Behance and Adobe Portfolio might be enough in the beginning, but as soon as creatives – especially freelancers – start working in earnest, they should have their own website, says Tobias van Schneider.
Granted: designer Tobias van Schneider might not be completely unbiased – given that he founded the portfolio service Semplice and is co-CEO of Carbonmade. However, he is an expert at all things design and a brilliant self-marketer (without being fake or annoying). And so, it is worth listening to what he has to say on the matter of portfolio websites and whether designers should trust a software-as-a-service or rather code their own.
Why do designers need a website? Aren’t Behance and social media enough? Tobias van Schneider: My website is my home. Social media and Behance are roads that lead to it. My blog is another road. So is my personal newsletter. They advertise my work and point people to my website, where I continue the story. Social media and external platforms can be effective ways to put your work out there and make connections. But it’s the same as putting a tiny billboard in Times Square.
On Instagram, your work is competing with an endless feed of distractions. On Behance, it’s surrounded by the work of thousands of other designers. And just like that small billboard in the chaotic city center, you have little control over any of it. On social media, your post has to fit the dimensions, requirements and formatting of the platform. On Behance, you’re limited to one visual approach.
What’s more, you’re at the mercy of these platforms when you put your content there. They may remove it due to arbitrary censorship terms. They may push it down the feed at the whims of their algorithm. They may even claim ownership of your own work.
Your website is the only place where you can tell the story of your work on your terms, the way you want it to be told. Why pass up that opportunity, especially when it’s this easy today to have your own site?
Your website is the only place where you can tell the story of your work on your terms, the way you want it to be told.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a software-as-a-service opposed to programming your own website? The perceived idea of a custom-programmed website is full control. And if you’re a developer, then that’s certainly the case. Most of us are not developers. If you hire one to create your website for you, you then rely on them to keep it updated or fix things when they break. Meaning, you likely won’t update your website often. It will eventually fall by the wayside, representing an outdated version of you and your work. Ultimately, that does you a disservice.
Most people assume templates are the only alternative. Yet once again, you’re boxing yourself in and relying on external forces to determine the look, feel and maintenance of your website. Which is why I developed my own software that gives me the best of all worlds. I wanted full control over my site, so I could customize it just like a developer would – but I’m not a developer. Semplice.com, and later carbonmade.com, were my solutions.
Most people assume templates are the only alternative.
You are co-founder of Semplice and co-CEO of Carbonmade – what differentiates these two portfolio services from each other? Semplice is self-hosted (you only pay for it once) and was originally made for designers only. You start with a blank canvas and need to have a strong opinion on what you want to design in order to fill that blank canvas in front of you. There are no templates to help you; you have full freedom.For some this freedom might be a blessing, and for some this may be a curse. It’s perfect for designers who know how to design a website, but just don’t want to or can’t be bothered to code it.
Carbonmade is more accessible for all types of creatives, whether you’re a designer, artist, copywriter, game designer or otherwise. In Carbonmade you build your site with layout blocks, which you can then customize. So you can still create a custom site, but you have a starting point and helpful visual guidance. In a way it’s like building a website with LEGOs. You’re using LEGO blocks but the end result will be unique to you.
For some this freedom might be a blessing, and for some this may be a curse.
What do Semplice and Carbonmade offer that other portfolio services don’t? Most tools these days have very similar feature sets but differentiate themselves in the way they are used. We’ve heard people love Semplice or Carbonmade because it was designed by designers, for designers. Meaning the experience of building a website just makes sense, compared to other tools built by marketers, which tend to be clunky and outdated. We use the tools we built ourselves, which means we’re naturally invested. When you use Semplice, you’ll notice a strong focus on the details such as typography, animations and workflows that just make sense.
Carbonmade differs in the way we’ve made it incredibly easy to build your layout and upload media. I’ve not seen any other portfolio tool out there that is so obsessed with performance (speed) and ease of use. You can drag and drop massive videos or images straight into Carbonmade, and it will do everything for you. It’s hard to explain, but once you’ve experienced it, you won’t look at other tools or services the same anymore.
Semplice has now been around for almost 10 years, Carbonmade for almost 17 years. What we offer is longevity and focus on our premise.
How much can you tweak the portfolios on Semplice and Carbonmade to make them more unique? And how much coding skills do you need to do that? With Semplice, your only limitation is your own design skills. You can build almost anything you design. You start from scratch, so anything you create is going to be unique. You don’t need to code anything, but you can if you want to. You have full access to the code for any specific details you can’t accomplish with our tools.
Carbonmade is a more guided experience. You can tweak every element of a layout block, from the typeface to the padding, but you’re not building from scratch. You always have a framework to make things easy, even if you’re not a designer.
You need zero coding skills for both, and we designed both tools to complement each other. You’re either someone who uses and loves Semplice, or someone who uses and loves Carbonmade. And sometimes, a person might use both. For example, I use Semplice for my personal website because I want the freedom to do whatever I want. And I use Carbonmade for my photography galleries, because it is so incredibly easy to upload dozens or hundreds of images. Carbonmade optimizes and places all of them automatically for me.
You don’t need to code anything, but you can if you want to.
Any recent trends you’ve observed?
We notice them all the time, but most of them are often fleeting and gone within weeks or a few months. We try to stay away as much as possible from designing *for* trends because we know how short lived they are.
Right now we’re seeing massive, beautifully designed footers to be very trendy.Custom cursors, custom scroll animations and of course, page transitions and full screen videos. All of which are possible with our services, but we try to focus on providing people with a system they can use to make whatever they choose to make.
Right now we’re seeing massive, beautifully designed footers to be very trendy.
Some web designers offer specialized services for template providers like WordPress or Squarespace. Are there some out there helping with Semplice and Carbonmade as well? Many freelancers and studios use Semplice to build websites or landing pages for their clients. It saved them hundreds of hours and money on budget, since a designer can build a website in a few hours that would take a team of developers months to complete.
We also see people creating sites for their friends using Semplice. A designer who creates a website for a photographer, for example. If you have creative friends, take advantage of them. Barter your skills for theirs, and everyone wins.
Otherwise, most don’t need a specialized service to use Semplice – and especially not for Carbonmade. The whole idea is that it gives you the power to do exactly what you want, for yourself.
Barter your skills for theirs, and everyone wins.
What should creatives keep in mind and look out for when choosing a portfolio tool? Think about you in 2 years. Will future you want to rebuild your portfolio from scratch, when you’re sick of that template? Will you want to track down the developer who hard-coded your website for every content update? Look for a tool that gives you control, flexibility and ease of use, so you’re not dreading portfolio updates and ultimately abandoning your site.
Are there cases in which you wouldn’t recommend a SaaS solution? Perhaps if you need an extremely custom ecommerce site. But then we’re no longer talking about portfolios and probably about something much larger. SaaS solutions usually work for most, unless you are very particular about owning all your data on your own servers – in which case Semplice would be a solution, because it is self-hosted.
Tobias van Schneider (also known as House of van Schneider) is an award-winning designer born in Germany, raised in Austria and currently living in New York. He works at the intersection of digital product design and brand identity for organizations like Spotify, NASA, BMW, Google, Wacom, Sony, Ralph Lauren and more. Today, he’s the co-founder of Semplice and mymind, partner at Carbonmade and Creative Director at DESK. Before, he served as lead product designer & art director at Spotify.