My First Portfolio: Jessica Walsh

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Print‘s new Portfolio Review is a great opportunity for designers to show off their stuff and personally connect with some of the top design firms in the country. All entrants will have their work featured in an online gallery, and six winners will be flown to San Francisco to attend the 2013 HOW Design Live conference and meet one-on-one with the judges—Mirko Ilić, Natasha Jen, Debbie Millman, Scott Stowell, and Jessica Walsh—for advice on their work.

But before the judges start evaluating the portfolios, we thought it would be fun to ask them about their portfolios—specifically their first portfolios, and how they helped or hindered their early careers. Last week, Mirko Ilić told us about the “big paper salad” he brought to New York in 1986, and Debbie Millman recounted her “Kinda Sad Portfolio Story.” Below, Jessica Walsh—a partner at Sagmeister & Walsh and a former associate art director here at Print—answers a few questions about her first portfolio.

When did you create your first portfolio? What did it look like?

I created my first portfolio book when I graduated from RISD. It was 11 x 17, a combination of two images per page mixed with full-bleed images. It had student work and some freelance work I had done in school. I drilled holes down the spine and used screw posts to bind it together.

Did you show it to many people? Did they give you useful feedback?

I did not show it to very many people. The first person I showed it to was Paula Scher at Pentagram. She liked it and said she was happy and surprised to see such an illustrative and colorful portfolio from a RISD graduate, and that I’d do just fine. There were a few projects she didn’t care for and recommended removing from the portfolio.

Did your portfolio help you land a job? If so, can you tell us a little about how that happened?

I showed it to Kristina DiMatteo, who was the art director at Print, and it did help me land the job at the magazine. Kristina loved some of the work that Paula hated and didn’t like some of the ones Paula did like. I learned quickly that everyone has different design aesthetics and your portfolio should be a representation of yourself and the kind of work you want to be doing. Often what’s in your portfolio is the kind of work you end up being hired to do.

Do you still keep a portfolio? How has it changed since your first one?

I do have an online portfolio website, but it’s three years old and I haven’t updated it in over a year as I’ll be taking it down soon. In the next few months we will be launching our new Sagmeister & Walsh website, which will replace my personal portfolio.

In general, I do not think it is really necessary to have a printed book anymore. In most interviews I do these days when I’m looking for a designer, they show me their work full-screen on an iPad or laptop. This works very well. The most important thing is the quality of the work and the ability to speak about it, not how fancy the work is packaged.