The Secret Handshake is an online resource for student designers and young creatives (18-25) looking for insider insight, honest answers and solid solutions to help you go pro.
Get a website. Seriously, you need a website! You don’t have to update all 17 social media/portfolio sites, but it doesn’t hurt to be present on several. The majority of my client work comes from the internet. I try to populate & edit each site I use (behance, dribble, working not working, instagram, twitter, Facebook, and my portfolio) with different projects and glimpses of my process. You never know where work will come from. Also, keep that in mind when posting bathroom selfies.
It’s better to show fewer great pieces, than a whole bunch of mediocre work. Show systems (i.e. logo, printed collateral, packaging, web, etc.), not one-offs: it’s about great ideas, and how they extend well beyond one singular expression. And show a variety of work: varying styles, varying industries, varying touch points. Again, it’s about showcasing your ideas, not your acumen for one kind of thing.
I’m a huge believer in a portfolio that’s easy to change and edit. Like a web site, if it’s not easy to update, in the long run, you never will.You’d wind up starting over again in six months, when you have newer, and better, work.
I always try to include a few actual pieces, along with the portfolio—seeing and holding books or packaging inperson is different from seeing it printed out on paper.
Keep it casual. At this point I’m more interested in the person than the work. Keenness, good ideas, great personality. Remember that you’re also bringing something to the table, it’s why they called you in. Don’t forget to ask questions, you’re also there to determine a fit.
Oh, and relax on the compliments! Nobody likes being praised too much.
I look at portfolios more quickly than their owners would like. I can usually—almost right away—tell whether or not someone’s work appeals to me. If I’m reviewing in person, I try to say something constructive.
If it’s a drop-off, or something e-mailed to me, I almost always write a note.
Not doing enough research about your reviewers. Knowing more about the person looking at your work will help stimulate and guide the conversation. And when you haven’t asked enough questions after the person has looked at the work—this is a missed opportunity to gain valuable insights.
Don’t show shitty work.
Don’t do your own dev unless you really know what you’re doing.
Don’t show only print projects unless you want to be unemployed forever.
Don’t make me go back to the index just to get to the next project.
Don’t upload gigantic images that take forever to load.
I suggest ten to twelve projects, maximum. If projects include multiple components, or fully designed books, eight to ten projects will be enough. One of the main parameters for a portfolio review is limited time. Presenting the work should take a maximum of thirty to thirty-five minutes.
Many designers show, and say, far too much, leaving little time for an authentic conversation to develop.
We prefer an e-mail with a link to a web site, or sample printed materials. If we like either, we put you on the list of people we will see, so long as you bother to call and follow up. If we are not looking for help, we will try to give a half hour informational interview, followed by referrals.
We are generally honest and straightforward, and will try to help you with the process of finding a first job.
Don’t list hobbies like reading or skydiving unless it is a very interesting part of your life.
Don’t list the computer programs you know. If you can use Photoshop we can already tell.
Don’t put a bunch of marketing jargon about your experience. Use real words to say what you learned and the things you did.
Don’t use weird typefaces, “personal brand logos” or illustrations. You can ignore that only if they are extremely awesome, but it almost never happens.
Keep it to 1 page.
Keep the page feeling mostly full, students tend to have thin resumes, pad it with true things. Have a lot going on: organizations, design collectives, exhibitions, awards & scholarships, & work history. Focus on the typography and layout.
B&W is preferable, comes across as serious and doesn’t get fucked up by shitty B&W printers.
Print it on the nicest paper you can buy, appropriate weight and color, but it should feel nice. Have a plaintext version for online applications. Save it as a PDF, no other formats are acceptable.
BONUS: Have an html/css online version that’s responsive hosted at your domain.
The best portfolios can be consumed quickly; they allow the work to speak for itself. In my opinion, it is the best way to gauge a designer’s type and layout skills, because, presumably, they created their portfolio without the benefit of a design director.