Your Design Portfolio Has 10 Mistakes
Almost every designer with a baleful eye toward the economy has a portfolio of their design work locked and loaded. But when you take that book in for interviews, make sure you’re not making really stupid mistakes that drive hiring managers up a wall. I guarantee you’re transgressing on at least half the items in this list.
Is it a creative director’s job to critique a portfolio during a job interview? Depends, of course. Maybe you ask me to. Maybe you don’t, but I just feel the need to comment. Maybe you resent the feedback or maybe you welcome it; maybe you couldn’t give two craps in a coffee can what I think.
Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether you want a critique on your book or not. As designers, our currency is visual output; everyone in our profession is judged, at least partly, on their body of work. And every creative hiring manager you show it to is passing immediate, severe, permanent arbitration on your actualization as a designer.
Unfortunately, here’s everything you and almost everyone I interview do wrong in your portfolio:
- You include too much shit work. Get rid of the weaker pieces. Stop thinking quantity over quality matters — only accountants and stupid “creative recruiters” think in numbers. You and I both know the logo for your uncle’s limo service you did in 11th grade sucks. Banish it. Show me your strongest work on every page, and cap out between 12 to 15 pieces.
- You emphasize the personal filler too much. If the work was a personal side project, it needs to be really good, and it must show a dimension not present in anything else. I want to see stuff that was created for clients — the solutions you created to achieve their vision — because that’s what I am going to pay you for. No flaming grungy skull graphics for your Twitter page. No covers for the album a web label “released” of your GarageBand noodling. No photography of cemeteries. And jeebus no personal logos.
- You’re not showcasing the actual finished product. If it’s a printed piece, a real sample would be ideal. You know, as opposed to the crappy print of the scan of the fax of the low-rez comping PDF you bribed your former art director to unearth from the bowels of his e-mail archive last night.
- You pretend every piece is the immaculate concept. Sketches are almost as important as the work itself. Include them. The design process is tenfold better shown, not told.
- You provide zero context. Who was the client? What were the project limitations? What was the budget and timeline? When was it first published? Be prepared to do a lot of talking if this stuff is not included, because it all matters.
- You don’t have an actual book. I want a real live actual physical holdable book whose real live tangible turnable pages are filled with high quality prints that do not require squinting into the hellish white glare of my LCD. A printout of your PDF does not count.
- You clearly have no sense of organization. I want a thematic arc to the order of the work. A logic of placement. A beginning, a middle, and an end, with a compelling storyline that keeps me turning pages. Don’t play 52-card pickup with your work. Show me organization, consideration, and (gasp) creativity.
- Your excuses and apologies are annoying. Your job is to explain your thought process, strategy, and creative problem-solving. Not blame the quality of work on bad clients, poorly written briefs, lazy art directors, uncooperative talent, minuscule budgets, or any of the other hurdles every other designer has to leap on a daily basis. There is a wide delta between explaining how you overcame obstacles to produce great results and pitiful whining that betrays your utter lack of self-confidence.
- Your typos make you look stupid. Anyone with typos and grammatical errors in something as important as their personal design manifesto demonstrates exactly how much they don’t care about working in a profession that demands an eye for detail. Go work at Kinkos; their raison d’etre is to make client work look unprofessional.
- You failed to chitchat after intimacy. Give me a leave-behind piece with your contact information. Send me a thank you card, hand-written and addressed to me. And spell my name correctly. A little post-portfolio conversation goes a long way.
There are articles that stipulate every designer should have an online portfolio, but I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, you should. No, you don’t have to. But you must have a means of getting me a digital representation. This could be a personal site, something set up through Creative Hotlist, or just a PDF. (And since we’ll be reviewing your real book in the interview (see mistake #6), the PDF should be low resolution. I do not want a 927 terabyte file that crashes every server farm from Alberta to Albuquerque.)
I’ve interviewed no one who does not make at least half of these mistakes. Overcome them, and you already have one foot in the door.