• PrintMag

Portfolio Guide: What Not To Do

So you’ve finished school, or are looking for a new job. Maybe you need to update your book in preparation for an upcoming interview. What do you do? What are some best practices and pitfalls to avoid when presenting your work?

Tim Lapetino and Jason Adam are partners in Hexanine, a design firm focused on brand strategy and visual identity. They work with a wide range of clients and media, and are the authors of the upcoming book, Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their All-Time Favorite Projects. Tim and Jason have critiqued countless portfolios during their design careers, and shared some thoughts with us on how not to present your work.

What Not To Do

The Container

Don’t present your portfolio in just one medium. Your portfolio should consist of multiple pieces — a physical form for the interview, and a digital one that is easy to view online.

Don’t make it unnecessarily complicated. Your portfolio doesn’t require tons of bells and whistles, or many moving parts. Find a format that you can customize and transport easily. Make sure it can be passed around to a group, or provide multiple copies for everyone in the interview.

Don’t give away all of your great work online. Reserve some of your best work to round out your presentation during an interview. Consider your online portfolio as an extension of your physical one, and keep some work unique to both. “Think of both parts of your portfolio as distinct parts of the same overall story.” – Jason Adam

Don’t be caught with just one copy of your portfolio. “You’ve got to prepare for any eventuality, whether it’s forgetting your book on the train, or dropping it in a puddle with people stepping all over it.” – Tim Lapetino

Make sure your portfolio is appropriate to your work and audience. Avoid something that’s too precious or too beefy. Make it just right. “It’s important to customize your book to fit your personality, your audience, and the kind of work you want to do. This is your first opportunity to show prospective employers the ability to tailor a message to the appropriate audience.” –Tim Lapetino

The Work

Don’t assume that one size fits all. Research your prospective employer and make sure your selection of work is geared towards the company and what they’re looking for. “Be prepared and find out what the interviewer wants ahead of time, and show those pieces.” –Tim Lapetino

Don’t forget to tell your stories. Explain the thinking behind each piece you present during the interview. Show the interviewer how you’ve solved each specific design problem. “As an employer, you want to be confident that you can hand off a project, and have the employee come back with solutions you haven’t even thought of yet.” – Jason Adam

Don’t show too many pieces. Aim for quality over quantity. “Think of your portfolio presentation as a story – it should have a strong beginning, middle and ending.” – Jason Adam

Don’t leave them empty handed. “Leave your mark and with something to remind you by.” –Tim Lapetino A leave-behind helps connect you and your personality to the work they’ve seen, and provides a lasting reminder of your time and interview.

The Presentation

Don’t think the work will speak for itself. The presentation must be a combination of verbal and visual. Does your presentation allow your work to put its best foot forward? Is it presented in an appropriate physical way or a slick interactive medium like an iPad? Make sure you’re telling the story behind each piece. “Show them your thinking and the design process that undergirds the work you’re presenting.” –Jason Adam

Don’t talk to the table. Make good eye contact, and really address the people you’re speaking to. “Your personality and communication need to shine — they’re hiring a person, not just a portfolio.” – Jason Adam

Don’t forget that you’re also interviewing the firm. This works both ways. Make sure to size up the culture, personality, and work environment of your prospective employer. Make note of anything that might keep you from being successful as part of that team. “This could be a place you’ll work at for years to come, so make sure that it meets your criteria and it’s an environment you can see yourself in for the foreseeable future.” –Tim Lapetino

Resources Recommended by Print

  1. Get Inspired: Color Inspirations

  2. Improve Your Design Skills: Creative Workshop

  3. Get an inside look at logo design from Chermayeff & Geismar

  4. Design TV: Career and portfolio advice from experts in the design industry.