2012 Student Portfolio Review Afterthoughts

“Resume… check; business cards… check; completed portfolio book… CHECK!” Before leaving to make the thirty-minute trek from Burlington to Durham, I went through a mental checklist to make sure that I had everything I needed for the 2012 AIGA Student Portfolio Review. This would be one of my very first times having a group of design professionals to look at and critique my work. It’s one thing to have your professors and peers who you see on a daily basis provide feedback, but to have actual real-life designers was another thing! I was excited, yet anxious to hear what they had to say about my work; be it good or bad. I’ve learned over the years as a graphic design student or student in general, that you should never take feedback given to you in a negative context. Take what advice is given and use it to your advantage.

Upon arriving to McKinney, I was greeted by two of their employees over an intercom, and was then buzzed into the immense facility; once the home of Durham’s old Lucky Strike factory. The workspace was picturesque; every graphic designers dream!  Open space; bright, bold colors everywhere; that whole urban-loft feel that you see on television but never imagine seeing in person! It made me feel like a “real-life” graphic designer for the moment. As I made my way over to my fellow ECU classmates, I could tell by the looks on everyone’s face that we were all a little eager to see what was in store for us. Besides ECU, there were students from Meredith, the Art Institute, Peace College, Alamance Community College, and Living Arts College. I was a bit more at ease now after mentally wrapping the fact around my mind that I wouldn’t be going through this process alone. However, the inquisitive side of me was curious to know what the other students’ portfolios looked like. I could tell there was a lot of superb work present.

Following registration, we were eventually moved to the upper level of the facility where McKinney’s Office Services Manager Elanah Sykes opened the morning discussion about career development and interview skills. She gave a very motivating and encouraging talk about her early career experiences and how she progressed to the position that she currently holds. She stressed the idea of never becoming complacent with where you are in your career if you are not 100% happy there; always strive to be better and go farther. She also gave pointers for how to handle yourself in-person when you finally make it to the big step of landing the interview. One tip that stood out to me the most was remembering to always be mindful of how you respond to and treat the receptionist at the front desk—that just might be the person who has the last say in whether or not you land the job! McKinney Recruiting Coordinator Katelyn Johnson also gave a few words of advice in relation to marketing yourself and creating an online presence via social networking sites like Twitter and LinkedIn. She also emphasized the importance of going after the job you want. Find a direct contact with the particular agency you are interested in and correspond with them instead of just solely emailing the generic email address that you find on most websites.

After our morning pep talk and enjoying our mini box lunches (courtesy of Jimmy John’s), we were given instruction as to which rooms we would be in for the next two hours! Ironically, I shared my review room with a former pirate who was now a design student at Living Arts College. Prior to our first review session, we were to able chat a little, which helped both of us relax a little more as we waited for our reviewers to enter the room. Each student would be given three or four 30-minutes rounds with graphic design professionals. The reviewers would aim to provide useful feedback and lend their expertise as to ways we could improve our work as well informing us of things that they felt we were doing well with. These one-on-one sessions would give us, [the students] the opportunity to ask questions as well as provide the perfect interview practice. The portfolio review ended with a group recap; like a roundtable discussion. Questions were posed to the reviewers such as “What would you have liked to have seen more of” or “What advice what you give students following what you saw today.” The reviewers were no-holds-barred, which honestly was a good thing. I think many times we get use to hearing feedback that pacifies us versus giving us feedback that is blunt, yet respectful and valid. Some of the things were mentioned that they would have liked to see more web work, even if it was simply banners, web graphics, or buttons. Showing that you are capable of designing for the web will show employers a range in your abilities.  Learning even the basics of coding will get you a lot further than knowing nothing at all, especially with things becoming more interactive and web-based now. The reviewers also stated that students should take concepts further. If there is a particular project you completed in class, take that project to the next step and expand on it. Don’t just stop at the trademark, complete the entire branding for it; don’t be limited only by what the teacher outlines for you. They also touched on issues such as having good craft, marketing your self and thinking outside of the box when it comes to showcasing the work in your portfolio.

Overall, I can say that I left the 2012 AIGA Student Portfolio Review feeling like my time there was well spent and very beneficial. The advice and feedback that I received will undeniably be put to use. While I received rave reviews about my work from top-notch designers, I know that there is room for improvement and my work can only get greater from here! Never have the mindset that your work is as good as it gets because you will always be able to improve on anything you do. It was nice to receive feedback from people other than my classmates and professors, and allow for fresh eyes to see my work; individuals whom you have never met nor seen before [for the most part] until this particular day. The AIGA portfolio review provided that for me as well as my peers.

As a graduating senior, I would like to say that all students should take advantage of opportunities like this. It’s not everyday that you are able to receive feedback from multiple design professionals in one setting! As I previously mentioned, never take advice given to you in a negative sense; use it to move you to the next level. Listen more than you speak; you don’t know it all, you are still learning—we are all still learning. No one will ever know all there is to know about graphic design.  As a student, always remember to market yourself as if you are your own brand. Don’t be afraid to talk to people you don’t know; networking is a very important aspect of landing a job or even becoming a better person socially. Be active in your local chapter of AIGA and it will pay off in the end. Not only will you form a new circle of designer friends, but you will also grow as a designer.  Lets not forget about process work; keep a small pocket-size sketchbook with you and whenever you have downtime, keep those ideas flowing; sketch thumbnails and doodles because you never know when you just might dream up that next big idea. The route you take to get to that next idea is just as important as the idea itself. And lastly, don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something. It’s better to be upfront and honest about it from the beginning than to be thrown in a situation and get in over your head. If web is something you’re not too familiar with, don’t mislead a potential employer into thinking you’re well versed in web design—just be honest, it will get you farther in the long run.

I would like to personally thank AIGA Raleigh Emerging Designers Co-Directors Kristin Fowler and Jayne Worth for organizing and putting together an awesome portfolio review. On behalf of all the attendees, I would also like to thank the staff at McKinney for allowing us to use their amazing facility as well as all of the wonderful graphic design professionals who gave up their Saturday morning to help us—the emerging designers—by providing us with their insight. The 2012 AIGA Student Portfolio Review was a success! Hopefully next year I will be on the other side of the table providing feedback to future design students!

Rich Griffis
East Carolina University ‘12

By Rich Griffis
Published May 8, 2012