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Starting Out: Portfolio Development

Fri, 05 Jan 2007 Setting out your portfolio can seem like an endless task; as soon as you finish one, it's time to start over with the latest stuff, a cycle that often continues beyond design school. To give you a few pointers on how to go about it, Car Design News spoke with agents from recruiting agencies and designers in America and Europe for advice. 

First and foremost: the content. For young designers, high sketching skill is paramount -and lots of it. Monika Muehlberger from Phoenix Design comments "Companies want to see a lot of sketching, so it's important to have really big portfolios from young people showing everything". Designers that CDN spoke with reiterated this, also remarking that "students are always doing hot sketches in Painter...but we want to get through the bullshit; anyone can do hot sketches if they're given long enough, so in addition to the rough stuff, we ask 'how does he work with the pencil, explain 3D, generate ideas'''. It's the last point that is picked up by others as well: you need to demonstrate creativity, advanced thinking and avoid things that already exist, while skills listed on your resume should all be represented in your folio too.

It can be hard to judge how much to send to get that interview: send too much and they may decide they don't like your style without having met you; send too little as bait and employers don't get to see much breadth. Occasionally applicants will send something different to get an employer's attention -a poster, or a shoe they've designed 'to get your foot in the door' -but it really depends on the company. If the job has been advertised, then most will not want to receive random footwear; just a nice selection of work will do.

There are a number of options open for presenting portfolios: a popular one is printed A4 or panoramic booklets. These are easy to send, though when it comes to the interview it can be difficult to communicate to several people using the same post-friendly piece. For this, many designers recommend A3 or A2 folders, something still used in the industry when presenting to clients. Their size means interviewers don't have to strain their eyes from across the table, and allows content to be more readily targeted - and make sure it is. Just including stuff that you did to get through a module at design school is no good at all; designers love seeing other people's vision of their own brand, so make sure you've got that covered. Given that employers receive clumps of work after each college show, graduates should do something a little different: companies will expect a Renault in a French graduates work, but maybe not a Chevy; likewise others should look beyond their domestic brands for that extra 'edge'. Many people starting work will join projects mid-point when details are being resolved, so it's important to show some nice headlamp and rim designs, or a few interior details, as well.

Digital formats are another popular option. Images for this, like your folio, are best kept to one format, preferably landscape. Keep them a reasonable size (500KB each should be enough, Jpeg or pdf), and get an appropriate email address or FTP site before bombarding some poor PA with random cars. You may want to set up a folio on CDN or your own website that you can link to, while is a good start for those with a product design interest.

Once decided on a format, also consider presentation beyond the work. According to one designer, "the ones that stand out have a consistent design line". This can be achieved with a common template and a shared typeface, or graphics that tie the whole thing together. Order of work is vital. As a rule of thumb, you've got four minutes before an interviewer's mind is made up so hit them with the best stuff first -and make sure you leave on a high too: often in interviews the folio is left open on the last page as the Q&A continues, so you may want to remove that 'comedy' shot of you aged four in a plastic pedal-car....

The length of your folio will vary depending on type but, as Muehlberger commented, showing a broad range of ideas is key. Larger folios taken to interview can be more concise, but should always be accompanied by a generous sketchbook of original work. You may have ten or so projects that you want to show, but keep it flowing. It should be easy to understand by looking at rather than reading from, so maybe use arrows to emphasise a wrap-around screen or put a shark next to your sports car to emphasise your concept. Show how a project has developed as well - you may want to refer to our Design Development stories for examples. Show those initial ideas and the ones that didn't make it, then you can explain your project more clearly in interview. It's also worth including a bit of non-automotive stuff towards the back of the folio: an air-ship, life-drawing etc.

Remember, creating a folio is a time consuming process, but once you've established a layout it is easier to make improvements next time around. Just don't forget the sketching.

By CDN Team