6 Reasons Why Students Should Attend The AIGA Student Portfolio Review on April 23rd


I’ve had the pleasure to be involved with the AIGA Student Portfolio Review on some level every year for the past 11 years now. From a junior block designer being told I need to work on some “real world” projects to sole proprietor on the other side of the table reviewing student work and a lot of steps in between. Below are six reasons why I think students should make the effort to attend and learn from this year’s Portfolio Review.

1. Get real world advice from seasoned designers.

What do all the people reviewing your work have in common? They’re all gainfully employed designers working in some capacity in their chosen field. Some are fresh out of school and can give you some recent tactics that have served them well early in their career. Others are firm owners with decades of experience that can give you hard nosed insights that will take you years of mistakes to figure out on your own. It is rare to find so many of them under one roof and an invaluable opportunity to spend fifteen minutes having them review your book.

2. Get back-to-back feedback and criticism.
Having three to four people look at your work in one hour can be eye opening. If three people in a row points out a typo, bad craftsmanship, or a weak project in your book. Take note. The small nuances of portfolio critiques and constructive criticism can easily be shrugged off in isolation but when it is independently verified by different people.

Also the great thing about this is that you can totally blow through some of these reviews and not get your self esteem too bent out of shape. I remember completely bombing on a couple of reviews but not getting too worried about it because another opportunity was around a corner.

3. See firsthand what your peers and rivals from other schools and design programs are showing.
In school it’s easy to design in a vacuum when your audience and support system is your design instructors and classmates. The late night comps and small group critiques might often times leave you with a design solution that doesn’t look so well thought out in the cold light of day when face with throngs of motivated students from other schools.

4. Learn how to present to complete strangers.
This is an invaluable skill to acquire early on in your career. You have to be ready and able to articulate your thoughts and ideas; why you chose a particular typeface or paper stock, the color story, the messaging. Because of the rapid fire nature of the AIGA Student Portfolio Review you’ll be presenting your portfolio to a wide variety of professionals and hopefully by the third or fourth reviewer you will have found a rhythm that will allow you to maximize your fifteen minutes with a reviewer.

5. Connecting with established professionals who can help you with your future goals.
You know the feeling. They “get” you. You read the same books, follow the same trends, agree on alot of the same things and they love your work. But they’re not currently hiring at the moment. Doesn’t matter. The biggest mistake I see are people who obviously click but because there wasn’t an immediate position opening the interest dissipated instantly and the student moved on to greener pastures. They’ve just missed the opportunity to utilize a powerful ally on their job search. From personal experience I can tell you that most job leads comes from people you barely know and often times it’s via someone that they know but you don’t. This is the strength of weak ties, leverage it. Once you exchange business cards make a point to follow up and keep in touch, email and LinkedIn are great mechanisms for facilitating this type of relationship. Also feel free to ask the reviewer if you can send them future projects to get feedback on, most reviewers would love to see design portfolios progress over time.

6. It can still be a great place to land that summer internship.

Over the years I’ve known numerous designers that have gotten internships and full time positions as a direct result of attending the portfolio review. This is a great opportunity for firms as well since it gives them a unique opportunity to compare apples to apples in a very fast paced environment and also allows them to cherry pick the top candidates from each graduating class or the most promising juniors for internships. Also, oftentimes, after reviewing your work most designers can usually point you in the right direction in terms of who you should probably be talking to.

So hopefully these six reasons will help encourage you design students around the Houston area to come on out on the 23rd. I look forward to speaking with some of you and reviewing your work. For those of you who haven’t yet registered for the Student Portfolio Review you can do so here.

By John Luu
Published April 10, 2010
AIGA encourages thoughtful, responsible discourse. Please add comments judiciously, and refrain from maligning any individual, institution or body of work. Read our policy on commenting.