If One More Person Tells Me, “Just Make a Grid…”

It’s crunch time. As the threat of summer approaches, all efforts are being channeled towards getting the elusive summer internship. It’s one of the few ways we can gain real world experience before graduation, and critical in order to secure a permanent job after we leave the gates of Tech. The portfolio is an essential part of this process, which makes sense. How else do we show prospective employers our work? But there is just one tiny issue with this. I have no idea how to actually make a portfolio!

My creative endeavors up until this point have been in the fine arts. In fine arts, the portfolio is pretty straight forward. You write a 1 page artists statement, you write a slide page, and you put your art into portfolio sleeves. If you have sculpture, you take high quality photos of the work from multiple angles.

That’s about it.

But design? Oh no, brother. It’s not nearly this simple. There are layouts, and grids, and color schemes, and visual hierarchy, and photos, and sketches, and grids, and icons, and did I mention girds?

I began asking my peers how to make a portfolio and kept getting the same response. “Just make a grid,” they all said. Just make a grid? Ok, what does that mean? How do I make a grid? What size should it be? What are the proportions? What is a good grid? What is a bad grid? All these questions would fly through my mind, and clarification beyond, “just make a grid” was rarely provided.

So, I took matters into my own hands. This past week, I attended a portfolio review through our local IDSA chapter. I put my work into what I knew at the time, bound it, and went to the event.

Probably one of the first legitimate networking events I had been too since starting my program, I was in my element. The small talk, the exchange of business cards, the industry specific jargon, the anecdotes and lame jokes. It was networking at its finest. And although I was a little rusty, I was like a tiger who had been locked in a cocktail party-less cage for 7 months and finally released back into the wild.

As the mingling subsided, I suddenly became nervous. We had reached the part of the night where the actual reviews began. I expected the reviewers to tear my poor portfolio to shreds—to say the work was hideous, the layout belonged in the trash, and that the gird was just the most abominable thing they had ever seen in their entire lives.

To my complete and utter delight, they said no such things. They gave me critical and objective feedback. The pointed out my strengths and weaknesses and told me directions to take the work in. It was great and informative at the same time. Here are some of the main takeaways I learned:

  1. Put your work in context. This I kept hearing over and over again. CAD a hand holding your rendering. Put it in a bedroom if that’s where it belongs. Make a persona to describe who will use your object. Put logos on pretend business cards. Always give context for your designs
  2. Put in outside work. As one speaker said, “I will fight anyone to the death who says that extracurricular work will not benefit your portfolio.” Employers don’t want to see just class assignments
  3. Just because an assignment ended, doesn’t mean the design has to. This ties into the previous point. If you like a design, push it further. It shows initiative
  4. It is better to have 3-4 highly detailed projects in your portfolio than 20 overviews. Employer’s want to see how you think. They don’t want to see just the end product. Put in sketches, models, prototypes, and the final product. Also, they want to see the research behind the project, so putting a page on the backstory and research involved in the design is a good thing.
  5. Have both a print and digital portfolio. Maybe this seems obvious, but out of the 20 or so students at the event, I was one of the only students with a print portfolio. As I got to the last reviewer, he thanked me, stating that all night he had been hunched over computer screens looking at tiny images. Designers like using their hands, and that goes for touching portfolios too.
  6. Show what makes you you! My portfolio was about half design, and half fine art. I was nervous that I would get critiqued for that, but instead found the opposite. Everyone loved that fact that I had fine art work and even told me to elaborate. Many designers are not fine artists, so this is a skill that I need to accentuate. They told me elaborate on my work, include studies, and delve deeper into the research that informed my art.

So, what then, can we learn from portfolios. Well, at the end of the day, I learned that quality always out shines quantity. I learned that every portfolio will be different and that there is a no one-size-fits-all style. Do your hard work justice, and let it shine. And lastly, I learned that when the work is good, no one is going to say jack squat about your grid.

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Object Permanence: Associating Nostalgia with Object Value

In January of 2008, I bought my very first computer. It was a white MacBook, and I had been saving waitressing tips for months in order to pay for it. It was arguably the most expensive thing I had ever purchased. I was entering my first semester of college and I knew couldn’t show up to the first day of school without a shiny new plaything.

Seven years later, to the date, I found myself purchasing my second MacBook. This time, however, the $1500 price tag seemed like chump change compared to my student loan debt and surprisingly high credit limit. The employee at the Apple store was beaming with excitement over my purchase, exclaiming, “Oh, how exciting! Are you not so excited to get home and set this up?”

I appreciated her enthusiasm, truly, but there was something oddly bittersweet about the whole experience. Granted, I now had the latest and greatest MacBook Pro. It had a retina display, fancy interface features, and more ram, guts and glory than I knew what to do with. But as I got home and plugged my Time Machine into my new computer, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad staring at my first MacBook now relocated to the corner of my living room.
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How often is it that we own something for seven years? Cars? Technology? Clothes? There are very few things I have owned for as long as my Mac. The past 7 years of my life have been incredibly transformational, filled with the highest highs and lowest lows and little consistency in between. So, when an object, such as a computer, has served as one of the few common denominators in my life, it seems natural that I would form an attachment to it. Right? I wrote term papers on my Mac, watched movies with my friends, emailed far away crushes and lovers, and procrastinated on Buzzfeed. My MacBook was an undeniable fixture of my life. It housed my creative writing, my art, my favorite cooking blogs—all of the things that made me…me.

I remember a few years back reading an article by the president of Patagonia. In the article, he spoke at length about the importance of investing in quality products. He argued that it was critical to consider the longevity of an object’s life, while also weighing the ethics behinds its production, and the quality of its material. When we do this, he stated that we would be more likely to financially invest more, and also be less likely to dispose of them thereby contributing less to the global waste stream.

I found a significant amount of validity in his argument. In fact, as a burgeoning industrial designer, this is one of the ideas that I grapple with the most. When the success of my career relies on making desirable things, how do I ensure that I make quality goods consumers will value and not merely discard for the next best thing? How do I, as a designer, make my profession’s equivalent of the MacBook Pro—and object that can last over seven years, and be valued not merely for its function but its significance in the users daily life.

As my Time Machine sync finished, I placed on the Two Sisters Cafe sticker I had been saving for a new computer since I went to visit my brother in Alaska this past August. It was the first step in making this new machine my own. I don’t know how long I will have this new computer. Nor can I say what the next seven years of my life will look like. I can only hope that this machine will stay with me for as long as the first one did, and that I hope the next seven years are as blessed and transformative as the past seven have been.

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