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Student Portfolio Review Afterthoughts

April 21, 2013 / By Jen Covington

The sun was shining, spring had sprung and the weather couldn’t have been more perfect to set the tone for the event I had been building up to for the last two years. I arrived, coincidentally, at the same time as my classmates and we entered the two-story glass front building to begin our adventure. I was greeted at the registration area by some familiar faces and AIGA volunteers. We were promptly checked-in and given our itineraries for the day. We then waited in the entry area for the other students and reviewers to arrive and get checked in.

As I stood there with my peers, a feeling of relief washed over me. I thought to myself, “We made it, no more picking apart each others pieces, no grades to compare, today we stand here as equals in support of one another”. I was, and am proud of the countless hours of work that my classmates and I have poured into our portfolios and we were ready to show what we were made of. We took the next half hour or so to congregate with students from other schools. A few brave souls from other schools wandered over to introduce themselves to our group and chat about their school’s programs. I listened to them explain the differences in their programs and share the experiences of their own journey to the AIGA Portfolio Review.

As we were waiting for everyone to arrive, I took in the environment of the review venue, Centerline Digital. The building, once home to a popular gym, had been transformed into a beautiful yet comfortable studio space. It featured a large entry, a reception area near the front door, with large tables and booths perfect for spreading out and collaborating on projects. The kitchen, dart board, and bar area painted a picture of a comfortable work environment. There were glass walled private offices and conference rooms lining the perimeter of the space. One office in particular caught my eye, as there were hand-written notes on the glass walls. It was such an inspiring moment to catch a glimpse into a professional’s creative process and for a moment I caught myself daydreaming about the day I would be able to settle into my own note filled glass walled office.

Once everyone arrived and settled in, we were treated to a short talk from Centerline Digital’s Executive Creative Director, Shawn Gillen. He advised us to approach our upcoming job interviews as we would approach a dinner party. The analogy drew a captivatingly detailed picture of how to prepare and address different situations one may encounter in an interview. His tips covered topics such as the importance of punctuality, host gifts, and remembering to make lasting impressions on everyone we would come into contact with at our dinner party and not just the person interviewing us.

After all that talk about dinner parties, I was thankful it was time for lunch. Timing lunch before the reviews turned out to be such a blessing in that we were able to settle our morning jitters and by the time reviews rolled around we would be able to focus on the work at hand instead of our growling stomachs. As I was not expecting lunch to be provided I could not have been more grateful. Organizers Kristin Fowler and Rich Griffis really had thought of everything. My group settled into the bar for quick and pleasant meal. I reveled in the moment as I was trying to balance my feelings of anxiety for the upcoming hours and yet at the same time a sense of accomplishment for the work we had completed.

It was finally time for all of the students and reviewers to break off and for the Portfolio Reviews to begin. I checked my slip for the correct review location; it read, “Verdana.” You see at Centerline Digital the office spaces are named after typefaces. After asking a volunteer for some direction, I was pleasantly surprised to find my temporary home in the note filled glass walled office I had eyed upon first entering Centerline Digital. The roar from the main area was dulled once I entered the room. It took a moment to get setup and organized as I patiently awaited the arrival of my first reviewer. I wasn’t sure what to expect, my heart pounded, half in excitement and half in fear, as I scanned the room guessing which of the wandering people was going to tear apart my work in the next half hour. Just then, a gentleman appeared, and politely introduced himself as he shook my hand. Just like that, we were off and there was no turning back now.

Generally, I chose to begin the reviews by introducing myself, giving the reviewer a resume and business card. While they took a moment to look over my resume, I gave them a little background on my journey into the graphic design field. We then looked over my work, advised changes, and discussed current issues relative to the job search. One thing that really stuck with me, that I would like to share, was when one of my reviewers explained a continuum of design skill sets and how it related to the industry and getting hired. He explained there are designers, front-end developers, and back-end developers. If an applicant were to have just one of the three skills they will be in a larger pool of people competing for a small percentage of jobs. A more desirable candidate would ideally have two of the three skills and if one could master all three they would be hirable pretty much anywhere in the design field.

As quickly as they started, reviews came to a close, and we were all to meet back into the main space for a question and answer session. Kristin and Rich began with raffle prizes and started handing out t-shirts and magazines to a lucky few. We then took the next little bit of time to get overall feedback and advice from the reviewers. The common theme in the room was web work. They wanted to see more design for web and advised taking print pieces and pushing them one step further into pieces adapted for the web. Another piece of advice that resonated with me was that the reviewers wanted to hear more of our challenges and struggles as designers and how we were able to overcome and break through those creative blocks. They wanted to see initiative and the potential to be a good team player. One reviewer directed us to surround ourselves with good design in order to help constantly stay inspired.

Overall, I had an incredible experience at this year’s AIGA Portfolio Review. I was given priceless advice and made some wonderful connections. It was an excellent opportunity for students to get a better understanding of what to expect in the interview and hiring process for the graphic design field. The best advice I can pass on for future students is to only include work in your portfolio that you are truly passionate about. Be true to yourself as a designer and let that reflect in your presentation at Portfolio Review.

I would like to say a special thank you to Kristin Fowler and Rich Griffis for working so hard to organize this outstanding review! I would also like to thank all of the reviewers for taking time out of their busy schedules to offer advice to some of us emerging designers. Thank you to Centerline Digital for hosting this year’s review and allowing us students a glimpse into its marvelous space. I can’t wait to kick start my design career and thanks to the AIGA Portfolio Review, I know I am ready!

Read more from Jennifer Covington at her blog: Designias Blatherings or check out her work here.

 

COMMENTS
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  • http://KarlSakas.com/ Karl Sakas

    “One thing that really stuck with me, that I would like to share, was when one of my reviewers explained a continuum of design skill sets and how it related to the industry and getting hired. He explained there are designers, front-end developers, and back-end developers. If an applicant were to have just one of the three skills they will be in a larger pool of people competing for a small percentage of jobs. A more desirable candidate would ideally have two of the three skills and if one could master all three they would be hirable pretty much anywhere in the design field.”

    Jennifer, glad to see you found my comment about the continuum helpful!

    Within the web industry, it’s pretty rare for people to be great at all three, but people who can do two (e.g., a designer who does front-end development, or a back-end developer or does front-end development) are far more hireable.

    At an agency, it means they can be staffed in more roles (which means they can do a higher percentage of billable work). At an in-house role, they help the company do more without needing to hire more people. Both save the company money, which can help with job security.

    Being higher up the continuum also translates to better pay. Knowing HTML and CSS means you can get paid more than doing design alone. Knowing JavaScript pays more. And knowing PHP, ASP.NET, or other back-end languages pays even more. If someone does only design, there’s a ceiling for how much they can get paid, based on supply and demand.