Designer's Nightmare

Let’s talk about one of a designer’s worst nightmare. (And yes, there are multiple nightmares, but I’ll just go through one at the moment). The dreaded portfolio. A place that we want to call home, but we can never make it ours. A place where our survival and life depends on it, but we seem to never have the time to nourish it.

Hello Hello.  It’s time for round 2 and I’m already struggling.  I posted an update a while back on my instagram talking about the reality of trying to come up with content.  I thought I had it all in the bag, but in reality, it seems like my words and thoughts were escaping me before I can type them out.  I had a lot of things to say and want to mention, but I didn’t know where to start.  I feel like a lot of us has those moments.  And by the time we’re ready, sometimes it’s too late.

So I figured I go back to maybe something that’s a bit more familiar to talk about: which is design.  For those not really into design, I’m not sure if this is the best episode to tune in, but I hope you can relate it to some aspect of your life.

And as a short disclaimer, these views and opinions are of my own and has no affiliation to my job, both past or current.  I'm full aware that not all designers are the same, and what you may read or hear is directly from my experiences and feelings as a designer.

My Worst Nightmare

Let’s talk about one of a designer’s worst nightmare.  (And yes, there are multiple nightmares, but I’ll just go through one at the moment).  The dreaded portfolio.  A place that we want to call home, but we can never make it ours.  A place where our survival and life depends on it, but we seem to never have the time to nourish it.  It’s a place that gets neglected often, because we simply take it for granted.  In my days, we were never taught how “important” it actually is.  Even though I had classes about “professionalism”, it was very lackluster. Granted, times have changed and teaching has changed, but I still this problem resonating when people ask me for advice.  I see this problem often when I look at my peer’s portfolios and I see it often in the real world.

And this is as designers (or artists...heck, even if you’re not an artist, you can relate because companies want to hire interns or entry-level people that has 5 years of experience already), never took the time to sit down to think about what we want in our portfolio.  And I mean really “think” about it.  We’ve been force fed information and checklists to make sure certain things have been met, such as:

  • Make sure your name is on the site (like no duh....)
  • Make sure you have your works on it (again....obvious)
  • Make sure there’s a way to contact you (darn it, I was hoping to play a game where people find me)

You put a deadline on this, and you put some rush on it...and here's how we look to our first interview:

In my lifetime as a designer, I must have about 15 or so versions of a portfolio and I’ve only been in the field actively for about 8-10 years.  So that’s almost 2 portfolios average that I’ve redone per year.  And why is that?  Is my design skills not good enough to make my own site?  Are my works even great to show?  In short, it's neither of those. This crappy feeling of having a bad portfolio keeps haunting me.

The truth is...every time I think about a portfolio site.  It always seems rushed.  I need to get this so I can pass my college requirements to graduate.  I need to do this, so I can get an interview for a job.  My buddy wants me to update mine because he wants to show it to a future client. Every single time I needed a portfolio, it’s always been in a time for need. And so, I think I’m not alone in this when I say this, but we’re lazy when it comes to having to do things for ourselves.  We try to find shortcuts like grabbing templates and themes, but in the end, it never matches who we are as a designer.  I’m guilty of it.  Heck, the site you're reading this blog on is actually a template (although, I’ll give myself a few pats on the back for modifying it at least :D).

So now we’re here.  My nightmare comes to haunt me again.  I hate my portfolio.  It’s not the greatest.  And it’s time to really think about it.  I don’t have the pressures to make one to get a job (fortunately at the moment).  I don’t have to complete it for a class or for anyone.  I just need to complete for myself.  (That monologue sounded super corny, but I couldn’t think of anything else)

The Solution

So how do we get started?  What should designers think of when starting this process?  For those that want to follow along, let’s take a deep breathe for a moment.  I feel stupid because the answer seems so obvious, that I couldn't believe I didn't try it earlier.  Maybe it was a lack of knowledge at the time, but the answer is: a process.  It’s sometimes ironic that we have all these design processes for our clients and methods of designing and doing freelance projects but we kind of throw that out when it comes to designing for ourselves.  I think I have this assumption, that I know who I am, I know what I like, and what I want to portray.  In reality, it doesn't always match up.  We should treat ourselves as a client, and ask ourselves those eye-opening questions about who we really are, and what are we really aiming for.

Design with Context

I figured, we can all start together.  You can see the inner workings of a designer going crazily obsessed over their site to finally make a home. You can see what I go through as I think about design.  If I hear another person say that we just make things look good and pretty, I swear I might have to just throw a pikachu at them or something.  I want to expose what we think about when we create things.  Because the beauty of design comes from the things you don’t know and don’t see.  The context is what makes design great, not necessarily the result.

And so this starts the series of “Design with Context”.  Follow yours truly as I talk to myself and guide myself through the design process to not have a portfolio I can be “happy” about, but also learn something about myself along the way.

P.S - If you ever work with designers or a know someone that is, just remember that this haunts them from time to time if not daily.  Be aware and be cautious.  Some are very sensitive about their works, and not all of us take criticism in the best ways.  At the same time, sugar coating isn’t always the best option.  Maybe in the future, I can make a segment about how to critique, but I do want to point it out there.

Dan is a designer, consultant, and an avid lifter based in Arizona. He currently works for a small private company doing product design and enjoys learning and sharing his experiences through blogging and podcasting.