Portfolio Presentations

It is amazing how some people get it completely wrong when presenting their portfolio. Even Senior Designers from renowned agencies do it. It is so crucial to get right yet there are so many pitfalls. Here is my perspective and advice as an ex-designer and current recruiter.

Remember nobody really wants to interview anybody. It is just a formality and the interviewer would much prefer to be getting on with their day job. It is so important to get it right first time or you could miss out on a great opportunity.

Why is a good portfolio so important?
Crucially, a good portfolio presentation can lift the perception of your work. You already do this on behalf of your clients whether your core skills lie in graphic design, marketing or advertising so why wouldn't you do it for your own work?

Hardcopy portfolio versus laptop presentation?
Generally there is no wrong or right here. However, you do need to consider some important points and tailor your presentation accordingly.

Laptop negatives:
• If your printed work has special print finishes or uses quality stock you aren't going to be able to show evidence of this on a laptop screen.
• Laptop screens can also be restrictive due to their size. For example, even an A3 piece of work can get lost in a thumbnail on a 15" screen.
• Your work could look like a version of that PDF work sampler you originally sent through with your cv. Your interviewer will be expecting more work in addition to that which you have already sent as well as a fresh approach in terms of presentation.

Laptop positives:
• Clean crisp work (no dog-eared or soiled work) with a free flowing presentation.
• A chance to create links to other work / web sites. Essential for online work.
• Easier to explain when showing work in 3D rather than flat pieces in a portfolio. Eg packaging / POS or exhibition work.

Hardcopy portfolio negatives:
• May be hard getting hold of finished printed samples.
• Any portfolio larger than A2 and you run the risk of getting blown away like Mary Poppins the minute you step outside.
• It can look tired after a year or two living in the loft in-between jobs.
• Ring-bound portfolios can open without warning which is the last thing you want whilst the interview nerves are kicking in.

Hardcopy portfolio positives:
• Normally large format so this affords you a clearer view of the work.
• They are more tactile and aesthetically pleasing, especially with an unusual bespoke portfolio.
• It is a good way to show off print finishes.
Note: Loose samples of work are acceptable but it is better to show them in conjunction with a mounted piece within the portfolio. For example, show the front / back cover and one inner DPS page in the portfolio but then have the actual printed catalogue ready to present at that point.

What style of hardcopy portfolio to use?
The most common portfolio is the good old black ring binder. However, this very stereotypical with most designers emerging from University.

Where possible, dare to be different and stand out from the crowd. It might get you remembered. This can be costly but if you search around on the web you don't have to pay anymore than you would for the above binder. I've seen some fantastic hand built portfolios from polished sheet metal with press studs to hand crafted card boxes.

Aluminium cases can also look good with cleanly mounted work on loose card. Size wise I would personally recommend A3 or A2.

What style of Laptop:
As big a screen as possible. Make sure that your laptop is fully charged!

PDF print outs or Printed samples:
The general preference now is to go for a PDF format which can either be printed out to create a hardcopy portfolio or used straight from the laptop. The main advantage of this is that it makes your body of work much more cohesive. If your physical portfolio and your digital portfolio look the same, it makes it look much more professional. A common portfolio technique which works well is one or two large images on a clean white page accompanied by some thumbnails, a line of descriptive underneath and even your own branding.

The added benefit of this is that you can include photographs of your work in interesting environments to increase the user experience. This is particularly good for packaging or large items such as exhibition work. It also makes it easier to create an edited teaser version of your book to send out with your initial CV and application.

How many pieces of work to include?
We normally recommend 14 to 20 pieces. Anything less and your portfolio may look weak. Anything more and you could bore people.

Which work to include?
Your OWN work or pieces which you have had considerable involvement in. Tailor your portfolio with work that is suitable for that particular role, i.e. bring your direct mail work to the front of your portfolio if that is a main requirement of the role. Finally don't include work that isn't commercially viable. Leave out that proud snap of the family cat just because you thought it was a good piece of photography.

Arrangement of work:
There are generally two ways of doing this. Either:
• Chronologically (present to past) or:
• If you have enough samples you can put them in groups, i.e. all packaging together, all literature together etc.
Remember that portfolios tend to get left open whilst the interview concludes so it's a good idea to lead and finish with a strong piece where possible.

How long will I get to present?
This can range drastically. Generally 45 minutes to 1 hour is a good average. However, I have heard of interviews lasting as little as 15 minutes which ultimately seems pointless and doesn't sell the company particularly well. If you get the chance, you could politely ask how long you will have as the interview commences. You must be prepared for these extremes. If necessary, pre-interview, pick out your best portfolio pieces to go through if you find your time is limited.

How to present?
Generally it's best to stay seated on your side of the desk without entering your interviewers personal space. Make sure you hold the portfolio (the right way up for them) and take control of what you want to present. Concisely explain the brief behind the work and how you solved it without running into a full day seminar. Remember to be clear on what your involvement was on that job (team or solely) and at what point in your career you did it.

Common errors in presentations:
• Being negative about your work. Why put the piece in if you are only going to slag it off. If you aren't happy with a piece of work because it was mundane, put a positive slant of the piece by saying you've included it to show you have done and are happy to do the 'bread and butter' jobs as well as the more challenging projects. All studios have this type of work at some point.
• If you do have to use loose work samples, avoid scattering them across the interview desk. Use the table as a frame, placing each piece neatly in the centre of the table (creating a dead space around it), removing it from the table before presenting the next piece. Remember dead space focuses the eye, too many work samples at one time means the viewer is continuously flicking from one piece to another without really taking each piece in.
• Mounted work or digital laser copy presentations also need a good 3" + margin of dead space around each work sample to focus the eye. This is why A4 portfolios can be too small for work samples and margins together.
• Make sure that the work you present is both recent and relevant or your portfolio could look dated. Watch out for visible dates printed on your work (or car registration numbers).
• Unless you are a Repro or Technical Artworker, don't leave cut or registration marks on your work.
• Keep to one portfolio. There is nothing worse for an interviewer than seeing somebody with two or three bulging portfolios coming through the door. Nobody has that much work which is recent, relevant and worth seeing. Ultimately, if you include too much work, you run the risk of not getting your best bits seen.
• Keep any borders, labeling, personal branding or lurid backgrounds to a minimum. Don't create anything that will distract from your work.

To conclude:
You generally only get one shot at this so take pride in your work and presentation without overdoing it. The small amount of time that you spend now on perfecting your portfolio could really be worth your while. Never underestimate the importance of presenting your work with flair.

Richard Bridgwater @orchardrich

For other advice, check out Interview Questions - How to avoid that awkward silence

Did you find this blog post useful? Comments and feedback welcome.


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