May 09, 2013

Portfolios: Some advice from a recent grad (Part I)

Last weekend, I decided to attend a Portfolio Review event hosted by Architecture for Humanity Toronto. As someone who graduated just almost a year ago, applied to numerous firms, and landed only 3 interviews at the end of the day, I really wanted to get some feedback just to know what can I do to improve, and what am I doing wrong to not get 6 or even 9 interviews from applying to 70+ firms in the past few months. After receiving feedback, I guess I realized that it is rough job market for entry-level architecture jobs, even though things are picking up and I shouldn't be too hard on myself. From the event, I got to get my portfolio reviewed by a professor and professional with regards to M.Arch applications and on the basis of job hunting, respectively.

So I thought I would prepare this blog to give some tips and hints. It is the end of the school year in North America and a lot of recent graduates in Architecture will be struggling to even get on board and make their portfolio. Though there are those who strategically worked on it throughout their education, or their schools made them create a portfolio to submit annually, there are students that put it off afterwards. Recently I also got to take a look at a graduate exhibition in which my friends who studied Environmental Design were presenting their thesis projects. From meeting and talking to a lot of 2013 graduates, there is still a challenge that a lot of recent grads face – doing your portfolio when freedom hits.

Here are some of the things I learned:
Portfolio Length and Strategic Layout 
One of my professors mentioned that every spread/page should be showing your design abilities and at least two of your technical capabilities all together. You can keep your portfolio nice and concise. You have to be careful how much or how little you present for each project and how many spreads you dedicate. It’s about thoughtful revise, edit, and laying out. Employers are going to quickly flip through your book or you have to walk them through your portfolio. You need to keep this in mind so that they can get a good idea and sense of you right away in a reasonable and short amount of time.

Have a base portfolio ready at all times. 
You should be applying to firms in tandem while making your portfolio. You waste time applying AFTER you're done. Design portfolios are a constant work in progress that you will hone throughout your career. For the beginner, you want to have a go-to base portfolio in case. You do not want to be caught off guard when a job opportunity comes because they will get filled quickly. Ideally, you want to be ready should a firm call you in for an interview and be available for the interview at the soonest possible moment. Ideally you do not want to come off sleep deprived and anxious from an all-nighter of working away and stressing on the printing of your portfolio just before the interview. You want to come into an interview relaxed, comfortable and confident.

Go Digital 
Even I should as well. but consider making portfolio website/ or upload it on a portfolio site (Behance or Issuu) and have .pdf of sample of work and resumes. It is a cheaper alternative to apply to firms and makes you more accessible to them. That was my problem – hard copies can take you so far in this day and age and they are expensive. Website design is not my forte, and I realize that in our digital times getting our work online might help us and help the employer greatly. I have printed and spent hundreds on prints for saddle-stitched resume packages with work samples. In person, I gave them to a few of the biggest architecture firms in the city only to get generic responses of “thanks, but we’re not hiring at the moment and we will keep your application on file for six months” or no response at all. In-person applications have worked for a few of my friends and it got them the interview and  the job. For me, it was my emailed application.

Graphic Design – The good. The bad. 
The Good: As a designer, you have to make sure your graphics are well done and organized and you use the appropriate type and font sizes. We do follow some of the same principles as graphic designers when presenting and laying out our work (Arial and Times New Roman is blasphemy, Helvetica cliché). 
The Bad: As an ARCHITECTURAL designer, you need to present your work and content mainly through your architecture – conveying your design intent and resolution. Strategic and careful Graphic representation of your work is important. One professor warned me that excessive graphic designing can be seen as a defence mechanism to compensate for a lack of architectural design capabilities.  You must make the graphic design just as good as your architectural work and your architectural work just as good as your graphic design.

I believe that these are more of the technical things to consider when you take your approach to making, distributing, showing, and presenting your portfolio. For the second part of this blog entry, I am going to talk about the challenge I dealt with and so many other students - keeping momentum after graduating. Till next week, here are some good resources on portfolio design:

Life of an Architect's Bob Borson just recently published a post, Architecture Portfolios and their true purpose. He provides good advice from his experience in the field and also reviewing them.

I recently found Harold Linton's recent edition of his book, Portfolio Design, at my local library (while discovering an architecture collection!). Very good book as he goes through the different portfolio types and the various issues to consider when preparing a portfolio. examples are also included and he even shows the development of some portfolios of designers throughout different stages of their  educational career.


Move Forward: Tips on the Architectural Job Hunt
Bite Back! - The Post Grad Phase
Personal Branding (Part 1)

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