7 Tips For Making A Great Design Portfolio
It’s a good time of year for portfolio work. Some of you might be about to graduate and looking for your first job, internship or staying ready in case a great job opportunity comes knocking at your door.
Are you ready to get cracking ?
1. YOUR PORTFOLIO WILL NEVER BE READY
Your portfolio is a never ending piece of work. As you evolve and grow in your career, you will forever add, evolve, take out and tweak stuff. I know people who, for years, tell me they will pursue their passion “once their portfolio is ready”, unfortunately for them, that day will never come.
Your portfolio is as ready as your next interview. Accept that it is an amazing piece of live work, that evolves with you, overtime.
2. START & FINISH WITH A STRONG PROJECT
Classic advice, still relevant today. When you show your portfolio, you have very little time to make a strong impact. The most memorable projects are simply the first and the last. I would begin with the longest/most detailed project first as it is when you will have the most amount of attention from your interviewer. End with an impactful project you truly love, it will be the impression they take away from meeting you.
3. EXPRESS YOUR UNIQUE DESIGNER VALUES
Footwear design is a tough, competitive business. It is important to stand out as an individual with substance, if you want to grow in the field. Find out what is important to you, and make sure your work reflects it. Are you passionate about a particular sport, and if so, why ? Do you have a unique approach to problem solving ? Is psychology or sociology a passion of yours ? Do you have a hobby outside of work that benefits you in the work place ?
I’ll give you my personal example : “My name is Solene Roure. I am passionate about responsible design process and collaboration. I would like to use this to tackle sustainability issues. I’m obsessed with comfort but not at the expense of style. I love to challenge gender stereotypes because they are due for an update. (etc…)
I have been working on these for years. I suggest you keep the concept of “VALUES” in your mind, this tool will help you for the rest of your career
4. SPEND TIME REFINING YOUR CV/RESUME
Writing a powerful CV can take as long as putting together a portfolio. Take time to write, rewrite, edit and repeat. In fact it deserves a (future) post of it’s own. Meanwhile, remember this :
-Make sure your name and your job title are the first thing people see.
-Make sure you are as visual and direct as possible because employers don’t have much time to read them.
-No typos ! Ask your friends to proof read before sending !
5. CONSIDER YOUR PORTFOLIO LIKE A DESIGN BRIEF
You will have to physically carry your portfolio (and yourself !) to interviews IRL. So consider the format and the situation. For example : will you be presenting sitting down or standing up ? To one person or a group ? Will it take one hour or five minutes ? These are very real interview variables you have no control over and you don’t want to be lugging around an unbound A2 portfolio in these situations.
Don’t panic, think practical. If you can, avoid laptops as a portfolio (they are bit fiddly for presenting) and invest in a tablet (or borrow one). Your portfolio will be adjustable and easy to pass around. If you chose to print it make sure the quality is flawless, and a portable format.
6. SHOWCASE YOUR THINKING/PROCESS
Kick-ass drawings and lifelike photoshop simulations of footwear will only get you so far. Companies are looking for designers who are problem solvers and creative thinkers.. Explain where your ideas come from using mood boards, sketches, quotes and anecdotes… Being a successful designer is not about being the best at drawing, it’s about being a great connector of ideas and people.
7. BE PREPARED
When you get the interview, it’s time show how dependable you are. What you lack in experience, you can make up in preparation and passion.
Show up on time (even better : show up 5 minutes early !). Wear clean clothes, have a breath mint, don’t wear too much perfume (seems like a given but just in case). Make sure your tablet is fully charged and the screen is clean, If you are nervous consider taking a taxi to your interview, ask a friend to be on call or nearby.
Be prepared and you will do great !
Best of luck,
On creative process…
As a Concept Kicks contributor, I would like to use my experience and my network to share tips and stories that can help inspire our readers.
Having been in the business for 15 years (freelancing for last eight), I have had the opportunity to design hundreds of products. The process has been rollercoaster-like at times, and yet I always see myself returning back to the creative process I was taught in product design school :
- Identify your consumer
- Find out what problem you can solve for them
- Find a creative solution
That’s all great as a starting point, but how do you find a creative spark in the first place ? What happens when you can’t seem to come up with ideas ?
I asked a few experienced footwear creatives for their insights : -Tom and Hector, Founders of The Footsoldiers design agency in London, UK which is now in its tenth year of existence ; Kayko Chung a senior footwear designer with 18 years of experience based in California, and Joel Salamin, Rapha Cycling’s very own footwear designer.
