Portfolio Review FAQ 2012


What should I put in my book?
8 – 12 pieces of your absolute best work. This is the work that best represents you as a designer – what you’re interested in, what your experience is, what you’re capable of. You only have a short time with each reviewer, so remember: quality trumps quantity. Weaker pieces tend to bring the whole portfolio down, so if you can only show six outstanding projects that you’re extremely proud of, it’s better than showing six awesome pieces plus seven or eight mediocre/sloppy ones. The safest bet: bring 8 – 12 mind-blowingly awesome pieces.

How should I present my pieces?
There is no set size or format. Present your work however you like. Presentation definitely counts and will make your work (and you) look better, but it’s not as important as great ideas executed well. Keep in mind that there is limited table space at each review station, so projects larger than 18″ x 24″ (or similar) should be reduced to a more manageable size. Most students show their work at 11″ x 17″ (or similar) mounted on black mat boards.

Do I need a formal portfolio case?
We certainly encourage that, but it isn’t necessary. As long as your work is in a clean, presentable format, you should be fine. A funky, expensive portfolio case is totally unnecessary. If you choose not to use a case, we recommend that all pieces be mounted on mat boards that are all the same size, so that they make a clean, organized stack. If you’re worried about your presentation, consult one of your professors.

What about 3D work or packaging pieces? Can I bring those?
Use what we call the dinner plate test. If the piece is small enough to fit on a dinner plate, go ahead and bring the real thing, if you like. Anything larger than that will be cumbersome and will slow things down (not to mention risk damaging the piece). Larger pieces should be photographed in advance. Be sure to take multiple photos to show detail, multiple angles, and if necessary, scale.

Can I show my work on my laptop or iPad?
Yes. Times are changing, and many designers have more digital and interactive projects in their books than ever before. For the first time ever, we are encouraging the use of digital portfolios. But if you choose to show your work this way, keep the following in mind:

  • Be ready to go. You MUST have your work up and ready on the screen when you sit down. Sitting and waiting for your machine to load up and for your files to open will cost you precious time and, in all likelihood, irritate your reviewer. A dry run before the event is recommended.
  • Bring your own computer. None will be provided, so don’t show up with a disc and expect to present.
  • Make sure everything you need is on your computer. Wi-fi WILL NOT be available at event.
  • Adjust for the medium. Make sure all pieces are big enough to produce crisp, clean images on the screen without having to zoom in or out.
  • Charge your battery. You will not be able to plug your machine in when you sit down, so be sure to charge up the night before or the day of.

What else should I bring?
In addition to your portfolio, you should bring:

  • A picture ID.
  • Your resume.
  • Business cards are a good idea, if you have them.
  • A small notebook and something to write with. You’ll likely receive some of the best design advice you’ve ever had to date, so you’d be wise to take notes.

I’ve never been to a portfolio review. Should I be nervous? How should I act?
It’s true – there will be a lot of nervous people in attendance, but we do our best to keep the evening fun and enlightening. The reviewers know what it’s like to be in your shoes and are there because they want you to do well. It’s a fun evening for them, too. Be calm, be professional, and most of all, be yourself.

How should I dress?
There’s no dress code, really. Come dressed comfortably. Dressing to impress is always a good idea, however. Students who treat this event like an interview are often taken more seriously as a potential hire.

Can I choose my reviewers?
Unfortunately, no. Reviewers and students are paired completely at random.

But I really want to be reviewed by So-and-so McAwesomepants, my favorite designer…
There will be an overtime period / after party after the last session, where you will have a chance to introduce yourself to and meet with any reviewer you choose. During this period we encourage people to stick around, eat some delicious food, and mix and mingle.

How much time will I have with each reviewer?
About 15 minutes. Use your time wisely, and when your review is up, move on quickly so you don’t rob other students of their time as well.

What should I expect to get out of the evening?
The most honest criticism of your work you’ve ever had. Seriously.

Some students may shy away from such a brutal assessment of their work, but savvy students see the Portfolio Review as the best opportunity to get unbiased, constructive feedback from complete strangers who truly know what they’re talking about. And don’t just wait for that hard criticism – ask for it. This is your chance to sit down with some of the most talented and established designers in Houston. Opportunities like this don’t come along every day.

It’s also a good idea to exchange contact information with your reviewers. When they say “keep in touch,” they mean it. And you should.

Do people get job offers from their reviewers?
It does happen from time to time. This event is NOT a job fair, but some of our reviewers may be looking for interns and junior creatives to invite in for a formal interview, and even being offered a job that very evening is not unheard of. So put your best foot forward, and who knows – it may be your lucky day!

I got positive feedback on my book! Woot!
Great! Design students in Houston tend to be talented and good reviews are expected. But don’t get complacent or over-confident. There are always areas for improvement, even for the most talented students. At the review, be sure to ask questions and seek out hard, detailed criticism. After the review, put those suggestions into practice and keep in touch with reviewers to show that you took their words to heart.

I got negative feedback on my book. Ouch.
As strange as it sounds, that’s a good thing, too. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it get you down. It’s natural to feel dejected if a reviewer didn’t like your stuff, and at some point it happens to all of us. But don’t give up – take that criticism and USE IT. Learn from it. Take action and improve. Remember that the reviewers are there to help you, not tear you down. If your reviewer gives you constructive feedback on how to improve, ask for their contact information and don’t be afraid to get in touch with them once you’ve improved. A lot of great mentor/mentee friendships start this way.

Anything else I should do to prepare?
A dry run is always a good idea. Practice your presentation skills on your friends, family or instructors. It’s important to learn how to speak intelligently and confidently about your work and the design choices you’ve made (because the reviewers WILL ask). Try to eliminate as many nervous “umms” and “uhhs” as you can, and you’ll do well.

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email at vp@houston.aiga.org.

And don’t forget to REGISTER TODAY by clicking here. The special discounted rate is for a limited time only.

By Andy Rich
Published April 12, 2012
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