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Portfolio Postmortem 2012

2012 April 21

How long have I been doing this now? I’m honestly not sure. I thought since 2006, though checking my journals maybe I didn’t start until 2007, though I’ve definitely taken part every year since except for last year. So this was at least the fifth time ’round.

This year was not really like any of the years before except for the fact that none of them were really like any of the years before either. Every time out it’s different, to a remarkable degree. This may have been the strangest year that I have yet experienced, all the same.

I spoke with perhaps a dozen students, and broadly they fell into two categories. Around half were graphic design students with graphic design portfolios who want to become graphic designers. The other half, um, weren’t. I met with two fine arts majors, one or two illustrators, a PR major, a would-be game/software designer and one older student whose work was remarkable but seemed to defy any categorization whatsoever. To a great extent, I did not know what to tell most of these people. Some of them had a few more-or-less overtly graphic design projects and I could evaluate those, though they were often pretty amateurish and I didn’t want my only comments to be entirely negative. (One might say that the truth is better but then one might also suggest that only applies if it will be heard, and if one comes across as an ogre one’s message will probably just be tuned out.) On the other hand, I really didn’t know what more to tell many of these people. I might make comments about their illustration or photography, or even some really unsophisticated comments about their sculpture, but I know basically nothing about the criteria for assessing real-world marketability of these arts. At the end of the day I really felt kind of bad about how few people I felt like I had been any help to.

I think that in talking with the more traditional graphic design students I was as helpful as I have ever been, at the same time. I really enjoy this kind of thing and believe I’m pretty good at it; I’ve seriously begun thinking about the idea of teaching some day if I ever found the opportunity. Most of the portfolios this year fell into a kind of criticism “sweet spot” I suppose, where I could point out a number of good things and then feel comfortable with saying, basically, “these other things are crap, take them out,” or “this has potential but this, this and this are major flaws.” It’s much easier when that’s the case.

I didn’t see anyone from Kent, this year, and afterward some of us wondered why this was the case. (We didn’t really come up with any explanation.) I saw a few Akron portfolios, and that was probably the strongest work overall; this was also a point of subsequent discussion and most of us seem to agree that UA has really strengthened its graphic design program in recent years. They should be very proud.

The best one or two portfolios were probably Akron students’; one young woman’s work was so good that I didn’t bother with a whole lot of comments and basically just said “this is consistently professional-quality work, you’re ready; aim high.” Another student’s was not quite to that level but still very good, and I also tried to give her a lot of encouragement toward ambition. The rest mainly fell in that range where, again, I could say “you have some good work, you have some bad work, this is what I recommend.” Though I tried to tailor my recommendations to their goals; I really wanted to listen a lot this year and I think I asked just about everyone what he or she wanted to do. Many weren’t sure, though, and looking back I wasn’t either at that stage; how can you really know until you’ve tried things? I gave a few people a run-down of directions which a design career can take, and hopefully that may prove useful for them.

Other thoughts, hmmmm, good turn-out for the after-party, though I was slightly bemused by the attendance of a large group of students who immediately segregated themselves from the professionals and largely stayed in their corner the entire evening. Congratulations to the few brave souls who ventured over to talk with us strange old folk. (I think the professionals who showed up may have been the youngest group in years—I don’t think anyone was past his or her mid-30s—but I’m sure that’s still prehistoric from the perspective of someone born in 1990.)

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