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  About the author  

Eleni Swengler is a print and web designer located in Baltimore, Maryland. She has over 13 years of experience in the industry, including four years of teaching design as an assistant professor.

While building her freelance clientele, Eleni has held a number of positions in the industry. She worked for the Discovery Channel as a senior web designer on the interactive side and as a staff designer on the TV side. Her web design experience also includes a position at a start-up dotcom. Currently, she works as a senior designer at Towson University.

Eleni's freelance clients have included the New England Journal of Medicine, McKinsey & Company, USA Today, The Baltimore Orioles, AOL, and a variety of associations.



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Portfolio Design 101
By Eleni Swengler
In the graphic design profession a portfolio documents your work and serves as a stepping stone to a design job. A portfolio should showcase the work it contains – not compete with it. It should also evolve as a career progresses. Newly minted graduates will have a large body of student work, and few if any printed pieces. A professional ten years into their career will have a focused book with printed pieces that show their career path. There are three types of portfolios: traditional, online, and PDF. Online and PDF portfolios can pique an employer’s interest and lead to an interview, but the traditional portfolio ultimately seals the deal and enables a designer to secure a challenging, creative position.

Four factors need to be addressed before building a portfolio:

1. What do you want your portfolio to communicate about you?
Do you want employers to see that you have a specific area of focus, or you develop strong conceptual solutions to design problems, or that you can solve design problems in many different mediums and formats? The message you want to communicate is reflected in how the portfolio is constructed and the work included in it.

2. Portfolio Size and Format
Many portfolio formats are available, from custom-built cases lined with beautiful fabrics to mass-produced vinyl portfolios with acetate sleeves to 3-ring presentation binders. Employers are usually more impressed with a custom case than a flimsy mass-produced one. A primary benefit of a custom-built case is that work is mounted on boards, and presentations can be revised easily. This may not matter for new graduates, but working professionals often customize presentations for every client.

Plan on using a smaller portfolio if attending interviews or client presentations requires traveling long distances, but one that’s not so small that there’s no room to show larger pieces to their best advantage.

3. Number of Projects
A good rule of thumb is to include between 12-15 samples. Don’t go over 20. Interviewers are usually pressed for time and don’t have hours to spend looking at one designer’s book.

4. Sequencing Work
Editing and organizing work is a skill in itself. Enlist friends, colleagues and teachers to help you weed out weaker projects. The first, middle and last projects in my portfolio are examples of my strongest work and usually feature large, integrated campaigns. In between these three pieces I include other projects such as brochures, editorial layouts, and logos. Start and end the presentation with the most impressive work.

Follow these general rules:
• Put fine art and illustration work in separate portfolios.

• Craftsmanship counts – take care that there are no smudges, glue spots
or poorly-trimmed boards.

• Professionally photograph packaging projects and other three-dimensional pieces and display only the photo in the portfolio.

• Update a portfolio every few years or as soon as there is a new project to add.

• Decide on a horizontal or vertical format and mount all work to stay consistent within that format.

• Display only the best work in a portfolio. Quality matters over quantity.

• If a project was created as part of a team be clear about the role you played in the creative process.

• Buy the best quality materials you can for both your work and portfolio – it will pay off.

Here are some unique ideas to help a portfolio stand out:
• Consider integrating sketches to show how a concept evolved. This can be done by building a pocket on back of a board or acetate sleeve, and storing the sketches there. The sketches can also be mounted directly below a larger version of the project so they can be viewed as the project is discussed.

• If black boards are used to mount work, Xerox your personal logo (if you have one) onto off-black Pantone paper. Spray it with fixative and glue it onto the back of the board. Do this for every board in the portfolio. As the boards are flipped over during an interview a subtle print of your logo will be seen on the back of each board.

• Create an “inspiration board” to go with one of the projects. This board will feature sketches, photos, color swatches, and any other materials that provided inspiration and led to the concept for the project.

• Use several boards or pages to document an involved campaign. If a logo was created for the campaign use the first page to display the logo. Print the logo in black and white centered within a 3 x 3 inch square box. Cut out this box and mount it in the center of the board. This creates drama and serves as an interesting introduction for the rest of the project.

Whether you’re a design novice or a seasoned veteran, it’s always good to keep your portfolio fresh so you can respond to new opportunities at a moment’s notice. Well-designed portfolios filled with creative work stand out and get noticed.

About the Author

© 2007 Eleni Swengler

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