Presenting Your Work: A Framework for Success
As creatives, our portfolios allow us the means of sharing a bit of our personality and demonstrating a level of experience in ways a resume can’t. A well-designed portfolio with high-quality work has the power to open doors, but there are new challenges waiting on the other side.
When interviewing for a creative position, at some point you will likely be asked to present your portfolio. If you’ve made it this far, the good news is that you can be certain your resume was to the liking of the robot responsible for the initial screening and the quality of your work was good enough to pique the interest of someone in ownership of an actual pair of human eyes. This next step is the most critical, however, and your success will hinge on your ability to communicate your design process.
Fortunately, there’s a simple framework you can use that makes explaining any project easy. Before we look at that, though, let’s take a moment to explore why this stage is so important and
why spending the time to improve your ability to present is a worthwhile investment.
You may be wondering why your presentation skills hold so much weight, especially if you feel like the quality of work speaks for itself. In just about any professional design setting, interpersonal skills are just as important as your creativity. Being able to explain your thought process and provide the rationale for your decisions is a vital part of both working within a team and pitching to and persuading clients.
Though it may seem a bit counterintuitive, your upwards mobility as a creative is not tied to your creative output, but to your interpersonal skills. Delivering killer work is great but doesn’t necessarily qualify you to lead a team or manage people. When you’re interviewing, the portfolio presentation serves not only to check your competence as a designer but also as a communicator. For this reason, it’s equally important to demonstrate not only clarity of thought and process, but confidence as well.
The ability to articulate intuitions into logical connections and place them in a sequence that others can follow isn’t an easy skill to develop, but can be honed with practice. The best way to go about developing this skill is by incorporating intent and analysis into every step of your workflow and documenting your rationale for each decision made along the way. The first step is to understand that your role is that of a problem-solver. Every decision you make should be viewed through this framework.
Any given project you undertake will have specific parameters that dictate the deliverables. These should not be mistaken for the problem itself, but rather, the space you have to solve it. For example, say you were given the task of designing a poster for a touring band that’s making a surprise stop in your city. Understanding things like the band’s history, their genre, the age group of their average listener, where the posters will be displayed, and whether they’ve got a strong local fanbase are all things you’ll want to take into account when designing your poster.
The better the grasp you have of the problem to be solved, the easier it will be to arrive at a rationale-backed solution. This is why it’s important to begin your process with a research phase, the second and final step of the framework. Doing so sets the foundation for all decisions that follow, and the more informed you are, the stronger the rationale for each decision.
Students often make the mistake of jumping right into iterating, moving pieces around until they find an arrangement they like, but trust me, do not skip the research phase. Many do and it shows. When you are presenting your portfolio and your interviewer asks why you’ve selected a certain color or typeface, or chosen a particular visual style, unless your solution was the result of research, your answer will not be satisfactory.
Intuition is great but it’s subjective. In order for people to understand why you’ve made the choices you have, focus on connections found through research. Your personal brand of creativity is demonstrated in how you choose to solve the problem at hand, but by showing your process you frame yourself as being reliable and process-driven.
When designing your portfolio, pay special attention to the text you choose to include with each project. Try to strike a balance that provides enough context for visitors to understand the work without your presence while also leaving you ample room to dive deeper into the details when asked to present. It should be clear to anyone viewing your site both what the broader goals of the project were and what your specific role was. Writing out a secondary document for yourself that you can review before presenting is a great way to ensure you hit all the main beats and cover any major insights. Lastly, when it comes time to present, people from other departments might be present as well, so aim to communicate your rationale in a clear and precise way that’s easy for both designers and non-designers alike to follow.