The Crazy World of Portfolios

September 20, 2007 at 10:20 pm · Filed under Print / Editorial, Type / Fonts

Language Arts Portfolio cover

Language Arts Portfolio cover; pencil on paper; 8.5 x 11 in. / 1994

The importance of the portfolio, for any designer cannot be stressed enough. It is, quite seriously, proof of one’s worthiness in the craft. Design is one of the few professions where samples of work you have done in the past are supposed to speak for you.

Unless you have an “in,” many top design firms demand that you “drop off” your portfolio so they can take a look through it to see if they want to actually talk to you. I have never “dropped off” a portfolio anywhere (I understand the utility of the practice, but I find it superficial and demeaning). However, I have been in situations where an interviewer wanted nothing more than to just flip through “my book” without any interference from myself. Portfolios are like candy, and it’s hard for anyone not to just devour them. But if the candy isn’t balanced by the meat of the designer’s intelligence, personality, and presence, it can turn into a rather sickening experience. I’ve tried, with varying degrees of success, to break the predilection of portfolio interviews, but the bottom line is that the portfolio really must, as much as possible, speak for itself, and for the designer, too.

I have made several portfolios in my life in various formats, but I think this was the first thing I ever made that actually was called a portfolio. As you can probably tell by the title, this isn’t a collection of graphic design samples but, rather, a collection of writing and so on for a “Language Arts” class in high school. I drew everything on this sheet of paper by hand (with the help of a compass and a ruler), and flourished the mechanically rational, hyper-dimensional letterforms with a dash of chrome. It probably took me about three days or so to do it, and this was my only copy…

As I was putting the finishing touches on the contents of the book in the computer lab, a voracious fight between two completely out of control schoolmates came into the room. One was chasing after the other and both were using every tool at their disposal to kill or at least seriously injure the other. And there was plenty of disposal. By the time the fight was broken up, several chairs, desks, and computers were smashed and strewn across the room, and the two boys were much closer to death than they were when the fight started. More importantly (to me), the frenetic action had created enough gust in the air to wistfully float my precious portfolio cover off the desk where I was sitting onto the floor, where it was promptly stepped on by one of the fighters. Luckily, the page was not torn or creased, and the footprints brushed right off, so everything was fine.

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