15 August 2007


Carl Grivakis

Every May design students exit the great halls of their university with high expectations of the job market. Many find work within a month or two, becoming an employee of where they previously interned, or some through some other connections. Many others discover that competition is fierce and jobs may be few, many very talented individuals are turned down because of their inexperience or portfolio. When you go out to interview make sure that you and your work look their best. Here are some portfolio tips and tools I’ve used in my job hunt and have seen work for others.

There are several methods to show your work, whichever you choose, be sure to print and present with the best quality available to you. Do not let your craft abilities be your crutch, many art directors will be looking at your trimming and matting skills as much as your design ability. I suppose that’s why many job postings ask candidates that ‘pay attention to detail.’

Boards: This is the method we used in school, and some people prefer to use in their interview process. If you don’t mind the bulk of carrying around boards, then remember these few things when preparing your portfolio.

1. Maintain a uniform size and orientation on the boards. Choose something that is large enough to showcase the largest piece with enough margin, but also make sure the smallest pieces don’t become lost on the board. Make conscious choices on layout, if your showing a brochure, maybe have an open piece as well as the cover. Or show the front and back open, but overlapping one another.

2. Color. Choose a color that is subtle and enhances your work, rather than something that drowns it out. The most used color is black, since colors jump out the most from this background, but if you have pieces that are heavy with black print...consider a medium gray. I’d keep the color of the boards all uniform as well.

3. Carrying Case. Keep your board in immaculate shape, this is very important in presentation. Make sure you have a case, a professional one, that will not let the boards shift to much getting curved edges or water damage.

Boards are a good method if you want to keep your mounted pieces on a good firm backing that will not fold or easily break. The do get heavy though, especially when your using so many for a reasonable size portfolio of 10-14 pieces. They probably are the easiest for switching out pieces as well, but storage may also be a problem if you have limited space. I think boards might be better to show to a client rather than to a prospective job.

Book with Pages: This is my favorite method of presentation, I believe it is the most manageable and maintainable method of presentation. A book presents a few options as well, you can mount actual pieces of work or present photographed samples. Whole design sets can be shared on a spread as well, doubling your presentation space if needed. There are some things to consider when using a book as well.

1. Color – Most books come with black pages, as with boards…this will be your call. Be sure that anything you use is ‘acid free’ and archival quality so your prints don’t yellow too quickly.

2. Glare – Most books use clear plastic sheets to hold the pages. The clear plastic sheets do produce glare on pieces though, if you buy a book that uses punched boards you can mount directly on pages without using the plastic holder. I personally don’t mind the glare, but it could present problems.

When using a book, purchase something that will last you a good long time. Use a size suitable to hold your largest flat pieces with no problem. Consider photographing 3-d pieces and placing these on pages within the book. If you have two focuses in your portfolio, i.e. Illustration and Design, I would keep two separate books.

Design and Bound Book: If you want a more unique and creative portfolio you may design a personal book unique to your tastes. This could be something you layout like a scrapbook, a magazine, or a unique portfolio case. This is an exercise of your imagination.

Slides: An antiquated and unflattering method of making a portfolio, not really needed when we have computers and other means of file transfer. Color correction and photo retouching on slides simply isn’t an option.

CD: A digital version of your portfolio is a good method to leave something behind…or to send some of your work abroad for consideration. The method of delivery will be up to you, something as simple as PDF samples, or a little more complicated such as a self contained website or flash intro. Let the CD make an impression, if your sending the work to far off locations, try sending small post card samples, or design a self promotional kit to go with it. Having something physically printed with your work will make it more memorable. When using a digital medium also remember that you are not there to explain your work or answer questions, so be as informative as you can with descriptions of your work.

I hope these methods help you consider your portfolio carefully. The advice is given as guideposts to help find your own unique method of showcasing your work. As with any design project, consider the why behind each design decision…including your portfolio.

About the Author - Carl Grivakis - Graphic Designer and Production Artist as well as a design ethics enthusiast. Located in the Massachusetts he is the founder of PowderKeg Graphic Design and Tapp-d, which can be found online at www.grivakisgraphics.com/html/wordpress

Copyright © 2007, Carl Grivakis, All Rights Reserved