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Portfolio review tips and tricks.

By Client Leadership Team

The spring semester is in full swing, which means AIGA Cincinnati’s Annual Portfolio Review Day is right around the corner (this Saturday, March 19!). Most of Hyperquake’s design team will be there as reviewers (including myself); and it wasn’t so long ago we were on the other side of the process. So we thought we’d offer a little advice from the reviewers’ perspective, for any design students unsure what to expect.

Between us, we’ve attended plenty of portfolio reviews—and believe it or not, we’re not just there out of charity or obligation. I attend because I have always come away with something, a fresh sense of inspiration that comes from meeting new talent. Hyperquake gets plenty of emailed portfolio submissions, but they miss out on something intangible—some process, some personality, some passion that’s behind that script logo or branded signage. That matters. It’s the same reason we always push to present our design work to clients in person.

WHAT TO PRESENT—AND HOW.

A portfolio is a tough thing to compile. What makes the cut; what doesn’t? What’s relevant to this particular interview? What order would be best? I’ve asked myself those questions—and we ask ourselves the same questions at Hyperquake with every pitch deck we create for each prospective client. Even we don’t have an answer, really. But we do stick to one rule of thumb: quality over quantity.

That means you should put as much effort into how you’ll present as you do into what you’ll present. To a reviewer, there’s not much more disappointing than a student who quickly clicks through image after image, rattling off a high-speed speech of important points and skipping over all the nuance and thought. You need to allot enough time to succinctly explain the prompt, process, concept and execution—and to answer questions, assuming you’ve piqued the reviewer’s interest!

For a full hour-long job interview, that might be 7-10 projects. For this weekend’s 30-minute block reviews, you might be safer with 5-6. Make sure to start by explaining your interests and aspirations—it helps us understand what feedback you’re looking for. Regarding order—variety is key (switch it up between branding, print, web, etc.), and make sure you start with an interesting hook and end with a strong, rounded project. But above all: If you doubt that a piece is good enough to be in your portfolio, cut it. Don’t present anything you don’t love—reviewers will be able to tell.

The 2015 portfolio review at the sun-soaked Art Academy of Cincinnati.

FOCUS ON THE PROCESS.

The best reviewees always have a project or two that allow us to dive deep into the strategy and process behind the product. That’s the work I appreciate the most. Spend some time gathering process material and organizing your thoughts so you can speak well to these projects from concept to completion. And if you don’t have a case study this thorough, build your own! It doesn’t have to be an assigned project. I self-started a number of my own projects early in my career. It just takes initiative—and more than anything, initiative and passion are what we get really excited to see.

SHOW OFF YOUR GOOD SIDE.

To be honest, my portfolio while I was in school was not good. And it wasn’t for lack of effort—it’s just a side effect of starting out. It wasn’t until an informal agency interview that I discovered how a designer should really assemble a portfolio. It was in that interview that I learned that presentation is everything. The photoshop mockups we see today would have been a blessing back then. But even those have sparked me to begin to showcase my current work in fresh new ways. In a design landscape saturated with mockups of foilstamped logos and floating stationery, at Hyperquake, we push to have our case studies feature work taken straight out of the camera lens. We value design, we love the process, and we don’t want to take the easy way out if we can avoid it. Show your work off to best effect. If that’s a mockup for now, that’s cool. But you’re a designer—so always be questioning yourself, looking for the real, raw, beautiful presentation that really fits the concept you worked so hard on. It’ll make you stand out.

FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT.

Here’s a secret, if you haven’t learned it yet: with enough time, every designer will grow to be critical of the work he did weeks, months or years ago. Even if you’re feeling critical of a project (and by the way, every good designer is), be confident in your craft and your process. Don’t spend your precious review time apologizing for any part of your portfolio. Show up with confidence in your perspective, your presentation, and especially your work. It makes a difference. Agencies aren’t out looking for a pixel-perfect designer who’s never made a mistake—what creative directors do want is a designer who’s confident enough to stand up for his perspective and his work.

So, if you’re going to this weekend’s portfolio review, come say hello to me and the whole Hyperquake team. And we honestly can’t wait to hear about your work!

You can get your tickets here.

EVENT SCHEDULE

9:30 -10:00 – Student Check in & Set Up / Continental Breakfast
10:00 -10:30 – Review Session I
10:30 -11:00 – Review Session II
11:00 -11:30 – Review Session III
11:30 -12:00 – Review Session IV

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