Advertisement

What Should Be In Every Designer's Portfolio (but probably isn't)

by
Student iconAre you a student? Get a yearly Tuts+ subscription for $45 →

In this article, Harrison Ambs shares his thoughts on the pitfalls involved with being a designer, 3D or otherwise, and gives some excellent advice on making your portfolio stand out from the crowd. A must-read for anyone looking to make a living from their love of design.


So you've knocked out a few tutorials...
now you want to do this and get paid.

So you've knocked out a few tutorials, you have item after item that looks slick and shows off a wide swatch of knowledge about the programs you're running, and you've even thrown in a few things of your own. Now you want to do this and get paid. But it seems that every Art Director you go to responds with a rejection, leaving you out in the cold and wondering what you're doing wrong. As a former Art Director myself, I'll explain one of the most common pitfalls a new designer faces when starting out in the world of design.

Let's jump right in with the question you're invariably asking : "what did I do wrong?" Unfortunately, that's the wrong question. The issue isn't what you're doing wrong, it's what you're lacking as a designer. Most Art Directors and managers are ultimately interested in one thing and one thing only : are you able to solve a problem?

Most Art Directors and managers are ultimately interested in one thing, and one thing only : are you able to solve a problem?

I'll give you an example of something I faced recently. We had a new client who needed a design package. The only caveat was that this package had to be used for all of their affiliates with a variety of styles and situations. So now I'm not designing something for one client; I'm essentially dealing with multiple clients each with their own needs, what they are expecting and what they can use. To put it bluntly, it was a nightmare. I'm going to have no contact with any of these affiliates, and any one of them can come back with notes that could upset a different affiliate....well, you get the idea.

Now, I'm not expecting a new designer or one with limited experience to know right off the bat what they should do, but at the very least you should be able to identify and rank the problems that you'll be facing with a situation like that. At the end of the day, when we strip away the Photoshops, Cinema 4D's, Illustrators, Wacoms, InDesigns - we are all simply problem solvers. Each of our clients have needs, and we are paid to address them.

...and if you try to sneak in something you made using a tutorial as your own original work, you go from 'inbox' to 'trash can' faster than OS X can make it happen.

So how does this relate to you? Well, imagine you're in my position. I'm looking to hire a freelancer to help me out with an affiliate project. I have a pile of resumes sitting next to me and they are all starting to merge into one. Yes, you all have a sense of composition. Yes, you all know how to use color. Yes, I can tell you subscribe to Cgtuts+, because I recognize some of the techniques in there (and if you try to sneak in something you made using a tutorial as your own original work, you go from 'inbox' to 'trash can' faster than OS X can make it happen). But lets say you want to stand out, rise to the top of the resume pile. How do you grab my attention?

Short answer is a case study. Take a project where you had to solve a problem and, starting from the beginning, walk me through your process. Go back to the project that caused you the largest headache; that one that where sat with your head in your hands, staring at your keyboard, struggling to come up with the answer. That's the project I want to see. Any designer can be a good one when they're given the opportunity; I want to hire the designer that makes that opportunity.

Make your voice heard, ask if you can help out anyone or simply find out what they did to fix their own problems.

Where do you go from here? Good question. It's difficult starting out, but the opportunities exist. You have to be savvy, keep your head up, and know what you're dealing with going in. Cruise places like CGtalk to see what other people are doing, and to help with problems if you can. Make your voice heard, ask if you can help out anyone or simply find out what they did to fix their own problems. Or put that stipulation in your resume - offer to have someone take you for a test drive. Have them toss you a sample project and see what you can come up with; I actually started out on my path to Art Director in a situation much like that.

So yes, learn the programs, learn design. Make pretty things that move. Wow your friends, impress your enemies. But at the end of the day when it's 'crunch-time', and we're in the trenches with a deadline storming on the horizon and a client who has to deal with 15 different affiliates, I want be able to look over at you and know you're with me.

Problem solving. It's what we do.


Advertisement