I asked about their creative process and for tips on staying creative. Interestingly, they first all highlighted that their job requires them to hit strict and often short deadlines. There seems to be no clear chunks of time allocated exclusively to creative thinking as project phases often overlap, and “doing” takes priority over “thinking”.
However, they collectively agree that research and “being connected” is key to their creative process. This implies that creative thinking is constantly flowing through every part of their work.
But what does research mean ? Kayko Chung says “I don’t label myself as a footwear designer. I’m a research nerd. I love information”. She likes to broaden her research field outside of footwear to gain inspiration. For The Footsoldiers, that involves being immersed deep in the many facets of streetwear culture through trend research, retail, instagram and general lifestyle. They also rely on technology and developing their skills to keep pushing innovation, investing in 3D Design for example.
Everyone agrees that travel for work or play (or both !) is the ultimate creative research tool. Travel allows to take a step back from pressure work situations and floods you with references you would not think to look for on the internet, for example.
That’s great when things are flowing, but happens when they hit a big creative wall? It seems that everyone just tries to get by and keep going. Fulled by their passion, Joel suggests to “Disconnect from your project.” He’s right : go for a walk, a run, a ride on your bike. You can also meditate, even for ten minutes. You have to calm down, take a break and let your brain cool off.
As I received their answers, I was surprised that none of our interviewees had more precise tips on igniting creativity. Each have designed hundreds of new products, they all are respected individuals within the industry. It made me realise that there is opportunity to explore creative thinking further, perhaps even deconstruct the process. Personally, I am always looking for the naiveté we used to hold as children when painting and drawing. I try and go back to paper, tape, scissors and good old craft. And I start PLAYING ! Often it’s when my most groundbreaking ideas come up. I also find calling a friend or doing something non-footwear related like cooking or taking a bath can be great. Sadly most companies don’t have bathtubs available for employees, but offering spaces like libraries with craft tables, or even board games could help designers think creatively and disconnect for a while. And honestly, even as a freelancer, I find it hard to carve out the time to just be creative and don’t often get to practice free thinking.
So why didn’t any of the designers share similar tips? I believe it’s because they feel like they have no time to take a “play break” or even an “actual break”.
In an increasingly competitive industry where physical product are usually more revered than creative thinking, how does one convince their employer that giving designers time to be creative will get them direct return on their investment ? One suggestion would be to give them a flexible half-day here and there, free of emails for them to read, write, and play without direct expectation ?
Finally, I asked them what kept them going season after season. As they all pointed out, designing and developing footwear is a high pressure job : hard deadlines, cost restrictions, the expectation to create something newer and better every season, not to mention the overlapping projects in an increasingly fast-paced and demanding market. The most resounding answer: passion.
The Footsoldiers explained “Fortunately for us, the industry is a relatively small community and we have some good connections. We are fortunate enough to be able to work with many clients that we consider friends. That’s a big motivation for us.” I agree with them, we are all working in a very competitive industry, yet we ultimately all thrive on connection, sharing the passion for the craft and enjoying the process with great people. Kayko points out that “ Keeping myself surrounded by pro-active people who want to make the best product possible is important to me. I always want to be learning, from everybody. Whether they are veterans in the industry or a young designer, we can all learn from each other !”
It’s important to keep looking forward with a positive attitude. Joel says “I sometimes think that everything has been done in footwear, so why bother ? But it’s not true : there are still so many things to invent and re-invent. The last five to ten years have been amazing thanks to new technologies coming out (knitting, welding, 3D printing…). And, although I sometimes struggle to imagine what the next big thing could be, I remind myself of all the areas where some of these technologies haven’t been applied yet, all the amazing products that brands have in their archives and all the mix & match that can still be done. That’s what keeps me going…”
Dear Reader, do you ever suffer from creative block ? Do you have tips to get over it ? I feel that we are at the start of a fascinating discussion…
Big thanks to the below interviewees :
- Tom Astrella and Hector Rubio are CO-Founders and Owners of The Footsoldiers Design Consultancy. They work with brands such as Under Armour, The North Face, Puma and many, many more. @TheFootsoldiers
- Kayo Chung is a Canadian senior footwear designer with over 18 years of experience working for with brands like New Balance, Nike, Salomon and more recently UGG.
- Joël Salamin is a Swiss designer. He studied industrial design at ECAL in Lausanne. He has been designing footwear, which he compares to “micro architecture” since 2014 working for Vivobarefoot and more recently, Rapha Cycling. @thejoelsalamin