In the spirit of RGD’s upcoming HeadStart Conference, we asked a diverse group of RGD professionals to provide insight on how to wow a potential employer with a top-knotch design portfolio.
Want to learn how to blow an interviewer away with your portfolio? RGD asked 9 industry professionals who hire to weigh in on four key areas:
2. Portfolio presentation
3. Online portfolios vs PDF portfolios
4. What your portfolio should say about YOU
Patryk Adamczyk RGD, Senior Mobile User Experience, Mozilla Corporation, Toronto
Diego Casco RGD, Managing Director, ClarkHuot, Toronto
Matt Coyle RGD, Senior Graphic Designer, Maple Leaf Sports + Entertainment, Toronto
Bob Hambly RGD, Creative Director, Hambly & Woolley Inc., Toronto
Will Hum RGD, Principal & Creative Director, Clear Space Design & Communication, Unionville
Vanessa Eckstein RGD, Principal, Blok design, Toronto
Karen Satok RGD, Principal, Sputnik Design Partners Inc., Toronto
Eduardo Trejos RGD, Senior Designer, Crescent, Toronto
Stussy Tschudin RGD, Managing Partner, Forge Media + Design, Toronto
It looks like the age-old question “To specialize or not to specialize?” is still open to debate. Of 14 industry professionals questioned, six voted against customizing your portfolio based on the type of work the prospective employer specializes in, while eight believed some form of customization was important.
Bob argues, “I want to see a portfolio that accurately represents an individual’s design interests and strengths – not those of our studio. What makes them unique, as a designer, is what I’m interested in." Karen simplified the question with this simple, poignant point: “Show your best work only.”
Will suggests customization is best reserved for those who “know exactly what type of work they’d like to do or which company they’d like to work for.”
In favour of customization, Eduardo offers this advice: “Research the studio; study their work; get a sense of their culture. Identify what it is that makes you the perfect candidate and the right fit for the job, and then prepare your portfolio accordingly in a truthful, strategic way.”
Those who were “for” specialization did have the following words of caution:
- Always show the best you have to offer. Don’t sacrifice your top projects to include mediocre work, just because it’s in a certain area of specialty.
- Be sure to demonstrate flexibility to avoid being pigeon-holed.
According to Patryk, “it's beneficial to show a range of work demonstrating that you are flexible and not locked to a single style or medium.”
2. Portfolio Presentation
Candidates must never forget that the packaging is just as important as the pieces within your portfolio. “A portfolio should be designed…it is also a marketing tool, and thus a great opportunity to ‘brand’ oneself,” says Stussy.
There was a consensus that portfolios should be clean and simple – the purpose is to display the work, not busy the page. Diego stresses the importance of organization and structure. He suggests categorizing your work by discipline. “Cleanliness, simplicity and clarity; it’s not more complicated than this,” says Vanessa. “The work should be impeccably presented, and it helps to include brief descriptions of the thinking behind the ideas.”
According to our industry experts, the ideal portfolio should contain 5 to 10 pieces of work.
Matt had this piece of advice on the portfolio presentation: “The worst thing you can do is simply open your portfolio and make the interviewer pull the information out of you. If you're passionate about what you're presenting, then the interviewer will automatically be drawn in.”
3. Online Portfolios vs. PDF Portfolios
There seemed to be a consensus from the professionals that it is beneficial to have your portfolio both as a PDF and online.
“Either format of portfolio is useful in helping sort the good from the mediocre,” notes Vanessa. “That being said, we still believe in physical portfolios. For us, it’s only by viewing the original piece that we can truly see, and evaluate, the typography and the detailing.”
Matt feels, “Having an online portfolio and presence is important so that interviewers can quickly and easily access you without any issues. There are a number of portfolio sites available, so there is no excuse not to be online.”
Diego cautions candidates to leave an element of surprise. “The objective of a PDF portfolio should be to entice the recipient and invite them to see more of your work online. Your online portfolio on the other hand, should contain all work worth showing."
When submitting an online portfolio, both Karen and Will remind candidates to be mindful of the image quality. “I would rather see less, and better quality images than more projects with too much compression,” explains Will.
4. What Your Portfolio Should Say About YOU
Of course, all our professionals agreed that your portfolio should display your best work. “Beyond the work,” says Stussy, “your portfolio should demonstrate your attention to detail, work ethic and overall sense of style and design.”
Most important, according to Patryk, is that the candidate demonstrate range. "They should let the interviewers know that they are ‘liquid’ when it comes to execution preference and style, with strong design thinking, and flexible methods.”
“The work you put into your portfolio should convey: confidence, skill, curiosity, intelligence, problem solving and a glimpse into why you love your chosen path in life!” advises Karen.
While it may be worthwhile to gear your portfolio to the organization you're applying to, always show your best work and communicate your range of skills. Remember that your portfolio is a reflection of your personal brand. Keep it appealing, clear, uncluttered and organized. It's worthwhile producing both a PDF and online portfolio.
For related reading, see: 10 RGD Professionals Weigh in on the Future of the Design Industry.
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