Saturday, January 20, 2007

Designers beware: Your portfolio.

In my last blog I presented 10 tips on designer resumes. Continuing with my series on designers getting a job in Latin America (and just about anywhere I think), this time I will be covering your portfolio. To make it in the design business, all designers must have a portfolio. A portfolio is anything that will allow you to show your past work. It can be a physical printed portfolio, or an electronic one. Either way, consider the tips in this article to get the most out of it.

I personally think that it’s best to have both a printed and an electronic portfolio. I’d even go as far as saying that you should have two electronic portfolios: An online one and a PDF one.

Think of the people who are going to be reviewing your portfolio… is it a human resources person? Is it a designer? A creative director? A marketing manager? You should be able to effectively provide samples of your work to each audience.

If they request you send your portfolio, make sure you send what they expect. This will give you an advantage over those designers that reply with “oh, but I only have a printed one”. Granted, offering to show your portfolio in person can be taken as a proactive and positive move, it’s still no excuse not to send the requested materials in the preferred media of the interviewer. Ask in advance.

Before putting together your portfolio…

Pick a theme. This may sound a bit corny and it may not apply to everybody, but the best portfolios I’ve seen have had a “theme” to group and present information. A theme will force you to think creatively of a way to show your work inside a frame or topic. I once saw a graphic designer’s portfolio who’s theme was the seven deadly sins. He made it so that his work was divided into each sin, depending on the subject matter of the projects. The portfolio itself was very interesting and I could tell that he had put a lot of thought and effort into it. It also showed how far his creativity could go. That guy landed the job.

Pick your work. Plan it carefully. Organize it in a way that will be coherent to most people. Test this with people who can give you an honest opinion. Figure out how you want to present information. For a graphic designer, for example, it could be something like: branding, illustration, advertisement, typography. You could also sub-divide into academic and real projects.

Pick your media. And design accordingly to make the different versions of your portfolio, consistent. Choose being neat over being flashy.

Plan your page. Think of how each project page will look, what information it will contain. Remember that you may not be present when the interviewer sees your portfolio, so ask yourself, how are you going to convey your message? How will the viewer get what each project was about?

If you go for a printed portfolio…

Make it portable. Find or make a folder that will make it easy to carry around. It could even not be a folder! Be creative and do something unique, but avoid being cumbersome.

Make it neat and polished. Show that you care about the details. Make sure your portfolio is always in a perfect state."

Make it leavable. That’s right, if there’s something you can leave behind as a reminder of your work, that is a big plus. A good self promotion piece that will remind the interviewer of that cool designer that had that fabulous portfolio.

If you go for electronic, online or animated…

Make it simple and stylish. Avoid unnecessary animations and distractions. Cut to the chase and present information in a clear and organized way. Divide by categories, as I explained earlier in this article.

Make it work. Make sure that all the clickable objects work and that they take the viewer where they’re supposed to go. Test it on different platforms and test its compliance with IP standards (Idiot Proof standards, that is, meaning that anybody should be able to use it without a need for a manual).

Make it quiet. Unless you’re applying for a position as multimedia designer, I’d advise against adding music to your portfolio. It’s distracting and since you don’t know your viewer’s taste in music, this could actually play against you. Furthermore, avoid having different music for different sections. If you do choose to use music, make sure there are controls to shut it off and control volume.

If you go for electronic, PDF…

Make it complete. Be certain that the file does include all the pages you intended. This may sound obvious, but I have received a single page with no information on it. What this says is that you didn’t make the effort to check your file before sending it.

Make it printable. When I receive portfolios in PDF I like to print them out. Sometimes I receive PDFs with printing restrictions which I find annoying, because I have several printed portfolios to review. If I can’t print one, I most likely will forget about it.

Make it yours. Name your file with your name and add the word “portfolio”. This will make it easier for the recruiter to find your information. Be consistent with your resume. i.e. carolina_ayerbe_resume.pdf and carolina_ayerbe_portfolio.pdf.

Last but not least, have some fun! Show your creativity and your personality, your portfolio is your best referral. Show how passionate you are about your projects and about the way you present them, this will come through and will show how professional you are. Being neat and organized doesn’t clash with being a bit wacky and adventurous!

If you’re a young, fresh-out-of-college designer, being so doesn’t excuse you for not having a great portfolio. Include your best academic projects. If you’re a freshman, start now, collect all the info you can about all the projects you do and start putting together your portfolio!

If you're already an experienced designer and have a lot of pieces, consider your audience and present the projects that apply to the position you want to fill.

I hope these tips help some designers.
Do let me know what you think and if this article helped at all.
All comments will be most appreciated!
All the best!

More resources:
Top 10 Portfolio Faux Pas
10 Portfolio Commandments
How to Present Your Creative Portfolio

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