May 16, 2018

Portfolio formats

I've perused and reviewed countless PDF portfolios and websites of other designers during my career. At times I've been in awe and humbled. A career-peer once responded to another designer's portfolio with "I surrender", which I'll never forget. Mostly, I've been left wanting, confused and irritated. What's the work about? Why does it look as it does? What was the business strategy? What was the brand strategy? What are the key ideas?

Sure, the creatives responsible may not be present to explain the work. Perhaps their writing isn't great and they don't want this on show. Really, the work should speak for itself. If it doesn't and needs help, supplementary writing should do the trick. Otherwise, what's the point of branding?

Best practice in branding dictates that the work does most of the job, identifying a business so that people don't need to do it themselves, focusing instead on core business activities and drawing on extensible pre-prepared articulations of their brand when necessary. Perhaps nowhere else is this principle more important (and challenging) than in the presentation of a brand identity portfolio. Effectively, brand identity creatives brand themselves through their work. Many don’t appear to take this all that seriously, relying instead on accountability networks and/or positions of traditional leadership such as Creative or Design Director and/or personal charm and/or, to the point of this post, often a collection of visuals shoved together in a sprawling PDF alongside time at named agencies on their CVs

I'm really not that interested in how well a creative presents in person, how fashionable or affable they are. How technologically competent they are. What accent they have. Where on the gender fluid spectrum they identify. I don't care about how they banter and might fit into a team socially. And, of course, I don't want to be spun a yarn, particularly when the work on show isn't entirely the responsibility of the person I'm considering. Multiple projects of a similar format and quality is tough to deliver and near-on impossible to fake. I want to see the goods delivered concisely and to a high standard. If the presentation of a creative's work is professional, I assume that they too will be professional and personable

While generally well-meaning, most recruitment agencies often obfuscate and muddy the waters further (as if gate-keeping and personal confidence weren't problems enough). I recently read a prominent London-based recruitment agency advise on their website that creatives should choose just three projects and present them with a minimum of elements on each page, at the same time keeping the page count low. The result, unfortunately, is often a set of unexplained and fragmented presentation visuals. It’s also often not obvious enough where one project ends and the next begins, despite attempts to signpost each piece. I want to see an extensive portfolio, not client presentation visuals all rammed together

After testing many different versions of my own portfolio over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that each project should be introduced by the main idea on a page and then feature, on a single page, all the identity experience visuals. This should be supported on a third page by concisely written copy that briefly melds together the business and brand strategy, and articulates how the brand identity solution expresses a new vision