The Online Portfolio Paradox

How might we impress, when we are not allowed too?

Dear design community, smart leaders, recruiters and hello World! I am browsing the world of job and internship opportunities right now and I just realized as someone who doesn’t already found his place in the design industry, I am kind of fucked. Wherever I look there is this omnipresent sentence: ”We look forward to your portfolio”.

When I browse through Medium I can find a ton of inspiring posts about how to create the perfect portfolio or X Tips to impress your future employer. The portfolio, as it seems, is a tool to leave a lasting mind-blowing first impression. It’s dress to impress, but this does not suit me.

I do not have an outstanding portfolio, I am not a superstar and I did not come up with a startup on the back of a napkin. The truth is I graduated last year as an Interaction Designer. Besides my school projects I had and have the pleasure to be an intern at two of the most amazing places in the world, but except the projects back from design school, everything I worked on in the last two years is confidential!

How might I as a designer deal with the fact that I have to show the world what I can when I am not allowed to? I cannot be the only designer, who cannot show what he did lately? Aren’t we troubling on a daily base with NDAs?

I started to ask around and I was quite shocked when I heard that there is a pretty low barrier to show confidential work. Seriously WTF! Should the first impression I give a future client or employer be that I do not care about an NDA. Is that how I build trust in a trade off for impressing someone else?

Some mentioned I could show my skills through a side project. As much I love my side projects and I always have something going on, those are often not related to my actual work and I do not see the reason why I should come up with a redesign of a popular website in a minimal design or copying a project, just to show my skills. Time is valuable and I know that a real project mostly never could be a one-man show and that having guts is awesome, but research, prototyping, testing and especially the collaboration in a team are those things, which makes an experience shine, which couldn’t be shown in a personal side project. Just copying or updating something which is outdated with no actual need or no true passion, just for a portfolio is in my opinion just a big fat lie.

I am proud of my work from school, but those are schoolwork. Those are not really tested in the real world; they exist in a protected space, they probably would not survive out there and they just show one side of me. While I can show the process behind those projects, I had to realize that designing in the real world changed my process and experience drastically. Just showing those would force me to put me into the design school graduate box. Being a design grad is good, but even better when you can show some real world experience in some way.

Even if a client, the employer would give me the allowance to showcase the collaborative work on my personal side. It would feel kind of weird to tell the whole world look at me I did that project because it’s simply mostly not true. Designing an experience, service or product is teamwork and what you do as a designer is mostly just working on several small wheels, which form the whole thing. Explaining my role and work is not just a showreel uploaded to Vimeo, not the final product, it would be centered around the process but focusing on a process would probably blow up the initial idea to get simple access to my portfolio. Addressing my role in a team, the dynamics, the outcome and the process is from my point of view part of an interview and not of my online appearance.

I wonder if we need to transform the portfolio into another medium, should we focus more on writing about our thoughts, actions, beliefs instead of showing a project we made just a fragment of it. Could writing may be the way to go? Shit do I need to become a writer too?

At the end, we are in a world where everyone screams for a portfolio and where you are no one without one but most of our design consultant work are not for public eyes made. Portfolios are a vanity affair and mostly there are for a first impression or private work. Is having a portfolio almost only possible for recently graduated or freelancer?

So dear design world, I cannot believe that I am the only one, who cannot really show what he did. How do you show your work when you are not allowed to and dear recruiters how do you deal with us? How do you consider us? So let’s discuss below.

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