Tips for New Designers Part 3: Portfolio Reviews

Second only to the big client presentation or project launch, portfolio reviews are one of the most stressful experiences that designers open themselves up to. Regardless of whether it’s an informal review or as part of a job interview, having another designer review your work is a moment of vulnerability. Your challenge is to take that difficult experience and make it a positive one. Having done my share of presenting work and reviewing work, I put together a short list of guidelines for new designers as they get started with portfolio reviews.

What Do You Want?

Going into the review you’ll want to have a clear idea of what you hope to get out of it. This may be something that you discuss with the reviewer ahead of time, or it may not. In the case of a job interview this should be fairly clear, but in a less formal setting it may be helpful to give the reviewer some context to how they analyze the work. Regardless of how up front you are regarding your motives, try to steer the conversation and discussion of the work towards this goal. If things start to veer off course, bring the discussion back around.

Do Your Homework

In most cases, the portfolio review will be a result of your networking efforts. This is great because it means that you’re not entering into the conversation cold. Hopefully you have a rapport with the person who will be looking at your work. Try to gauge what type of work they respond to or what type of work they might be looking for. Try to position your portfolio in a way that shows that type of work.

In addition to helping to determine your presentation, learning more about the reviewer and their company shows a level of investment on your part. Being able to speak knowledgeably about their world says that you give a damn. Giving a damn sets you apart from those that don’t, immediately giving an edge.

Fortunately it’s not difficult to find information on people these days. Many companies have “Team” pages, and LinkedIn — or even a simple web search — can be a valuable asset. Following them on Twitter or Dribbble may be another way to see what they are interested in, though I wouldn’t recommend following them on all social networks possible to avoid coming off as a stalker.

Run the Show

A common mistake that I see new designers making during reviews is giving the control over to the reviewer. As the designer, you absolutely want to control the narrative about the work. This allows you to frame the discussion, make sure that you hit on the important points, and get what you want from the interaction. Under no circumstances should you give the book, website, or presentation to the reviewer unless it’s completely unavoidable. If this happens, it’s guaranteed that things will go sideways. Stay in control and keep things on track.

Totally, Completely, Absolutely Unapologetic

Once you’re in the middle of the review, make no excuses. This is not the time explain how, if you’d had more time, things would’ve gone differently; or if the client had any sense the project would’ve turned out better. Nor should you say that the project is old and looks a little dated. You can think those things, but under no circumstances should those thoughts cross your lips. The work is yours and you need to own it, warts and all. If you aren’t happy with some aspect of the project, take the time leading up to the review and fix it. Not doing so and apologizing or making excuses during the review reflects very poorly on you, so avoid it at all costs.

Put a Bow On It

After the review is complete, make sure to thank the reviewer profusely for their time even if it didn’t go as well as you would’ve liked. Even in an interview setting, gratitude for the feedback and time spent discussing work goes a long way. Before you leave, also ask what the next steps should be. After an interview, this can give you an idea about how long the decision process will take or who you should follow up with. If it’s a less formal review, you can inquire about keeping in touch with the reviewer or ask who else might be good to talk to. Always try to leave with an action item.

After the review, send a thank you note of some kind. An email is often sufficient, if you have the reviewers address. The note doesn’t have to be long or take you much time to write, but you should thank the reviewer for their time and let them know that you will follow through on whatever the action item you discussed was.

If hope that you found this guide helpful and that it eased the review process. While it touches on some high-level items that would make a portfolio review a good experience for you as well as the reviewer, you’ll also get better at it with practice. Frequently showing your work to people will just make it easier. Indeed, talking about our work is a critical part of being a designer. If you have additional points about what I missed or have a chance to put these ideas into practice, I’d like to hear what you think.

This is part 3 in a 3-part series for new designers. If you missed them, the first part is about putting together a portfolio and the second was about networking.


Originally published at www.iracummings.com.

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