Pay it back! Learnings from a portfolio review.


Last week I was asked to take part in a portfolio review session with the 3rd year Graphic design students at the University of Gloucestershire. Billed as a ‘Speed Meet’ the format was fast paced and energetic. 30 minutes to present, review and generate constructive criticism, then on to the next. Think speed dating with a macbook.

Made up of 21 professionals – from the likes of JKR, Bulletproof and Taxi – and 38 students; each student got to see about 4 professionals so had a good range of opinions from which to build upon and improve their book.

This is important stuff, their book and how they present it is the key for them to get into ‘the industry’. This year the standard of work was frighteningly high, if I were a junior designer I’d be looking over my shoulder. What struck me while going through these portfolios at break neck speed was how much ‘I’ was under pressure to deliver meaningful feedback. It wasn’t enough to just make a suggestion on colour or typeface; I had to justify it in the context of the project too. Obviously this is my day job but usually these types of decisions are made at a subconscious level, almost reflex, to people who are paid to listen to me. To have to really analyse and explain ‘why’ was a valuable exercise for me. Far from being a Designosaur (I have been in the industry a long time) I found listening to younger minds untainted by the industry refreshing and inspiring. Their naivety is a reminder that we shouldn’t allow ourselves to get too cynical or disillusioned by business or narrow minded clients. One student presented a range of fruit themed adult toys she had designed (if I say buzzing banana you get the idea). Not only had she designed the products (10, who knew?) and packaging but also a full ad campaign – all presented without a blush. It was fun, engaging and memorable. We need to keep hold of that playfulness and remember to not take ourselves too seriously; the best ideas are found when you are enjoying looking for them. I was also surprised at some of the willingness to change work and kill ideas (designers often get precious about their work and it takes a year or two to grow a thick skin). On a couple of occasions they understood the importance of losing an idea or well executed illustration, which might have taken hours to produce, in favour of allowing the bigger idea to shine through. This showed a maturity not usually seen in students and again a reminder that sometimes we need to be brutal to get the best results and not panda to save someone’s feelings.

So while I thought I’d be doing my bit and helping out some design students, I actually got as much out of the day as they did (I hope). It’s symbiotic, wisdom gets passed on and fresh eyes provide new perspectives. This got me thinking about those who helped me get into the industry and the dept I owe. It’s so important to uphold our end of the intergenerational design contract and forge stronger bonds with up and coming designers and pay it back.

Photo Credit: Harris Stovell