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Sunday, September 25, 2005

How to assemble your portfolio content

I recently redid my portfolio (I'll post a link to it next week) so I thought I would take the time to discuss the strategy I used to create the portfolio:

The purpose of the portfolio is to communicate to a potential employer that you have the skills necessary to meet their needs. In other words, you are COMMUNICATING your skills VISUALLY.

So, in deciding what content you want in there, you should first decide what you want to communicate. Are you good with computers, a good sketcher, a good design strategist, a good model maker or what?

For my portfolio, I wanted to show that I had both experience and versatility. I chose only the projects that had the best sketches, model photography, and computer renders. To show diversity, I also included some of my concept art, graphic designs, web designs, and fine art pieces. The overall effect I wanted to generate was something along the lines of "wow, this guy is really good at a whole bunch of stuff, what isn't he good at?!"

Every Single page should reinforce the main message you want to communicate. Unfortunately, it will be hit and miss finding a company that will buy into your statement, but when one does, you can rest assured that your interests and talents will closely coincide with your employers.

As far as formatting goes, When I did my resume and portfolio, I wanted to maximize the publish-ability of my work. I have printed copies, digital copies with small file-sizes, digital copies with very large file-sizes, online information, PDFs, INDs, PSDs, Text files, Word Documents, Gifs, Jpegs, and a sample packet that I could email or print and mail at a moment's notice. This is why:

Sometimes companies will request that you do not mail anything to them in the post and that you submit your work online or in an email. Others request that you do not email them, but mail it to their HR department. Still others want you to copy and paste your information into a web form that goes into their database. Others just want links to online versions of your portfolio (or even just you're Core-folio)

Also, when you are looking for work, you want to get them to want to see more and more of your work (the wow-factor that I tried to go for in my portfolio). So a good strategy is to create a "sample packet" that contains a cover letter, your resume (one page only!), and a page or two of your work (I would include only the best of the best). This way, when they open your packet, they can give the resume to HR, and then look right at your best stuff. Most likely they will want to learn more about why you chose certain designs and what kind of sketching skills you might have. It is kind of like bait fishing.

I try to avoid showing my work online unless it is requested because it destroys the "lure" effect that abridged portfolio samples can generate. But again, I want it all online, just in case someone wants to see it.

By the way, if you doubt my qualifications or prerequisites for making these suggestions, I can happily reply that the above mentioned strategies resulted in two full-time job offers this last Friday. Booyah.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Who Owns Design?

Despite what I would like to think, designers are not the stewards of good design. Rather, I would have to admit that my friends and colleagues no just as much about good design as I do. Sometimes they don't know why they know, but they do nonetheless. The only thing that might differentiate us is the fact that they may not be able to draw as well or explain clearly why a particular product is out of whack. Nevertheless, I no longer feel like I have to justify to friends my existence as a designer and why they should really listen to me. Here is why:

Everyone is a consumer, user, or commentator of the products and services they buy. By the success of online reviewers and periodicals, people are very quick to identify the shortcomings in a given design. There is always room for improvement. Well, what if the masses were involved in the decision making of the design process? I would then be more of a spokesperson of the collected consumer consensus, as apposed to a hippie high end designer.

A lot of corporations try to include us when they are developing a new product, but intellectual property management forbids them to disclose any more information then they would like to. This withholding of information is ultimately detrimental to the design process. I believe that the more information you can collect and organize, the better decisions you can make.

I do not assume that I can anticipate what people will like and what they won't like. To do so is either dishonest or self-centered. I have to concede that sometimes, superior ideas require outsiders' assistance to reach their full potential. I cannot say that I am always greater than my own ideas. It is pretty much consistently the other way around.

So what about patents, intellectual property, and corporate interests? Well, they have their place, and they have traditionally worked so far. But there has never been an alternative, at least not for a long time.

We can look to nature as a good example of how collaboration of many different systems has come to produce an essentially perfect design. This kind of goes along the lines of William McDonough's Cradle to Cradle concept. Nature, in a not so business-like fashion, collected and interpreted data for thousands of years and applied its findings to minor feature upgrades in its products. It connected the complaints and failures of the previous designs and proposed new solutions to them.

We, too, as a human race have generally done the same thing. We decided that it was better to farm than to chase wild game across the tundra. We decided that this iron material was fairly handy. The industrial revolution and the information superhighway are other noteworthy improvements. All of our biggest innovations have used the help from all of us.

I am not saying that an "open source" strategy will necessarily replace tried and true business models, but I am saying there is some potential worth looking at.

Here are some potential benefits from a collaborative design effort:

  • Giving students at the university level experience with the organization and management aspects of product development.
  • Cross-pollination of experience between Marketers, Engineers, Managers, Manufacturers, Psychologists, Anthropologists, Designers, and many more.
  • Pooling of resources.
  • Snow-balling public relationships by including a greater demographic of consumers with the development process.

That's just off the top of my head for now. I do believe that greater things can be achieved by shedding the idea that we are more of an authority than our colleagues. The may not have as much experience as we do, but their ideas might help your idea become something greater than you had ever anticipated.