Portfolio Advice

I am a bit past the college stage but I still plan on using some of the advise in my portfolio. I also wish that I had taken the time to prepare my portfolio and that I had kept stuff, because now when Im putting it together it sucks. Really, But that is life, you live and you learn.

Alright without furthr ado, Portfolio Problems? Relax its okay..

Contributed by Jennifer Thompson [exhausted senior at Virginia Commonwealth University / portfolio pro]

So what’s all the hype about portfolios, anyway? Do you – as an emerging interior designer – really need to have one? Absolutely, you need to have one! Your portfolio is the gateway to your dream job, and – in many cases – the deciding factor on whether or not a firm will even look at you twice. Assembling a portfolio can be an especially challenging and overwhelming task for budding designers, but I’m here to help. Having the experience of constructing my own has taught me many dos, don’ts, and everything in between. So read on and remember to have fun during this exacting, yet creative, process.

How Do I Start?

I know it can be painful at times, but you have to think first and act later. One of the most important things to ask yourself is who you are as a designer. In other words, what is your design philosophy? Not what colors you like, or what furnishings you think are cool, but what you strive for when you design a space: functionality, flexibility, sustainability, etc. – what matters to you most? You should also consider what makes you different from everyone else and then incorporate that viewpoint as well.

Only when you have figured all of this out can you can productively proceed. Always remember that your portfolio is a reflection of who you are and where you want to go, and not allowing that to show through can land you in the wrong firm, creating an unhappy situation all around.

OK, Now What?

Congratulations! So now you know who you are. You’ve completed the first step, and believe it or not, it can be the most difficult. Now it’s time to prepare your projects to go into your portfolio, and here are two simple rules:

• Rule #1: Always keep all of your work. (I found out the hard way about this one. I’m all for recycling everything that you don’t need and eliminating the unnecessary, but I can assure you that is a mistake when it comes to project work.)

• Rule #2: Keep it organized.

Project Organization 101

For those of you just starting out in design school, my advice is to make each project portfolio-ready as you complete it. If you don’t have the time while classes are in session, then this is a good project to tackle between semesters or quarters. Why? It is most helpful to do this while the project is fresh in your mind because you’d be amazed at how much the projects blur together after a while.

If you are a great procrastinator (like I was) and wait until your senior year to even consider a portfolio, there’s still hope. You just need to take some time to get organized. Here are some project organization tips that everyone can use:

• Make a folder on your computer for each project. Use subfolders to distinguish between final drawings, research, process work, and any other supporting documentation you may have. The more organized the information, the faster you can access it. This can be a great time-saver.

• Scan all of your hand-renderings and store them digitally. Always retain your originals in a safe place, but having all of your information together in one digital location makes everything run more smoothly.

• Always make a backup on a CD or memory stick just in case! Because you just never know…

Layout Is Critical

One of our class projects was to interview design firms across the country to determine what they were looking for in a portfolio. At the top of the list of many firms is graphic design and layout. Please, please, please do some research on this! Several firms admitted that, to them, this was more important than the projects themselves, so do yourself a favor and put this at the top of your priority list. But what are the key elements of layout design?

• Be creative. Make your portfolio a representation of you, but remember to keep it professional. Research some portfolios online and in books, and when you find something you like, adapt it to fit your style. Consider every detail: colors, size, binding, folds, and everything in between.

• Choose your fonts carefully. Fonts are just as important as graphics, so give them careful consideration. One firm even told us that Times New Roman = boring. (See how much this matters?) And, as far as text is concerned, be brief. Remember that your portfolio is the gateway to an interview, and if the firm wants to know more about a project, they’ll ask you.

• Be clear and concise. Don’t make the hiring manager struggle to find the information he or she is looking for. Make the information clear and legible. Choose colors that are easy to read and always make sure to label your drawings.

Assembly Time

YAY! This is the fun part. You have your layout ready, and you’re set to insert your project work. So how do you know how much or how little to include or even which projects to choose? When in doubt, ask someone. Your professors are a great resource, so make sure you take advantage of them. They should be happy to help you, but if they aren’t, then find another resource. Be persistent, and it will pay off.

To get you started, here are some general guidelines: Try to limit your portfolios to five or six projects and about 15 pages, always include a table of contents and a cover page, and choose a professional-looking binding solution.When inserting project work into your portfolio, show a variety of what you can do. Take photographs of models, highlight your drafting skills, and include both hand-renderings and computer renderings. Some people label each drawing according to software used to illustrate software proficiency. Particularly if you’re using a facing pages spread, be sure that when you organize your images and text on the page, your pages are visually balanced.

Extra Tips…

If you haven’t narrowed down a specialization and will be applying at a variety of firms, it may be a good idea to design your portfolio in such a way that projects can be inserted and removed easily, such as a pocket folder. This way, you can edit your project selections according to firm rather effortlessly. Always know your target audience and adjust your portfolio accordingly.

Proofread!!! I cannot emphasize this enough. Spell-check doesn’t catch everything, so proofread several times and have someone else scrutinize it for you as well. Because you are the designer and understand your projects inside and out, it can be very easy to leave things out that will help the audience understand your project. Having an objective person review your portfolio for spelling, grammar, punctuation, and overall clarity is a must.

Go Get ‘Em!

Now you’re on your own. Remember always to take pride in your work and others will find it in you. Best wishes in your emerging design career, and here are a few resources that you might find helpful:

Representational Techniques by Lorraine Farrelly illustrates a variety of ways to present architectural drawings from sketches, to 3D modeling, to presentation layout.

Enhancing CAD Drawings with Photoshop by Scott Onstott is a tutorial type book with an accompanying CD that gives step-by-step instruction in rendering CAD drawings.

Color Index by Jim Krause this small manual shows color scheme combinations, but more importantly gives both the CMYK and RGB numbers so that your work always appears the color you want when you print it out.•

Before & After Magazine is a wonderful resource for general graphic design techniques written in a brief and to-the-point format.