Professional Perspectives: Marsha Mills
Professional Perspectives — featuring Professor Marsha Mills

Professor Marsha Mills interacting with students at the 2013 AIGA Raleigh Student Portfolio Review. Author of this post, Mayshanna Pandora Briscoe, is to the left of Professor Mills.

As a design student, the semester before graduation is a haze of late nights filled with Five Hour Energy drinks, discarded pages from your portfolio, and moments of self-doubt. This semester is the defining moment to your college career, and the catalyst to your post-college occupation– the stage in life where you find a real job.

For most student designers, the hardest part about seeking a real world job is showing a portfolio full of “non-real” world design pieces. You may feel confident in showing your design work to your professors, classmates, and Facebook friends, but you may be insecure about how local design firms would feel about the newsletter you spent countless hours tweaking. These fears are real and normal to have, as you are not alone. To relieve some of your anxiety, we interviewed past reviewers to help prepare you for the 2014 Student Portfolio Review and your upcoming job hunt.

The first professional we interviewed is Marsha Mills. Marsha is currently an Associate Professor of Graphic Design at The Art Institute of Raleigh Durham and Wake Technical Community College.

What is your background in design?
My first job, stripping, was the gateway to my being a successful Designer, Art Director and Creative Director. As a stripper, I fixed designer’s mistakes to make the designer look good since they were ill-equipped to prepare their files properly for production. My design and print knowledge, when transitioning to the design world, would save every company I worked for thousands of dollars. As a Creative Director for Plymouth Inc. I was in charge of $800,000.00 a yr. of pre-press which in one year I reduced to $397,000 due to my pre-press stripping background. The “Barbie®” line alone I saved $30,000.00; and that didn’t include the other 20 lines we produced in a year. Four years of film stripping, 4 color separation flats, and burning negatives proved to be my ticket to a successful career. 

With a strong design portfolio, interview confidence and my work experience, I had become a creative director before I had my Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design. I spent most of my time, both as a freelancer and an in-house designer, with toy and giftware companies. My earlier experience with Campbell Soup® proved to be another interesting career move. The bigger the company the more people to oversee the design, hence the more changes that could possibly be made. It was exciting to work with some of the big heavies in the industry. 

While I was working as a Creative Director, my assistant art director asked if I would substitute for her graphic design class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. After subbing a couple of classes I was addicted to teaching. The Art Institute of Philadelphia was my first teaching job. Despite my successful career, and the school expanding degrees (AAS to BFA’s), I needed to have a degree in order to continue teaching. My employer paid 100% for the school of my choice, just to complete my BA, this made attending class more fun and my academic journey began. My education, gave depth and breadth to my artistic talents. I currently possess a Bachelors of Art in Graphic Design from Thomas Edison State College, in Trenton, NJ and a Masters of Art in Art Education from East Carolina University. 

How many AIGA Raleigh Portfolio Reviews have you attended and critiqued?
With AIGA, I have been privileged to attend and review 4 Student Portfolio Reviews: 3 at McKinney and 1 with Centerline. 

What are some examples of pieces that should be in a student portfolio?
Showing examples with strong diversity in concept, design and software skills is very important. Each portfolio should have a strong campaign, showing the versatility of how a design can adapt appropriately many collateral pieces that drive a company’s business. 

Magazine spreads or layouts that demonstrate the use of creativity, grids, wraps, appropriate typeface choices and application are necessary. I like a layout when the product literally breaks off the portfolio page, focusing on the exciting part of a layout, then within the same spread a smaller flat version next to example. Templates are great tools that can be used to present your pieces in a professional environment with little to no cost. 

Use your portfolio to show off your trendy side. Infographics are really popular, add one to a campaign, to your resume or leave-behind. 

We need to adapt to our changing environment since web and graphic design are becoming closely meshed. Having web knowledge is important. I see it working when students come prepared with good software, web and design skills. WordPress is almost a necessity. Incorporating a web design into a campaign or creating several strong web design pieces will add to the diversity of your portfolio. 

Just remember, it’s not necessarily the type of pieces as it is the ability to take a simple idea (a concept, layout, website or product) and make it something exciting and eye catching. 

How many pieces should a strong print portfolio contain?
4–7, this amount also depends on the length of the campaigns. 1 solid campaign of one subject and another with a very diverse design could suffice for an interview. 

What is the appropriate type of presentation for my print portfolio?
There are so many ways to present your work, from a book, a case of prints, or a tablet. Making a professional and creative statement now is easier than ever, you are no longer limited to a binder and plastic sleeves. 

