Portfolio Reviews: Then & Now

Dylan Moore Reviewing a student's portfolio, April 2000

Jeffrey McKey reviewing some Junior Year projects

Jeffrey McKey critiquing the author's Junior Year projects

Portfolio Night 2011

AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review Night 2012 is next week and this year more than ever will be a crucial one for design students hoping to enter the creative job market.

AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review each spring has been a key catalyst in bringing together regional design students with seasoned professionals from the local design community, where they can showcase their work and receive constructive critiques that will help prepare them to transition into the role of employed designer straight out of school.

As many young unemployed designers can attest to; trying to secure face-time with an art director or creative director to review your portfolio takes a lot of time, energy and patience, as interviews are often rescheduled and/or cancelled at the last minute. Not to mention gas money, as often times, you are having to drive across town for interviews. As the long months add up, it can be easy to get discouraged in trying to find career opportunities and give up on your dreams.

At these reviews each student, on average, can expect to have their work reviewed by 3-4 working professionals from all over the city. The diverse point-of-views and insights from a wide variety of art directors working at agencies, design firms, inhouse departments, or as solo practitioners offers an invaluable opportunity for design students to know how their portfolios will resonate with creative directors out in the real world. The back-to-back review sessions offers hard-nosed and practical advice.

Since these portfolio reviews have been going on for 12 years now I thought it might be interesting to reach out to the ranks of people who have participated in years past to see how it has helped them early in their careers.

 Daren Guillory | Owner, Daren Guillory Design


Daren Guillory | Nature Vs Man Poster, UH Graphic Communications 2003


The portfolio review was great for me because of the wide range and diverse mix of feedback I received from reviewers. On the one hand, some reviewers were really more interested in the way I articulated my idea. On the other, some reviewers were more responsive to the technique or design approach and aesthetic of the individual piece. As I progressed through the reviewers, I encountered individuals who helped with project selection, ordering and method, and also gave me honest feedback and sincere questions that ultimately gave me a better picture of my portfolio and how to present it.

John Luu | Designer/Art Director, Axiom


John Luu | Desire Obscura Poster, UH Graphic Communications 2000


My first experience with AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review was during Junior Block spring of 2000. The experience was invaluable and eye opening. At that point in college, I approached graphic design more as a mode of personal self-expression and my portfolio reflected that. I was a 22 year old starving art student obsessed with Jean Baudrillard and J.G. Ballard; there were a lot of angst-ridden projects, with a fair amount of bleak social commentary and a pretty warped sense of humor. These projects did not resonate with many reviewers who specialized within corporate communications and marketing.

While I did get encouragement and constructive comments from some younger art directors and from the owners of the more edgier firms in town. I also got back-to-back criticisms from people telling me I would have a hard time getting a job in the Houston job market with my portfolio as it existed then. I also had reviewers who kept looking at their watches to see how much time was left or looking over at someone else’s portfolio being reviewed because they were not engaged in my presentation. I found this discouraging on a very personal level.

Fast forward to Senior Block one year later. I was able to internalize this feedback and during the 2000/2001 school year cultivated a well balanced portfolio. One that was still true to who I was as an artist, but also demonstrated how my talents, skill-sets and overall work ethic could solve legitimate business challenges and help clients build a brand.

Additionally, I was able to develop my interviewing skills and articulate my work and personality in a relaxed, confident and conversational manner. During my second run through of AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review in 2001, all of the feedback was constructive and positive and based on prior experience I was able to calibrate my presentation on the fly based on subtle cues of interest or disinterest by the reviewer. I managed to secure multiple job offers and didn’t have to worry too much about my future.

Carissa Hempton | Senior Designer, Deuce Creative


Carissa Hempton: Tobacco Book

Carissa Hempton | Tobacco Book, UH Graphic Communications 2004


I can’t say that total lack of sleep assisted in my overall calmness but my nerves were very subdued during my two AIGA student portfolio reviews. I remember preparing endlessly for the day of the review, having heard from my peers that the professionals would be candid and extremely critical. They were correct (sort of). Some reviewers were tough and pretty subjective, some were quite thorough and others not tough enough. All of them though were extremely helpful in critiquing my work, craft and presentation.

I think one of the biggest benefits I received from the review was the development of a rhythm and pace in my presentation. I also utilized feedback to make edits to specific pieces and the presentation as a whole for later interviews. In retrospect, I would have asked at least one question of each reviewer; it would have been nice to know what professionals are looking for in a prospective employee. It would have also been nice to learn if there was anything in my group of work they thought I should have not included.

UH Graphic Communications, Class of 2004

Nurit Avni | Environmental Graphic Designer, HOK

Nurit Avni


Nurit Avni | Identity Design and Motion Graphic for the Boston Children's Museum, Massachusetts College of Art & Design 2009


When I went to the AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review I was relatively new to Houston and I had graduated a year earlier from Massachusetts College of Art. All the other people that I spoke to at the Review were students about to graduate, so I was in a bit of a strange position. As a newcomer to Houston, it was interesting to see what the local schools were producing. There was a wide range of levels among the attendees.
The Portfolio Reviews are a great place to gauge where you stand in comparison to other young graphic designers. It’s also a good place to practice interviewing skills and the presentation of your work. Being able to explain your work in an engaging way is almost as important as the work itself, so this is invaluable.
It is a good idea to take the time in advance to plan your presentation. Things to consider include the order in which you show the work. You should start with your strongest piece and also end with a project that you are particularly proud of. Also, try to avoid showing similar projects consecutively.
I recommend going to the Portfolio Reviews, but, in addition, it’s also a great idea to find out which designers and agencies you admire in the area and set up informational interviews with them. Many professionals will willingly comply even if they have no open positions. They actually appreciate the initiative. I had several informational interviews and I also got an internship that way.

Be sure to pre-register now. This event sells out most years and while we hate to turn away eager students at the door space is very limited.

Also to see more student work, check out our board on Pinterest showcasing student projects past and present. If you would like your project pinned send a link or graphic to Erica Bogdan socialmedia@houston.aiga.org with a title and brief description.

If you would like to share your experience regarding AIGA Houston’s Portfolio Review, please feel free to add them in the comments section or email them to info@houston.aiga.org.

By John Luu
Published April 12, 2012
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