I love taking pictures. I also like sharing the images I take, showing them off to the world in style, and offering others the opportunity to own the artworks I create. It doesn’t sound like a particularly challenging feature list to satisfy, but my experience says differently, particularly when it comes to affordable solutions. Over the years, I have tried literally dozens of hosted site builders, content management systems and design-conscious networks in the hope of finding the desired blend, with only limited success.
There have been a few close misses. I’m impressed with many elements of Behance‘s ProSite system, particularly on the design side of things, while at the other end of the spectrum, Weebly is affordable, customizable and easy-to-use, with some decent ecommerce options. Unfortunately, the former service’s $11/month price tag, and the latter’s inability to deliver dynamic galleries and photologs makes neither platform truly viable.
My most recent tour of the available services ended with the creation of a Tumblr blog — but I still think there must be a better option. Maybe that option will be Portfoliobox. This one-year-old Stockholm-based outfit has already amassed 62,000 users, which is hardly surprising given the generous feature-set offered even for free account holders. But does it deliver on its promises?
The setting up of a Portfoliobox site, complete with a sub-domain of your choosing, is a masterclass in efficiency.
Rather than throwing you in at the deep end, Portfoliobox first takes you through a few basics. Choices of fundamental design are followed by the option to add photos to your first gallery. After this, a TinyMCE-style text box is presented for the entry of your “About Me” blurb. You find that only a couple of minutes have passed, yet you already have a beautiful, functional website.
By default, new Portfoliobox members are placed in a free account. Whilst advert-free hosting is provided, a 40-image limit is in place until you upgrade.
The Pro account level costs a very reasonable £4.30/month (approx. $6.98), and it includes a free domain name and email address, along with the capacity for up to 1000 pages, and the same number of images.
You may already have a site up and running, but you’re going to want a little more input…aren’t you? Portfoliobox seems to have the depth to match that ambition.
The entire list of controls on Portfoliobox’s dashboard runs to an assortment of six separate menus, each visually defined by a different shade of grey. The description makes it sound complicated; in reality, it isn’t.
Pages come first. For the most part, creating a new page is about selecting a template from the considerable assortment at your disposal. Preset layouts are provided for pretty much every commonly used page type — gallery, video, blog, text, contact, guestbook and landing page — and they’re stylish too. Also on offer are portfolio-integrated Flickr and Instagram galleries, which load relatively quickly and look superb.
Choosing a template is not the end of your input, though. You can set the size, and retail price, of images on gallery pages, select the number of posts to be displayed on a blog, and choose the screen-filling content to be displayed on your landing page, amongst many other template-specific variables. Aside from these specifics, though, all of the page types share a few common options. Along with the nerdy stuff like a meta description input and custom URLs, the highlights are password protection, the option to toggle comments, and the ability to use the page you’re working on as a start page.
Add all of this to the Pro plan’s 1000-page limit, and I think there’s plenty of scope for even the most creative of website owners.
So, we’ve established that pages are fun, but what of the overall look of your site?
Once again, a considerable choice of templates awaits you, and it includes various combinations of menu positioning, and site alignment. The full range of templates is available to free accounts for the first 30 days, but for continued access you’ll need to upgrade. There are also plenty of preset colour schedules and font blends to pick from, although every HTML tag used in your portfolio may be given its own custom style. Particularly notable is the sheer number of fonts you can pick from – literally hundreds.
If that isn’t enough control, there is also the provision for the addition of custom CSS, as well as text areas for inserting header and footer code. The lack of HTML access will frustrate techier folks (who, incidentally, will be interested to note that Portfoliobox sites are made from HTML5), but I think that a balance between usability and control has been well struck.
Mobile layout, another key consideration, is also covered nicely. The one-column mobile template does a good job of keeping the feel of the desktop design, and both your logo and menu styling can be adjusted for the smaller screen.
Remarkably, I have thus far only scratched the surface of Portfoliobox’s feature set. Time for a quick tour.
Social media links — of the profile and sharing varieties — and a newsletter creator are both inbuilt, as is a huge list of genuinely helpful e-marketing suggestions. To aid your marketing push even further, you can hook up Google Analytics to your site, and view the data directly in your Portfoliobox admin area.
Ecommerce, an area in which few platforms truly triumph, is another strength of Portfoliobox. Although a Shopify level of control isn’t available, stuff like shipping and tax classes can be configured. Only Paypal can be used to process payments, but this is another understandable compromise, made in the name of simplicity.
You’ve also got access to guestbook and contact form submissions, as well as areas for managing comments and your newsletter subscription list.
In total, it adds up to a formidable arsenal of functionality.
I have long wondered why an affordable, stylish, ecommerce-equipped portfolio builder is such a hard thing to execute properly. Well, I can only assume it is, given the difficulty involved in tracking one down. I’m still none the wiser, but at least I’ve discovered one of these elusive beasts.
Portfoliobox is not terribly glamorous, nor is it the most flexible solution on the market. But it delivers a comprehensive toolkit for building an online presence, without unnecessary complication. That, in my book, is the definition of how a platform aimed at creatives should perform — creatives, after all, want to spend their time creating, not managing.