May 16, 2018

Portfolio formats

I've perused and reviewed countless PDF portfolios and websites of other designers during my career. At times I've been in awe and humbled. A career-peer once responded to another designer's portfolio with "I surrender", which I'll never forget. Mostly, I've been left wanting, confused and irritated. What's the work about? Why does it look as it does? What was the business strategy? What was the brand strategy? What are the key ideas?

Sure, the creatives responsible may not be present to explain the work. Perhaps their writing isn't great and they don't want this on show. Really, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn't and needs help, supplementary writing should do the trick. Otherwise, what's the point of branding?

Best practice in branding demands that the work does most, if not all, of the work identifying a business so that people don't have to do it themselves, focusing instead on core business activities and drawing on extensible pre-prepared articulations of their brand when necessary. Perhaps nowhere else is this principle more important (and challenging) than in the presentation of a brand identity portfolio. Effectively, brand identity creatives brand themselves through their work for others. Many don’t appear to take this all that seriouslly, relying instead on accountability networks and/or personal charm and/or, to the point of this post, often a collection of visuals shoved together in a sprawling PDF alongside a named agency CV

I'm really not that interested in how well a creative presents in person, how fashionable or affable they are. How technologically competent they are. What accent they have. I don't care about how they banter and might fit into a team socially. And, of course, I don't want to be spun a yarn, particularly when the work on show isn't entirely the responsibility of the person I'm considering. Multiple projects of a similar format and quality usually means fakers show themselves up. I want to see the goods delivered concisely and to a high standard. If the presentation of a creative's work is professional, I assume that they too will be professional and personable

While generally well-meaning, most recruitment agencies often obfuscate and muddy the waters further (as if personal confidence wasn't enough of problem). I recently read a prominent recruitement agency advise on their website that creatives should choose just three projects and present them with a minimum of elements on each page, at the same time keeping the page count low. The result, unfortunately, is often a set of unexplained and fragmented presentation visuals, and it’s also often not obvious where one project ends and another begins. I want to see an extensive portfolio, not client presentation visuals all rammed together

After testing many different versions of my own portfolio over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that each project should feature on a single page. This should be supported on a second page by concisely written copy that briefly melds together the business and brand strategy, and articulates how the brand identity solution expresses a new vision