The Design Portfolio

I remember back to my days in high school when I was taking art classes: I loved (and still love) sketching, photography, painting, sculpting, and having the creative freedom to blend these different approaches together. I was lucky to have a pretty amazing art teacher back then (Thanks, Mr. Harsha) who encouraged us to take risks and experiment with our work.

I was quite proud of the pieces I created for art class and began building up my own collection of personal works. I kept my pieces safely stowed away in a decorated cardboard folder labeled “ANDREA  YIP” that was covered with random doodles and sketches. I could always go back to my portfolio to pull out my past and present projects to provide my teachers and peers with a sense of what I had been visually creating in class.  To me, the only way to fully describe my work to others was to show people my portfolio. The contents of my portfolio and the even the simple act of carrying it around made for a great conversation starter. What I loved most though, is that every time I went back to my portfolio, I would pull out my work and begin studying its visual contents and be reminded of the process of creating it, the fine details of the work, and the time and creative energy that went into its creation. I think this helped me learn more from and develop a deeper appreciation for my work over time.

As an academic, I suppose my equivalent of the “portfolio” would be the curriculum vitae. Typically, CVs aren’t heavy in visual content (nor do I think a highly visual CV would be fully appreciated within academia). Rather, the CV is filled with lists of text that describe my roles, responsibilities and achievements, in just a few words:

Social media coordinator, 2010. Youth Voices Research Group” …or…

Research Assistant, 2009. Planned Parenthood Toronto“. Period.

Not all CVs are created equally, but generally, the CV is good for conveying a particular set of professional achievements for a particular audience. I don’t suspect that many academics carry around copies of their powerpoint slide decks or journal articles to share with a potential employer, colleagues, or clients, but it would seem reasonable that if someone asked for samples from your body of work, that you could deliver this on demand. And hopefully, whatever you deliver would ideally be something that captures one’s attention, is engaging and refreshing, is readable by the general population (in plain language), and maybe even something that someone else might find inspiring.

As I move into a more designful career, my interest is in integrating communication and graphic design more fully into my work. To this end, I think that academics could really benefit from the idea of the portfolio. As a social designer, I think the concept of a portfolio fits in nicely with the way I want to convey myself to others and gives my partners, clients, and colleagues with a richer sense of how I approach and even conceptualize my own work, formally and informally. To me, the portfolio offers such a rich opportunity to “sell” your work, share your personality, and build a brand identity. This is not something that academics are necessarily taught to do well, if at all.

That said, I decided to try a little experiment: Start creating my own design portfolio.

My first addition to the portfolio is a short document about a research initiative I coordinated in 2010 called The Access Project. My goal was to create something short (about 2-3 pages), succinct, in plain language, visual, and beautiful, and something that I could pull out of my portfolio and hand to a client, community member, boss, friend, family member, magazine editor, funder, or peer. I’m not sure if I succeeded in all these areas, but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

Overall, I think the document gives someone a general overview of the project, particularly with regard to purpose, need, process and outcomes. I was worried about losing too much context as I pared down the information, but I also wanted to ensure I was providing enough detail (more than an abstract). So as it stands, it may be a bit wordy, but I think it’s a good start. This was a fun challenge for me as I was forced to think of ways to visualize the Access Project (process, outcomes, etc.) using images that were simple enough to understand, but at the same time, able to capture some of the complexity inherent within the project.

The image you see above is the third page of the document (this includes the main visual). I have included the full document — all four pages — in the gallery below.

My hope is to build up a design portfolio over time….so I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

And as an FYI, this particular document took me about 5-6 hours to create. It’s still pretty rough, but it goes to show that it may not take a really long time to develop valuable knowledge translations products for your own design portfolio.


InDesign Notes: The photographs used on page 1 of the Access Project document are visual captures from the media created by the youth participants from the project.