Friday, February 13, 2009

Industrial Design PORTFOLIO REVIEW tips, pointers.....

Just finished an email to an aspiring applicant to the NCSU Industrial Design program who is looking for direction in his Portfolio Presentation during the Review Process. I thought about it, and figured I'd try and make this available to others who happen by, since I have really put some thought to it. Here is what I shared with him:

Needs for I.D. Portfolio Review:

1. Have a Passion.
Be prepared to tell your story, and to tell the story of any and every piece in your portfolio. If asked by a reviewer "why did you include this in what you are showing me?" be ready with a reason that is not BS- they'll spot that real fast. Having a passion, and actually enjoying what you do and have done is the single most important factor. Enjoy, and express that to whomever you speak with or present to.

2. Show your Process.
Process is another essential key here. By showing that you have the capacity to work through problems, and come up with solutions, the reviewer can see that even if your work is not top-notch stuff, you do have the structure in place to achieve the kind of work that they will eventually look for from you once you are accepted. The best way to show this, I think, is to have a sketchbook or two on hand, full of sketches, especially sketches that pertain to some sort of problem solving, and ideally sketches that pertain to a project that you followed through with to some sort of completion, even if that completion is just a basic prototype model of what you have sketched. This element too is all about the "Story" you are telling the reviewer, and that story should fit into the larger story of your passion for design, and for life. If you do not have this element strongly in your portfolio, never fear- you can always go back and do additional sketches for already completed projects- this is not falsifying your process, but simply "narrating" it some for the outside observer. You can in effect "re-enact" the process of problem solving that went on in your head, so that the viewer has hard evidence of the structure of your process. As one of my earliest design instructors told me, "the viewer is an idiot". This is a blunt and humorous way of showing just how important it is to walk your audience along with you in just what they are seeing. You can always dial back if they say "okay, I get it", but if they get lost, it is a much more difficult and awkward job to re-walk through the elements you just went over. Get a sketchbook. Fill it up- sketch new ideas for anything you see around you- from a trashcan to an entire kitchen. Everything is fair game. I walked a hopeful applicant through this very process who was more of a photographer than a designer, and had him just sketch and sketch- he is now thriving in an ID program, and has emphasized to me how essential having those sketches was.

3. Have some 3D elements to your portfolio.
This is important, but is also important to not overdo. You need most of all here to show that you can think in a three dimensional way. You can do that some by doing sketches in perspective view, but it is better to have a relatively clean model or sculpture displaying both understanding of 3D, technical ability and understanding, and quality of craft. Done properly, you can do this kind of thing using popsicle sticks and twine- make a new chair design, a suspension bridge idea, or just pick out something you could build easily from your sketchbook. Perhaps you already have a lot of 3D work- if so, select only two or three that you feel are the best examples of clean construction, good technical execution, good design, and have purpose beyond just being a fine art piece. I personally would make the 3D pieces visible, but don't lead in with them in your presentation- let the reviewer get curious about what you have, before you present it.

4. You're telling a story, so use story arc:
1.Opening 2.Climax 3.Resolution. It has been scientifically shown that we humans always remember best the beginning and endings of what we experience- whether it be books, movies, vacations, etc. That said, you should save what you believe to be your strongest work to either introduce yourself, or for your grand finale. Obviously, it should all be strong- don't bring work unless you feel it is a good showing of your skillset at its best, or at least coming from one of your better days. Once you have established the structure of your presentation, do it a couple of times for friends or family, so that you can walk through it naturally. You want to be relaxed as you can- you also need to be flexible enough so that if a reviewer points at different sketch or piece than the one you intended to show next and asks about it, you can juggle your presentation to fit the desires of the reviewer- the customer is (almost) always right! That said, keep your key elements out of sight if you are saving them for later- especially if it is your final project to present, etc. You don't want any "spoilers" out for them to see. A progression I would suggest would be to begin with something that sparks conversation, such as the all important sketchbook- then walk through the rest in any order you want, but save your best and most complete project for last. It works especially well if your sketchbook includes a few sketches of what your final presented project will be- tying in your ending with the beginning creates a unified "feel" for the reviewer to take away- and YOU get to decide what that 'FEEL" is!

5. Sculpt your "Fit + Finish". Many people feel that everything they present should be presentable in impeccably framed and presented condition- though achieving that is not a BAD thing, you don't need to have your work all displayed in a spotless manner. Rough edges can actually be helpful in sparking conversation, and showing your talent "in the raw". I have found that it is good to have a few well presented "fine art" style pieces, such as still life sketches, school art projects mounted in a frame, etc. but that having those pieces is basically just getting a box checked for your content, and will not usually be the focus of the conversation. It is important, but in my experience will come closer to being "filler content" than anything else you bring.

6. Focus your conversation. Know what and who Industrial Design is. You don't need to toot your own knowledge horn, but you need to be comfortable as you can be in the lingo- the communication styles and subject matter. A little time on Wikipedia and Google can round you out here. Know a few of the bigger current news pieces in ID, whether it's Apple's latest product unveiling, or a new style of guitar or car that is making waves in the design world. Find things that inspire YOU, not things just to cater to your host- you simply want to be an educated candidate, not pandering to the reviewer.

7. Have FUN!!! If you are enjoying what you are presenting, you'll have them looking through your rose colored glasses in no time, regardless of content. Granted, you need to guage where the reviewer seems to be coming from, but if you stay bright about stuff, chances are they will too, and will be left with a favorable impression of you.... so get out there and have fun!

Hope that this is helpful to you, whether you are aspiring or experienced, I believe that many of these factors hold true in any design presentation, and are worth consideration.

1 comment:

Liz said...

This is great! Oddly enough I, too, am applying to NCSU for a masters in ID. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and suggestions. I have a non-design undergraduate degree, although I did complete a year of architecture school, so will be a track 3 student. My degree is in anthropology, Latin American studies, and French. I'm a jewelry artist and photographer and own my own business. I'm applying to 7 MID programs in the hopes to get into at least one, as competition is very high. My basic online portfolio in case you might have any suggestions (you never know, eh?) is I am working on two hard copy portfolios now so this site is just for ease of sharing online and includes MUCH more than I'll have in my final, which will only have about 15 images.