When I was starting out as a young designer, everyone’s portfolio looked the same. The oversized black leatherette case was the mark of a designer on the hunt for a job. Inside you would find presentation boards, flapped with paper, so that you could unveil each piece as you went through your rehearsed presentation… I am totally dating myself here.
Recently, I have seen quite a few design portfolios. I’ve participated in student portfolio reviews and interviewed interns and junior designers for the Creative Studio. There is a wide range of ways that I’m seeing designers present their portfolios. Some show up with iPads containing a well-designed presentation document, handing the iPad to me to scroll through each piece. Some with laptops where they are pulling up graphics from folders sitting on their desktop. While others still are showing up with that giant black case containing dog-eared presentation boards along with pages and pages of sketches to show their thinking process. And some, believe it or not, show up with nothing – assuming I have gone through their Behance page or portfolio website to familiarize myself with their work before our meeting.
These days, there really is no cut and dry answer on how to present your work – there are so many options available. However, I feel that there are a few simple rules to keep in mind to make a good impression:
Don’t assume that your work speaks for itself. Tell your reviewer about the project, the goal, and your process of the thinking. When I was reviewing a beautifully designed interactive PDF portfolio on an iPad, the designer simply handed me the iPad, sat back and didn’t say a word. She waited for me to ask questions and probe into each project. You have to keep in mind that you are selling yourself. You should be engaged and eager to share your work and your experience.
Think of your portfolio as a design problem. No matter how you are showing it, you should think about all of the little details and about the composition. It should be professional. It should be clean. Your work should shine. If you are bringing a traditional portfolio, consider a smaller size portfolio. Sometimes office space is limited and you will not have a conference room to spread out your work. If you are showing a digital portfolio, make sure your work is organized and ready to go, so that you are not clicking though folders to try to dig out a specific piece. Formatting your portfolio in a PDF, with titles and write-ups, makes it easier to present and can act as a cheat sheet when you are explaining each project. Don’t show up empty handed and assume that you can walk the interviewer through your online portfolio or website. It makes you look unprepared, and you could end up in a sticky situation if you experience connectivity issues.
Consider presenting your work as it is intended to be seen. If you are presenting print work, show the actual printed sample. There are a lot of design considerations given to folds, paper and printing techniques that cannot be experienced through a pdf. I always prefer to thumb through an actual printed brochure, feel the paper and smell the ink. But hey, I started out as a print designer. If you have to show a printed item electronically, you can use digital templates that make your work look like it was professionally photographed. Sites like pixeden.com have templates in a variety of formats that are easy to use and inexpensive.
Limit the number of pieces that you show. You should only show the best-of-the-best. Eight to ten pieces is a good amount of work that can show the various facets of your skill-set. Some say that you should not show anything older than 3 years old. I don’t always agree with this though. If your strongest piece of work is 5 years old, show it! Just be sure that it doesn’t appear dated.
Lastly, smile and be conversational. You are not just showing your work, you are showing off your personality. It is equally important for them to know how you will fit in with the group and how easy you are to get along with. Remember, you have to work with these people!
Shannon Benson is a Senior Art Director at Ogilvy Washington.
All of our work is described with the same adjective. Powerful. We operate as full strategic partners with our clients. This approach is the direct result of our heritage as part of one of the world’s premier agencies, Ogilvy Public Relations.