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A Truly Renewable Resource: Advice

Student portfolio reviews.

portfolio reviews

Within the last week Paragon has had the privilege of going to 2 student portfolio reviews. The first at the annual Jacksonville AIGA review, and the second last Friday at Georgia Southern. First of all, I was generally impressed with the quality of work I saw. The kind of impressed that makes you want to review your own book. As always, there was a wide spectrum so each case warranted a different approach, but I found there were a few pieces of advice that kept reoccurring:

1. Pace your book: There should be just as much thought put into the order of the work in the portfolios as there was in the work itself. I’ve heard of a technique called the “Fence post” system which basically sets up your best work at either end of your book and in the middle. That way, the interviewer gets a good first and last impression (as far as your skills are concerned). You can use an underlying theme to tie all the work together or a narrative. whatever it is, just having a plan shows me that the design thinking doesn’t end once the hand leaves the mouse. It gives me a peek into the brain behind the work.

2. Think Outside the Book: I saw some interesting concepts for leave-behinds ranging from a simple resume folded to stand up like a table tent card to a modified cigarette box. Again, it’s up to you what you do but it helps to have a concept that makes you stand out at the table and sticks in my brain after the fact. Some people have work that is so good it just shouts for them without any help of gimmicks and leave-behinds. Even so, I wouldn’t rely on the work alone since there’s always going to be someone out there better than you. One of the other reviewers told the story of how she collaged her resume to the inside of a gift box and hand delivered it, along with assorted goodies,to a potential employer.

pocket folio
Kyle Legette showed us how he modified his jacket to hold his portfolio for easy, comfortable access. What’d they say about necessity?

3. Embrace the B.S.: One of the most invaluable lessons I took from my formalized design education was how to be prepared with a “creative rationale” for every design decision I made. Even if they were made up. In fact as a student working on fictitious client’s fictitious work, I HAD to make it up. But I was taught that whatever I made up needed to be well thought out and I needed to sell it. Answers like, “I dunno, I just like that color” or “that’s what the prof told me to do” or, worse yet, complete silence show that you don’t think about your work. If you’ve designed a logo you like but isn’t appropriate for the class assignment, then make up another assignment that it would be appropriate for and show me that with a good explanation as to why it is. That shows me you’re thinking plus you’ll have a piece your other classmates won’t.

Phil in review mode
Phil in prime review mode

4. Don’t make me work: I know this sounds lazy but, this point was stressed by some of the other reviewers at the Georgia Southern session. Basically, if you e-mail, attach a pdf with some of your work, or a link to an online portfolio or something. The easier it is to get an idea of who you are and what you can do the better.

Heather Thompson at Georgia Southern
Fellow reviewer Heather Thompson of HT Creative at Georgia Southern.

A few other tips that were thrown out at the various sessions (not necessarily by me) were:

  • Don’t Call: Unless, of course, we ask you to.
  • Get a Domain Name: it helps with the professional image.
  • Conserve:There’s no need to put each logo on a separate page of your book.
  • Relax: easier said than done I know, but a good disposition goes a long way. Remember employers hire people not books.
  • Less IS More: this should go without saying but it bears repeating.There’s more where those came from but I’ll defer to the wealth of info here:
  • the How forum, more advice than you can stand
  • Core77, this is an Industrial Design article but the principles still hold true to other disciplines
  • Sessions, this interview gives some god insights
    and this somewhat controversial one from Be a Design Cast
  • Do you have any pearls to offer up to students prepping their books?

Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.