Portfolios. They are a showcase. A roadmap that shows where you’ve been. A catalog of accomplishment and skill. And every designer needs one. Right?
So how is it that I find myself a designer of 15 years and I am just now putting the finishing touches on mine? Regardless of how I got here, I find myself sitting atop a pretty big problem. I am entering the job market for the first time in years and I must have one. If I’m going to solve this problem, I’m going to have to come at it like a design project. Is it possible (or even remotely wise) to have yourself as a client? Only one way to know for sure — let’s start with a brief.
(Re)Define the Problem
I am a graphic designer of 15 years who is joining the job market after some years managing the family print shop and a year in school obtaining an Associate’s Degree for Web Design. There is plenty of quality work to showcase but a lot of uncertainty about the details of presentation. Any worthwhile solution will address the following concerns:
- What pieces do I show and how far back should the projects go?
- How many pieces should I include?
- Do I need a book and a website? Which should I make first?
- How will I brand myself?
Define the Objective
Design a portfolio that expresses my personality, showcases my work and gets me hired.
Define the Audience
In my case, the primary audience consists of Hiring Managers and because I enjoy freelance work, I am including Prospective Clients. Not exactly in the same category, but I’m willing to bet there are things common to both when choosing a designer. Time to do some research so I can answer the next question.
What is the Audience Looking for?
So both groups that make up my audience do not have the same process for evaluating a designer, but they absolutely have common goals when it comes to hiring a designer. Later, I might chose to provide more detail in another post, but the shortlist reads something like this:
- Personality — Things work best when interesting folks get along
- Skill — Flat out ability. Can you or can’t you?
- Brand Image — Remember that “rep” you were so concerned about in high school?
- Knowledge — Do you know the industry? Can you use the software?
- Results — Are you solving problems or are you making things pretty?
What Differentiates Me from the Crowd?
In my case, experience is what sets me apart. I have built websites spanning pre-xhtml to html5. I know how to conduct a press check and prepare files for prepress. I’ve made banners and signs, worked production, built dielines and made mockups. I can source paper and materials, speak with clients, make a budget and manage a team. I also have experience working with real businesses and creating real solutions to their problems. There is no substitution for these experiences and the insight that comes from being immersed in them.
Some additional stuff to keep in mind during the design process.
- Doing this half-assed is not an option — but nothing ever is with me.
- I do need to remember to be myself and speak authentically. I know I sometimes get a little puffy with my words. I’ll need to watch that.
- I need to have another designer (preferably one with more experience) critique my book and website.
Let’s get those questions from the very beginning answered so I can move ahead.
- What pieces do I show and how far back should the projects go? To keep things relevant, I am going to limit myself to pretty much the last 5 years. Anything before that is probably outdated and doesn’t reflect my current style an attitude as a designer. Pieces to include are:
- Happy Monkey Hummus: Logo (+ character expressions), Package, Marketing Materials
- Digidocs: Logo, Corp. Identity
- SL Rug Company: Logo, Corp. Identity
- Second Nature: Logo, Package, Website
- Docere Clinics: Logo Progression, Forms, Corp. Identity
- Java Bean: Logo, Menu Boards
- How many pieces should I include? Currently I have 12 listed. Grouping them together by brand gives me only six pages. Possible additions:
- Wasatch Mtn. State Park: Brochure
- Kenzie Dew: Logo
- Utah Theater United: Logo
- Red Door: Poster
- American Burgers: Logo Progression, Menu Boards
- Do I need a book and a website? Which should I make first? As of this writing, I have answered this question. I built the book first, but it didn’t translate well on the web (too stark) so now I have to rebuild the pages for the book.
- How will I brand myself? I have completed the branding portion of this as well. You are experiencing it now.