VSA Partners’ Chicago office hosted a portfolio review on Feb. 13 as part of AIGA Chicago’s Mentor Program. Twenty-one designers of all levels—including VSA President Jamie Koval—gathered to provide feedback on work from students, recent graduates and experienced designers.
Katherine Walker, VSA Senior Designer and the portfolio review organizer, said about the review, “From a VSA perspective, it’s energizing to see the talent range outside our everyday bubble—it inspires us to stay involved in the community and continuing design education. I think we surprise ourselves at how much portfolio advice we have for people starting out and amount of knowledge we’ve gained on the job.”
In that spirit, VSA asked reviewers to give some perennial advice to those working on their books and preparing themselves for interviews. Here are some of their responses:
Greg Anderson, Associate Creative Director: “Your portfolio is as much a design piece as the projects it contains. Treat it like a layout project, a designed presentation, apply practical constraints, tailor it to the viewing scenario. It should reflect your design sensibilities and problem solving skills as much as—if not more than—the projects you’re sharing within.”
Johnny Mei, Senior Designer: “Find a way to collaborate with people you admire and share what you do.”
Jennifer Baddour, Senior Interactive Designer: “Three pieces of feedback I almost always give:
“Explaining your work is a very important skill of a designer. Keep in mind the interviewer isn’t intimately familiar with your projects, so make sure to give a brief and concise overview before each new project—the what/why/who.
“Show projects that are emblematic of the kind of work you want to be doing at your next job (ex: weigh your portfolio with digital work if your goal is to get a digital designer role at the company).
“Never apologize or qualify your work (‘sorry there aren’t more online pieces in here'; ‘this direction was never picked'; ‘the IA was difficult to work with.’)”
Katherine Walker, Senior Designer: “Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate your portfolio with blocks of copy explanations or personal logos/flair on each page. Let your work take the spotlight and allow for some breathing room.”
Andrew Park, Designer: “Talk about yourself—it’s the only thing that isn’t summed up in a book.”
Jacqueline Gu, Senior Designer: “Make sure you establish design rules and patterns when you’re working through something. This is especially true for interaction design, where consistency is key to creating a good user experience.”
Nate Baltikas, Designer: “Your portfolio is only as strong as its weakest piece.”
Tim O’Hara, Partner, Design Practice Lead: “Own who you are, your strengths and weaknesses. Create the portfolio for the job you want, and tell firms why you choose them. Less is more; show only your best work. Don’t shy away from student work because it’s not ‘real work.’ Your resume is the one portfolio piece that shows your true skills. Get it right.”