by Anna Vaughn Creech
As I sat in one of the glass-walled rooms at McKinney on Saturday morning, staring at my open portfolio and waiting to be reviewed, one of my many racing thoughts was: How do I rate?
This was no new question; as a recent design school grad, I consistently think about what I’ve done in the small bubble of the classroom, and what’s going to be well-received in the “real world.” Thankfully, AIGA responded in the form of the Student Portfolio Review; it is during this event that the answer to that question became a little clearer.
The day began with a short lecture by McKinney Senior Recruiter Josh Janicek, who emphasized the importance of branding yourself as a designer both in a physical portfolio as well as with a web presence. He suggested using sites like CargoCollective and Behance to create fully-functioning, hassle-free online portfolios, and that joining networking sites like LinkedIn was a no-brainer for anyone interested in getting a job. He also said that despite everything you could do to glorify the presentation of your portfolio, what really counts is the work itself — and to only show work that you’re passionate about.
After a (delicious!) Jimmy John’s lunch, each student went to his or her assigned room to wait for the designers to make their reviewing rounds. We were each given five 20-minute sessions with five Triangle-based designers who spoke with us about our interests and pursuits in graphic design while also giving us feedback on our work. We ended the review with a group recap, the designers being prompted to answer questions like “What did you expect to see more of in student work?” and “What do you look for when hiring a junior designer?” The designers’ responses to these questions provided much insight. To short-list their answers: interactive work is in high demand; don’t make excuses for or point out the negative in your work; your personality and having people skills matter; a strong understanding of good design can’t be taught; it is important to show versatility and range but to also show where your strengths lie. The designers encouraged us to pursue personal projects, not to adhere strictly to class assignments, in order to create work that showcases what we can do without limitations.
I found that the portfolio review was a call to action as well as an encouraging hand. I left feeling like I had a lot to be proud of, but also a lot left to prove. It made me want to be a better designer by elevating from the designs that have become so comfortable to me in school. After years of listening to critiques by my classmates and professors, it was rejuvenating to hear new opinions — to receive broader feedback and have fresh eyes look at my work. Although design school has served me well, the classroom is not enough. There are more discussions to be had, more lessons to be learned, more perspectives from which to observe — the AIGA Student Portfolio Review provided a link to that bigger picture.
One designer who reviewed my work kept telling me, “Don’t do afterthoughts.” That line of advice has stuck with me since I left the review; it’s a reminder to put my best foot forward but to also double-check that foot is wearing a well-designed, cleaned and polished shoe. It also indicates that good design is not just about creative ideas and big thinking but about follow-through and intentionality. As someone making their way into the design world at large, it is invaluable to be given such steady advice; it is a prompt to delve even more into the design process to push beyond the afterthought.
On behalf of all the students who attended the review, I’d like to thank Yvette Navarro and Aimee Flynn, the staff at McKinney and all of the design professionals who spent their Saturday morning looking at up-and-comers’ work.
Anna Vaughn Creech is a recent graduate from the BFA in graphic design program at ECU. She holds a BA in English from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and she was the editor for ECU’s arts & literary magazine, Rebel 53. You can find out more about her work at cargocollective.com/annavaughncreech.