Interview with Organic Grid’s Michael McDonald

I’m excited to share with you a recent interview I conducted with Organic Grid founder and creative director, Michael McDonald. His work includes numerous award-winning portfolio websites and has been featured in numerous international design reference books and magazines including: logo lounge, communication arts, layout workbook, interface, netdiver, www design, in your face too, simple websites, best websites from around the world, adobe flash film festival, graphic design usa, art directors club, media inspiration awards, print magazine, .net magazine, web designing magazine japan, web marketing association, flash essentials, web designer uk, practical web design magazine, sxsw web awards, and the fwa: favourite website awards.

Organic Grid has designed and developed a number of really successful portfolio sites for photographers and other creatives. What do you think the key qualities are that distinguish a successful portfolio site?

The key qualities that distinguishes a successful portfolio site are the following: a minimalist interface and page layout, and large full-screen imagery that has good composition and is well compressed so that it downloads relatively quickly. The interface and overall design of the website should play a secondary and supporting role to the actual content and imagery of the website design. The content should be the most important element and design on the site. The website should be easy to update, edit or change with a (CMS) Content Management System so that the website appears to be fresh with new content, “Content is King”…

Are there any current trends in web design that you would recommend someone take a look at or perhaps stay away from?

There’s no real innovative or mind boggling web trends for 2010, but perhaps having an iPhone/Android/Blackberry version of their website available on mobile devices will be a key in reaching new audiences. The trend for large full-screen imagery, cinematic style websites and minimalism will continue to blossom in 2010 as consumers become more educated and get tired of viewing poorly design websites that look like everyone else’s websites. I have observed and becoming increasingly concerned that too many websites are being designed with boilerplate website templates. “They are cheap, dilute your brand and look amateurish”…

For a photographer or designer who’s in a situation where they have to design and develop their own site, what advice would you give them? Are there inexpensive resources you would recommend that could help?

Building a simple and free blog from one of the numerous resources available today i.e. WordPress. Publishing your work/portfolio on the various social media websites i.e. (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc…) are effective ways of getting your ideas, work, name and brand established. Purchasing a template from is also quick and inexpensive alternative to getting your portfolio published quickly, the only downside to using something like LiveBooks is that there are hundreds if not thousands of photographers that will be sharing the same identical template “look and feel” as you. Simplifying your website and portfolio will always serve you best in establishing and differentiating yourself from other artists. Creative directors, art directors, and media buyers alike do not have time to look through hundreds of photographs and or figure out how to use your website, “Less is More”…

I noticed that most if not all of your portfolio site designs are created in Adobe Flash. What do you think the benefits are to creating a portfolio site in Flash (versus a CSS/HTML type site)? Are there any drawbacks to using Flash?

The benefits of creating a portfolio based website using Adobe Flash simply outweighs building a website in CSS/HTML, in my personal opinion. Adobe Flash allows me the opportunity of creating an immersive, seamless, full-screen, and cinematic experience that creates a visual impact and helps show off the artists’ work and talent. The drawbacks of using Adobe Flash to build a portfolio based website is that currently there is currently no Adobe Flash plug-in support for the iPhone, and that the time & cost to building a custom Flash website is more expensive than building a traditional website in CSS/HTML.

What do you enjoy most about what you do?

I personally enjoy working and collaborating with other talented and like minded creatives who value good design, and are willing to take calculated risks. I really enjoy creating simple, effective, elegant and meaningful interactive experiences that help my clients sell their work, build their brand, and expose their talents to wider audiences on a international scale.


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  1. Nate DaCosta

    Thanks so much for the advice. I’ve been struggling about how to approach my portfolio site for a while. And not sure whether to go with Flash or not. But after reading this, I think I’ll try it (I’ve taken a course in web design & flash actionscripting so I’ll at least sort of know what I’m doing)! Thanks again.

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