Category Archives: Portfolio Design

reaffirming what should be in the ideal portfolio

My colleague and I visited with principles of a couple of very successful design firms in the Chicago area recently (not going to name them here, but if you want to know, ask me off list). Again they reaffirmed what we have heard many times, and perhaps even more so in these lean days. What they are looking for in a portfolio is about six to eight pieces of truly outstanding work, each piece of which is polished and ideally suited to its purpose. No explanations should be necessary (though out of politeness, some explanatory text or remarks should be discreetly available). Polish the craft, but be mindful that it is only the base-level requirement. Résumé must be typographically impeccable but not showy. Display well-founded confidence. No fear of drawing (no drawing-class projects, please; just the ability to communicate an idea via the drawn line. Work that looks like student work is the kiss of death. (Gotta love the catch-22-ness of this, if you are a student. That is all you have been doing for the last four years) OK, so quit weeping and weed out all the projects that look the same as all your fellow students. Retool or rework the few that stand apart. Don’t cling to a half-good idea, only the truly good ones.

OK, so that is the ideal. We all know few live up to that coming out of the gate. But it is not bad to keep those ideals in mind. Your portfolio will always be a work in progress. And I have it on good authority that most of those very same designers who tout such high standards in hiring would be ashamed to show you their own first portfolios. So believe in yourself and your ability to learn, grow and adapt.

Reports coming back in on effectiveness of custom portfolio packages

Gary Will, coauthor of the textbook Graphic Design Portfolio Strategies, has been working closely with students on customized portfolio packages, using methods described in the Chapter 8 of the book. Here are two letters from current students reporting responses from employers.

Dear Gary

I meant to tell you I sent in my resume package to a company in
Chicago for an Internship and in less than a week I had received a
call from a lady who wanted to call me personally and tell me how much
she loved my resume package. She said that it was definitely something
that stood out from any other resumes they had received and that they
have never seen anything like that before and had been showing it to
everyone else in the office. Thought you might like to know that the
project was a success!

Alyssa Johnson.

Dear Gary

went to my interview anyways and the first thing the lady did when
I sat down was to hold up my book and say, “This is a great idea. This
book is the sole reason you are here. It was the only thing out of a
bunch of boring white resumes that caught my eye and let me know how
you designed.” The next morning, only about 18 hours after my
interview, I found out that I got the job! The OWNER called me to
praise me on the resume experience book that I had sent. So I know
that maybe some people (including me) blow off those kinds of
projects, but obviously it really works. And honestly, being a MM
major, they would have never told me to make a BOOK. It’s always make
a DVD or game….but I wanted to thank you for having that project in
your class because I doubt I would have gotten this job without having
done that project!

Thank you so much Gary!

Amanda deFrees

You can visit Gary Will’s web site at,%20Gary/Garysnewsite/Site/

résumé and matching web site examples web site

Sarah Kelly just sent me this link to a page on Creative Opera that shows some examples of résumés and matching web sites. The advice given at the end of the examples is excellent. Many of the examples are good, although some seem to border of being too busy. Here is the link:

A little goes a long way, or a designer is not a brand.

A little goes a long way, or a designer is not a brand.
Some confusion can occur in talking about branding with regard to portfolios. The Brand identity of a portfolio needs to be subtle. Never over-bearing. Analyzing the situation, one is reminded of the observations of Beatrice Warde’s famous crystal goblet analogy in speaking about typography.

“Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favourite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in colour. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.”

Of the person who selected the glass goblet, she goes on to state.

“the first thing he asked of his particular object was not ‘How should it look?’ but ‘What must it do?” …Without this essential humility of mind, I have seen ardent designers go more hopelessly wrong, make more ludicrous mistakes out of an excessive enthusiasm, than I could have thought possible.”

The portfolio must serve as a frame, a delivery system and a navigation device for the projects it contains. Any personal messages must be hushed when the viewer is looking at content. To add another analogy one can apply to this, a ring tone for a phone may be functional in attracting attention and alerting its owner, but once the conversation commences, it would be counter productive if the ringtone continued. Having served its function, it needs to fade into the background.

And the most effective portfolio presentation is one that allows the viewer to examine the work presented in a clean, clear, uncluttered space. So how does one make a portfolio that is both individual and serves is contents well?

It should be pointed out that Warde speaks of the above approach as modernist, and in 1955, when her address was delivered to the Type Directors Club in London, modernist has a very clear meaning. It is with somewhat less certainty that things can be formulated so directly. Perhaps then even Warde sensed the dead end of strict minimalism as she wrote :

And with this clue, this purposiveness in the back of your mind, it is possible to do the most unheard-of things, and find that they justify you triumphantly. It is not a waste of time to go to the simple fundamentals and reason from them.

It is for this reason we urge “reasoning from the fundamentals” as a guide to successfully completing the portfolio design process

Portfolios and Job Searching: Interview with a game interface designer

Conducted January 2, 2007, with
Karisma Williams
User Interface Producer
High Voltage Software

Rowe: The list of job-search “dos” and “don’ts” you gave were very good and covered a lot of important areas. I would like to get more specific about some of your ideas for on-line portfolios

Karisma: Awesome!

Rowe: Judging from your own web sites, you seem to feel that having the work presented right from the start with out a lot of fuss is a good idea.

Karisma: Yes. people are busy—very busy—so they just want to see your work. I recently picked up a contract with EA Games from my web site, and its not even done. But it served its purpose.

Rowe: You seem to prefer working in flash, which gives a richly interactive experience, I guess that works well for your target audience. Did they give you any feedback as to what on your site they responded to?

Karisma: Well the current new site, is all Javascript. no flash. it just moves like Flash. I’m pretty anti flash when it comes to portfolios at this stage. Before…it was great for getting work. Sony just liked my sense of design. My Flash use was interesting but not overly intrusive. As time went on I was using flash, but everything was very much done using external files. ( ) This got me 2nd place at Sony Online…I was so close to that job but happy I didn’t get it.

Rowe: Nice music on that site, but I did get tired of hearing it after a while. I guess, back to your advice about not letting the branding overpower the content

Karisma: Sony loved it. Always know your audience. Lots of little stuff going on in that one, but too much really, IMO more of experimentation. Nintendo liked this one –
This was never finished…I was working on it before I got laid off, but then I just sent it to companies anyway. I got a lot of interest from it.

Rowe: All the links from that site are your work as well?

Karisma: Yup! I’m prolific…an art director once told me. At the moment, I’m (working full time), in school, and working on a photographer’s website.

Rowe: “Prolific” is how I remember you being as a student. That is why we never hassled you too much. I really can’t understand students who think doing just one of something qualifies them as an expert.

So do feel you can do just about everything with Javascript that you can with Flash, and it is a better (more accessible) platform?

Karisma: Pretty close, javascript and css. I once saw a site that animated like in Flash and it was all done with css and javascript. I think it’s more accessible and quicker. I think Flash is easy to misuse. You can have flash portfolio pieces…but I don’t think your main portfolio needs to be flash unless you want to say that’s all you do. People forget about HR (the Human Resources department) HR doesn’t have Flash 9 on their system.