Tips to make your next portfolio review more effective

If you’re reading this article, I’m sure you are someone who works in the realm of design. You know the importance of a design portfolio and getting feedback about it every now and then.

In my design experience, I have gotten my portfolio reviewed at least by 10 professionals. The reviews definitely helped me learn a lot about my work and at the same time, it helped me realize that it is my responsibility to make the most out of these sessions.
One needn’t go through 10 reviews to realize this! Therefore, I decided to write this article.

Be prepared
When going for a portfolio review make sure that your portfolio is “flawless” in your eyes. You do not want your reviewer to point out things that you already know are not right. This would be a waste of time for both parties. Therefore, make sure your portfolio is polished to your best ability. This will help your feedback session with the reviewer talking about the finer points that you overlooked or never thought about.

Be prepared for technical failures
If you’re going to a portfolio event, make sure you have an offline/pdf version of your website available on your desktop. As there are some fifty odd students/professionals trying to access the wi-fi, there is a high possibility that your pages don’t load during the review. You don’t want to sit in front of your reviewer twiddling fingers while your page loads. Be smart and have a backup plan.
It is also a good idea to charge your computer to 100%.

Have some questions in mind
Don’t just land in front of your reviewer and expect them to start giving you tips. Prepare some questions that are important to you to ask your reviewer. Having some question in mind ahead of time will not only help you guide the conversation, it will also help you build a rapport with your reviewer. Who knows, your insightful questions might peak their interest in you and they might want to share a job opportunity or will keep you in mind for future job openings.

Remember this is an opportunity where you can ask a professional, an expert in the field about their experience, their expectations from a design portfolio or a design candidate. So, don’t just consider this a review session, look at it as a potential networking opportunity too.
Some questions I always ask –
“Does my portfolio tell a story?”
“Does it come across as a portfolio of someone who has varied skills?”
“Does it engage you?”
“Would you hire me based on my portfolio?”

Treat this like an interview
Not only having some questions for the reviewer is important, it is also important to be prepared for any design related questions they might have for you. You should be able to defend your design decisions and be able to explain your process. These questions may very well be questions you might get asked at an interview and this would be a great place for practicing your answers and receive feedback on the same.

Do your homework — learn about your reviewer beforehand
If you’re going to a portfolio review event, make sure you know the reviewers’ bio. It will help you in aligning your goals with their area of expertise. For example, if you’re an aspiring UX designer, make sure you get your portfolio reviewed from someone in the same field or someone with a similar background as yours.
In my opinion, this is extremely important. During my first review at a portfolio event, I had not paid attention to the background of the reviewers and it so happened that of the 3 people I had picked, 2 were illustrators. The session was not completely useless; they gave me suggestions about the color schemes and choices for my website but they were not able to give me advice on my UX portfolio.

The second time I went for a portfolio event, I was ready and had done my homework. I was reviewed by 4 UX designers that I picked based on my research. The 20 minutes I spent with each professional were extremely fruitful. Because I knew what their expertise was in, I was able to get all my doubts cleared and get some good advice regarding my resume, my projects, education and career path.

Take notes
While this is a no brainer, I have seen a lot of people who just show up and don’t care to take notes. You may think that you’ll remember all the feedback points, it is humanly impossible. You do not want all the awesome feedback and tips you got disappear into a black hole. I always carry a notebook and a pen and take notes. However, I have found that recording your conversation is better. You can go back to it later as many times as you want. Do take permission from your reviewer before you do this. I am pretty sure no one will say no :)

A lot of feedback you get on your portfolio will overlap. Once you are done with all the reviews, synthesize the information into bullet points and prioritize them. The feedback that was common amongst all your sessions should be your top action item.

It is important that you start implementing these bullet points that you summarized as soon as possible. In my opinion, start working on it the same or next day. You don’t have to implement all of it in one day… that can be a lot of work. Try one feedback in a day, this will get the momentum going and help you be on track.

Once you have implemented your feedback points and have a more polished portfolio, make sure you get your it reviewed soon in another 3–4 months.

To summarize

1. Get your portfolio ready to the best of your ability.

2. Have a pdf copy of your portfolio website as a back up.

3. Be ready with some questions related to your portfolio for your reviewer.

4. Be prepared to answer questions related to your design decisions. Treat this as an opportunity to practice for prospective interview questions.

5. Learn about your reviewer’s background.

6. Take notes or record your session.

7. Synthesize the feedback you received into actionable items.

8. Incorporate these actionable items in your daily/weekly schedule and start implementing them.

Where can I get my portfolio reviewed?
If you’re a student, get it reviewed by your teachers who teach you design. Some schools offer Portfolio as a class, you could enroll in those which will help you in building and organizing a professional portfolio along with feedback.

Events such as Adobe Creative Jam, AIGA Portfolio Day, Behance Portfolio Day are great events to have portfolios reviewed for both students and professionals alike.

If none of these events are happening around you, look up and you can reach out to your local design community. Again, seek out someone who’s background and experience align with your goals.

I hope you find these tips helpful. If you feel I might have missed some points, please feel free to say so in the comment section!

UX Designer, always eager to learn and makes great avocado cupcakes!

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