Computer Arts Presents (Issue 14) / The Portfolio Handbook - Student Portfolios

Creating and presenting a student portfolio for today’s ever complex creative industries and an increasingly competitive marketplace is tougher than ever before. Read on for vital pointers…

Today’s students are more motivated, more determined and more career-minded than any previous generation – increased tution fees have focussed minds. Today’s student designers are more likely to be burning the midnight oil fine-tuning their portfolio than finessing their party moves. Whether you’re looking to get a foot-in-the-door for that first placement or going for an interview for that all-important first appointment – you’ll live or die by the calibre of your work, and just as importantly how you’ve chosen to present it…

Tips
1. Have a point of view. And make sure that your portfolio of work expresses it. Whether online or real world, your portfolio must be an extension of your personality as a designer, illustrator, creative. Don’t be afraid of having your portfolio speak volumes about you – your work is an extension of your self.

2. Be better. Your portfolio must sit apart from the myriad of portfolios landing on desktops across the creative industries. How? Creating great work is the only way. If your work isn’t up to it yet, improve it and then improve it some more. Don’t try dressing up poor work, it will show.

3. Exceed expectations. Don’t fall into the trap of creating a portfolio of work that plays safe – be risky, be playful, be ambitious but most importantly be creative – you’re a student, you’re expected to be presenting work that challenges the norm; be a creatively square peg in a round hole…

4. Know your audience. Do your homework. However creative you are – showing a portfolio of packaging design to a publishing client just isn’t smart. Research who you’re going to see and tailor your portfolio accordingly – be creative, but be relevant and know everything about the studio / agency you’re approaching.

5. Presentation skills. How you present your work should be invisible. Great presentation should be neither seen nor heard – keep it simple. Let the work do the talking and don’t dress up with over-complicated presentation techniques. Less is more – resist the temptation to over-embellish; be super-restrained, be cool.

6. Tell a story. Everyone loves a story and the narrative of your portfolio is key to selling you and your work. Have a beginning, a middle and an end. Start with a bang and end on a high and keep the attention of your audience during the middle section.

7. Adapt and survive. A fixed approach won’t work. Recognise positive and negative reactions to your portfolio and be up for upping the game. Review, rearrange and revitalise your presentation – be brave and take out projects that aren’t hitting the right notes, replace with those that do…

8. Process to progress. You are a student, so show your processes – how you have developed an idea, how you have perfected a technique, how you have finessed and fine-tuned but not every layout sheet, every sketchbook page, every screenshot. Be selective in showing your processes, show enough to demonstrate how you think and work.

9. Focus on your strengths. Show your positives and never reveal your negatives. There is no point in showing a student project from yesteryear just to show you once dabbled in letterpress if you haven’t gone onto master it. Show only what you are good at - not simply a list of techniques attempted.

10. Focus on Feedback. Ask the right people, politely of course, for constructive feedback at every opportunity and then act upon the advice given. There are others with more experience than you have right now so be prepared to use your creative brains to pick some creative brains…


Dos and Don’ts for creating a portfolio for getting your first job

1. Do present student work, but in a professional context – make it clean, clear, concise and confident. Set yourself a high standard and achieve it!

2. Do aim high. If you’ve got great work – see great agencies; they are always keen to see great new talent, but do keep your ego in check – you’re still a student.

3. Do spend wisely. A professionally presented portfolio of work, online or real world, needn’t cost a fortune but can never look cheaply produced…

4. Do good design. Do consider environmental issues when building your portfolio – do utilise sustainable materials and do demonstrate you care. It counts

5. Don’t cheat. Never ever show anything in your portfolio that isn’t your own work and if a team project – be clear about who did what.

6. Don’t forget to label your work with a brief explanation – you may not always be present when your portfolio is viewed…

7. Don’t stress. Getting a portfolio together is another rung on the ladder of turning professional – see it as a design project in itself…

8. Don’t delay. Get onto getting your portfolio together and getting it in front of as many design and media professionals as possible. Now…