Some of the latest ideas I have seen are Custom Screw Post, a Tablet, Portfolio Cases, and PhotobooksA new photobook option I am really excited about is called Panoramic Spread, it is a unique binding system which allows every page spread to lay flat without any gutter of seams to separate your pages. 

Despite the method you choose for your portfolio, make sure it is something that can be viewed easily on a table during the interview process. Before investing a lot of funds and time in a portfolio, make sure it is something you love and can be updated fairly easy and in a timely manner. 

What is an appropriate size for a print portfolio?
There is no set size for a printed portfolio, but remember it should be portable and easy to maneuver during your interview. I would not go any larger than 11×17 or smaller than 8×8. A great idea would be to make two different sized portfolios, one standard size portfolio you can update/tweak for interviews and one smaller version that can be left as a leave-behind or mailed to potential employers. The smaller portfolio or leave-behind can be your opportunity to demonstrate your creative side. 

How should I organize my portfolio?
I believe for interview purposes, one should show their strongest three up front. With the AIGA review, it might be better to show the best first, the second best last and the others in the middle with color and subject diversity as it is progressing. 

Now that I have my portfolio cover, templates, and the pieces I want to include, what do I do next?
Create a strong and creative layout in your sketchbook; make sure your layout is conducive to your style and personality, while staying professional. Then move your ideas to InDesign, you can use this program to layout your pages, arrange your work in an appropriate manner, size your work to ensure you have correct proportions and even create a final document that can be emailed to a printer. Regardless of how you create your layout, remember it should be professional, organized, easy to navigate and easy to reproduce. 

How often should I update my portfolio?
You want to update your portfolio about every six months or more often if you are learning new skills. You should also update your portfolio according to the job you are interviewing— the work you show a direct mail company will be different than work you show a design firm. 

What is more important, a web portfolio or a print portfolio?
They are equally important; you should have a physical and an online portfolio. They should always be current. The main difference between the two is how they are arranged and presented. With your web portfolio you have more opportunity to present your other talents and loves: photography, illustrations, painting, and music. You can arrange your navigation bar to display your pieces under several different skills: print layout, branding, hand lettering, illustrations, etc. You can also link your social media to your website or your blog, allowing possible employers a chance to understand your artistic style. Even though space is not an issue, the website still needs to be organized and easy to navigate. You do not want to lose your viewers within your website. 

Should I have different work in my print portfolio than on my web portfolio?
Web and print react and feel different. You can make your portfolios vary, but remember by the time an employer calls you in for an interview, they already know your work and style. They want to know who you are as an individual; they want to know you have two eyes, a nose and a mouth. They want to know you speak well and interact in a positive manner with clients and other co-workers. They are more interested in you and meeting you. 

If there was one thing you could tell someone who is making their first portfolio, what would it be?
Think diverse! And only because this is the first time creating a portfolio, so as to demonstrate your ability to create a variety of designs.

This is Part One of this series, but don’t worry we understand creating and designing a portfolio is a lifetime job, and we plan to bring you more helpful advice soon. 

marshamills-100x150Featured Professional: Marsha Mills is currently an Associate Professor at the Art Institute of Raleigh Durham, Durham, NC and an instructor at Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, NC. She received her Bachelor’s degree at Thomas Edison State College, Trenton, NJ and her Masters in Art Education at East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. Marsha has been in the industry as a designer for 30 years working at major companies like Campbell Soup, Tyco Toys and Plymouth Inc. Marsha is a world traveler, having spent a summer in Peru and several excursions to Italy on sabbatical from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. She embraces diversity of cultures and includes this with her day to day teaching. Her upbringing has been rich in the arts: her mother, a director of plays and actor and sister, a professional pianist and vocalist. Marsha was bound to gravitate to the arts. Her strengths were art and design although she loved and performed in the Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company, she chose to go to art school for she knew this was a passion. She ran 15 marathons, qualified and ran the prestigious Boston several times in the early 90’s. Marsha’s greatest mentors were Judith Wexler, BFA and Alene Sirott-Cope BFA. Both designers were instrumental for who she is today. Marsha has been a member of the Art Directors Club in Philadelphia, AIGA Philadelphia and AIGA Raleigh/Durham and the Advisor of the Future Designer’s Association at Wake Technical Community College.
Author of this post: Mayshanna Pandora Briscoe is a Freelance Graphic Designer, Mixed Media Artist and Aspiring Blogger. She has a B.A. in International Business and A.A.S. in Advertising and Graphic Design with a Certificate in Web Technology.  When she is not in her studio she can be found experimenting with a new recipe, posting pictures of her design life or food on Instagram, or making memories with her fan club (aka her friends, family and dogs).