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Portfolio review 2014 notes

2014 April 22

A few brief notes on the latest AIGA portfolio reviewer experience, before I forget it completely…

The experiences surrounding this year’s review were extremely frustrating, which is the main reason more than a week has gone by without my making any comment. Setting those aside, though, the review itself was fine. Let’s see…

First of all, re: my big plan to get to the bottom of these web site splash pages that students kept bringing in long after the concept has effectively vanished from the real world… I guess that now, like the great Tootsie Pop enigma, “the world may never know.” Because, of course, this year I didn’t see a single one of them. Oh well. I guess that’s sorted one way or another; hey ho.

Students also seemed better dressed than last year. At least, those I met with; whether that’s indicative of anything, who can say. Hopefully it helps them.

I met a number of students who had converted their process sketches into a scroll-y thing (apparently made with InDesign, I learned) for the iPad (which most of them seemed to be toting). The first time I saw one, it was interesting; as I saw more of them it struck me as increasingly dumb, for whatever my opinion is worth. I mean, to the extent that there’s any point to examining process work—personally I wouldn’t care, though I know some people want to see it—doesn’t a “cleaned-up” and organized version kind of defeat that point? I don’t know.

Also for what it’s worth, I did something similar once, back 14 years ago, all the same. For at least one of my senior year projects, I created a little process and notes minisite using html and (crap 1990s) CSS. (InDesign and magic tablets—and, for that matter, good CSS—being then fantasy dreams of the unrealized future.) So I understand the instinct I suppose. My professor liked the idea, moreover, finding it a novel break from “all those ITOYA notebooks.” Though, had he encountered more such, maybe the novelty would have worn off quickly for him as it did for me. Again, who knows.

I try not to be prescriptive with my approach. Students ask my opinion of their portfolio, and I give it to them, but I emphasize that in many points there is no consensus let alone a “right” or “wrong.” I think eight or nine good items is a fine portfolio; some people thing anything less than 15 items plus process work is unacceptable. I’m upfront with students that it’s their dime, basically, and if there’s something they want to discuss or some way they want to go about the review, that’s cool with me. I will admit that I was a bit stumped this year, though, when a couple of them asked me “what do you think I should do?” oh lord, child. Give me something easy like the meaning of life, couldn’t you? As I recall, the good and bad news was that both of them had fairly consistent quality throughout their portfolios, so I couldn’t really see any clear strength or weakness to guide career plans. Saying so felt like a bit of a cop-out all the same.

“What do you think I should do…” You really don’t want me to think about that question too long, anyway, probably. Eeesh.

Last observation, which probably deserves more than just a few dashed-off lines, but, I was reminded of how much fun design seems judged by a student portfolio. Granted that to some extent it probably depends on one’s curriculum, but many of these portfolios looked like fun to create. Poster for a theater series, packaging for tea and craft beer, book cover design (not for a book about the impact of climate on swine disease, e.g.), logo and identity for something with real graphic possibilities…

And it’s just like, yeah, that probably isn’t much like what your professional career (if you’re lucky enough to get one, dear Gen Screwed member) will be like. Looking back over 14 years, I’ve gotten to work on quite a fun variety of stuff… but 1) even where I was working on a variety of project types, rarely was I working on them for such a variety of clients, let alone creating graphic systems for them essentially from-scratch; 2) I’ve probably had an unusually varied, even erratic, career path, and even then there was rarely anything like that much variety within the span of just a few years; and 3) to the extent that there was, it was largely in the earlier years. These days, I do manage a decent variety of projects and project types, but that rests largely on including the projects I’m self-assigning. My actual paying work seems much more narrow in direction and scope.

So it was just strange to be reminded of the impression of a design professional’s work provided to me as a student.

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