5 Mistakes That Will Destroy Your Architecture Portfolio

This story was originally published on RedlinedArchitecture.com, where I help architecture students and young professionals make killer architecture portfolios.

Let’s talk about your architecture portfolios, ladies and gents. Thousands of architecture students and young professionals will be designing and utilizing their architecture portfolios this year. Make sure yours stands apart from the competition by avoiding these mistakes.

1. REPLICATING A SUCCESSFUL PORTFOLIO

It’s human nature to see someone achieve what you hope to achieve and then try to find out how they did it. As a result, I understand the desire to replicate an architecture portfolio that was part of a successful job or college application.

The problem with this method is that it misrepresents the author.

Your architecture portfolio is an opportunity to present your abilities, talents, interests, and aesthetic to your audience. When you replicate another individual’s architecture portfolio, you are robbing yourself the opportunity to accurately and genuinely express these qualities. Furthermore, this misrepresentation will make it extremely difficult for your audience to grasp an accurate representation of who you are.

Imagine that an Italian restaurant owner visits a burger restaurant for dinner. The Italian restaurant owner notices that the burger restaurant is packed with customers (must be 5 Guys, eh?). They figure that the burger restaurant must be so busy because they have a great menu. So the Italian restaurant owner develops his or her best replicate of the menu from the burger restaurant, shares it with his or her customers, and waits to see the same success.

Do you think this would work? Of course not! No one goes to an Italian restaurant craving a burger. The burger menu does not fit within the identity of an Italian restaurant. Furthermore, the success of the burger restaurant is likely due to much more than just the menu. They may also have great service, comfortable seating, reasonable pricing, etc.

Likewise, the success of an architecture portfolio is related to many aspects — the nature of work, the craft of the drawings, the fluidity of the writing, etc. Taking one aspect, like the layout of the portfolio, and inserting your own work into it does not guarantee success. Do not bring a burger menu into your Italian restaurant, ladies and gentlemen.

2. INCLUDING TOO MUCH CONTENT

Deciding what content you want to include in your architecture portfolio is the easy part. Choosing which content NOT to include, conversely, is extremely difficult. As a result, many people will avoid the pain of purging content and include a massive amount of content in their architecture portfolios. Why? “Just to be safe,” of course.

Here’s the deal, the more content that you include per page (or per spread), the more difficult it becomes for your audience to absorb the content.

Despite our naive belief that our audience spends hours reviewing our architecture portfolios, realistically, they probably spend between 15 and 30 seconds on each page/spread. Yes, 15 to 30 seconds! You want to make it easy for your audience to absorb your content because you want them to remember your architecture portfolio among a pool of applicants. Furthermore, when there is a lot of content on a page it is difficult for your audience to know what they are supposed to focus on, which can become very frustrating. I probably do not need to tell you that frustrating the people that evaluate your portfolio is a bad idea, but I’m going to tell you anyways: Frustrating the people that evaluate your portfolio is a bad idea.

So how do you make the biggest impact in 15 seconds? That’s the question that you should ask yourself when choosing what content to include on every page. Be confident in your work by being concise in your presentation.

3. COMPLICATING THE LAYOUT

The focus of your architecture portfolio should be on the work inside, not the layout design. Do not get me wrong, the layout of your portfolio is extremely important. However, this does not mean that it needs to be complicated.

The purpose of your layout design is to present your work with clarity and not confusion.

Complicated layouts can distract your audience from your work. When you’re choosing how to present your work, keep it simple.

Consistency is key when it comes to your layout design. When the layout is inconsistent, your audience will waste time reorienting themselves every time they turn the page. By keeping your layout consistent, your audience will fall into a natural rhythm that will allow them to focus on your work.

4. LISTENING TOO MUCH TO OUTSIDE INPUT

Everyone works differently. Some people require continual feedback in order to progress. Others can work efficiently independent of feedback. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, the crucial thing to keep in mind is that you are the most important aspect of your architecture portfolio.

When you allow other’s comments and suggestions to control decisions related to your architecture portfolio, you will begin to lose grasp of your identity in your architecture portfolio.

An architecture portfolio presents a unique situation because you are in complete control of all decisions. This contrasts a studio project where you must continually factor in your professor’s comments or a project at work where you must address all of your supervisor’s redlines. Sometimes this is a difficult transition to make when you go about designing your portfolio. Since you are acclimated to factoring in additional comments, suggestions and opinions it’s natural to feel as though your architecture portfolio should be treated the same way. On the contrary, you get to do whatever YOU want to do in your architecture portfolio. If your professor or supervisor suggests a change that you do not want to make then you do not have to make the change!

I am not suggesting to disregard comments and suggestions. All input is valuable input and you should take it into account. But, at the end of the day, you get to make the decision because your portfolio is a representation of you and you only. Stay in control of your own identity.

5. ORDERING YOUR PROJECTS LIKE A TIMELINE

When it comes time to design your architecture portfolio, it is very likely that you will sit down and list the projects that you plan to include in chronological order. That is not the mistake.

The mistake is never returning to that list to dig deeper into your projects and discover an alternative narrative to the sequence of your projects. Chances are that 80–90% of you (which is 100% conjecture) will just keep those projects in chronological order for your architecture portfolio. A red flag should pop into your mind whenever you recognize a situation where the majority of people are doing the same thing. Why? Because that means there’s an incredible opportunity for you to do something different! Why would you want to do something different? Because you do not stand apart from your competition by doing what everyone else is doing.

In order to separate yourself from the competition, you will have to do what is unpopular.

Sequencing your projects in chronological order is predictable, common, and ultimately boring. Instead, use your sequence as an opportunity to illustrate an ability to form relationships between your work — that will impress your audience. For example, you could view your work from a macro level to see what topics become apparent. Then group your projects together based on those topics that you discover. Your architecture portfolio is not a timeline of your work, it’s a story about your skills, abilities, and experiences. Treat it as such.

If you’re interested in supercharging your architecture portfolio then join hundreds of others that have taken my FREE 7-day email course where I share my 5 C’s of a successful architecture portfolio.

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