Graphic Design Office Hours: Portfolio Review

Many years ago I learned about the amazing Design and Creative Communities that thrive here in Sacramento. As if I didn’t already love this city so very much, I learned about so many opportunities to connect and learn with these other amazing creatives. Before the pandemic, I would attend Creative Mornings Sacramento regularly. During the pandemic I attended many of their Zoom speaker events hosted by cities all over the world. And through my design classes at Sacramento City College, I learned about Design Week Sacramento, and Design Sacramento. Within the past year a collaboration of all of these communities has manifested into Capitol Creative Alliance, and I have been eager to attend one of their many events.

Design Week Sacramento is a great opportunity for learning, developing skills and connecting to the design world as a whole. This wonderful event that I attended, hosted by Capitol Creative Alliance, was very encouraging.

I recently watched another portfolio review, through a different local organization, and felt rather discouraged because the feedback was very, well honestly, harsh. I agreed with much of the feedback given to that young designer, but the manner in which it was given seemed more like complaining, than constructive feedback. It was clear to me that this young designer was in fact pretty new to design, and was missing some fundamentals of design in his work, but I still didn’t think he needed to be berated because he hadn’t taken quite enough classes yet. It’s one of the signs of an good teacher or parent when they can have patience and do not fault their student or child for not knowing what they don’t know. There are many ways criticism can come across, and in this situation I felt it could’ve been much more constructive and positive.

This was not the case with this year’s Graphic Design Office Hours: Portfolio Review. The first thing I really appreciated about this presentation was how the panelists initially thanked and showed great appreciation to the designer who had volunteered his portfolio for public review. It is a very brave thing for a young designer to do, and I loved how the panelists very graciously acknowledged his bravery. It made me feel almost brave enough to imagine having my portfolio publicly reviewed someday.

Here are the other bullet points I took from the presentation:

  • The path is never a straight one for designers and their careers. Accept and embrace your unique path.
  • One director/designer answered the question “What does a typical day look like for your designers?” The panelist responded and mentioned how she checks in with her team on their bandwidth for the day. A daily “stand-up meeting”. I like this. I find in my very small nonprofit theatre company we do not know what other people in other departments are working on, and we do not know what their “bandwidth” is to help me with any of my projects. I think this can be really helpful for the health of a team as a whole. Respect the bandwidth!
  • The ability to illustrate is a huge advantage for graphic designers. A lot of graphic designers don’t have this skill. Also it’s the same with copywriting, or content creation. It’s also really good for your communication when working with these other kinds of teams that you can understand what they are doing.
  • On resumes: less is more. The fundamentals: basic layout and principles of design. On interviews: Let the interviewer ask you the questions. Let there be empty space. Take time to answer the questions you’re given. Don’t need/ask for feedback on every piece in your portfolio. Thoughtfulness is key.
  • Share the process in your portfolio.
  • You have 3 minutes to make an impression. Share an overview of the body of your work. Draw them in for more details.
  • Your portfolio is your portfolio. Getting feedback is important, but you need to be confident with your final presentation, so take the feedback that helps and leave behind the rest. Everyone will have tons of opinions. You need to land somewhere.
  • Yes the housing of your portfolio (usually a website) is in itself it’s own portfolio piece. But don’t overdesign it to the point that it is not clear or user friendly.
  • Remember what the purpose of your portfolio is – to get a job – to demonstrate what you can do, rather than to display who you are as an artist as a whole. Not an “ode to me”.