally for 10 years I can tell you without any shadow of a doubt that the similarities between your website’s homepage and the Giant Creative website home page are too similar and your design would not be professionally acceptable.

    Yes, people can argue the semantics of what is and isn’t plagiarism (and for the record I never termed your work as such, as I do recognize the differences). But when it comes down to it, if you had designed that homepage for a professional paying client there is little chance they would accept it as original work or take the risk of being sued.

    So you can argue that technically it isn’t copied and point out the differences in colour palette and differences in the other page of the site – but in the end that doesn’t matter.

    The stag and the typography are the basis of the entire concept of the Giant Creative site – it is powerful and original. They will have had very valid brand identity related reason for using them.

    Your site copies these elements and presents them in a far too similar way. It’s too close to the bone. The minute I saw it I thought it was copy of Giant Creative – every one of my design team (all IMD graduates) agree.

    “Creating a new design always involves a recombination or evolution of existing design patterns and styles. It happens every so often that one is inspired by another site’s design and that certain aspects are carried over into the new design ‚ albeit in a transformed and adapted way.”

    Absolutely – but here you have taken it too literally. A ‘recombination of design patterns and styles’ is very different from directly copying the exact typographic treatment and emblem of such a recognizable web identity.

    “The IMD lecturers do not see my design as plagiarism and I do not either, indeed, this has sparked an interesting discussion in the labs today.”

    Plagerism is a serious business. What you have done here isn’t direct plagerism, but you are walking a fine line. My advise would be to work on your ability to generate more original ideas and treatments for your sites. As a person from Industry I advise you to take on board what I am saying to you because myself and others like me will be the people you will be seeking employment from in the very near future.

  14. Just want to say thanks for taking the time to rate my site and I’m well chuffed that I made the top 10. It’s good to know that people like yourself are interested in our development as designers and are willing to take the time to give us a helping hand and stear us in the right direction. In short, I owe you a pint. Cheers!

  15. Some super work here, the bar seems too raise year on year which I guess can only be a good thing as it encourages everyone to raise their game a produce ever outstanding work…

    Well done IMD class of 2009 :)

  16. Josh Kill

    7 Mar

    Hi all, thought I would chime in with my thoughts on Caroline’s design :)

    #1 The web is a smaller world than you think. If you copy significant portions of a popular website…the owners will eventually get an email from one of the many self-appointed web police :)

    #2 Emulating good design is the road to establishing a solid foundation for your work. This seems to be especially true in the arts. As the creator of the GIANT Creative site I can say that Caroline’s design is a compliment to our work…so thank you. Because of that, I never get upset when one of our designs is borrowed from (usually).

    #3 The most important lesson here is to learn from others…not borrow from them. Ask yourself what you like about the design; find out what makes it successful…then emulate that.

    #4 Borrowing from others works is limiting. It often seems like a good idea to start with a design you like, then change it to suit your needs. The problem is that this trains you to see projects backwards. The best web projects start with a solid understanding of your content and your goals. You must build the foundation and the walls of a building before you begin to paint and decorate the rooms.

    #5 Keep at it! (especially you Caroline :) It takes time to find the groove of designing websites, but before you know it, you will find yourselves leaving behind hours of research looking at others websites…and instead taking a walk in the park (or a trashy alley) for inspiration.

    …and remember to reach back to help the designers coming up behind you…there is always room for more creative people!



  17. Josh Kill

    7 Mar

    Forgot to leave my pick for best work.

    Definitely Suzy…her work is rockin’

    Well organized content in all of her sites. Simple design…every element adds to the design/brand.

  18. Thanks for the mention Paddy, I can’t quite believe I made it to #2, chuffed! :)
    I’ve still got a good bit to go on my site, so I will take the comments on board.

    Your post is an great demonstration of Josh’s point, “remember to reach back to help the designers coming up behind you…” –
    Feedback from the industry is a great way to keep us on our toes and help us raise our game.

    well done to everyone on the list!

  19. It’s great to see so many good sites coming out of IMD. Not just Paddy’s top 10 but from the whole course. As Kyle stated, the standard has been raised.

    I have to agree glancing down the list I’m loving Suzy’s and Jordan’s sites (#1 and #2). They’re a bit different from the norm and they feel ‘complete’.

    Good to see designers trying out different things and not just following the current trends. Well done #IMD

  20. Domainer

    10 Mar

    Yep there is some definately some good stuff here. Gonna have to contact a couple and get some sites done (cheap before they get too expensive!).

  21. Ryan Couser

    25 May

    Just on the note of previous Plagiarism discussion, Paul Wisdoms site is scarily like
    Even has the same functionality.
    Tut Tut