At Creative State, there's no lack of opinions. We share them pretty freely around here, and that's part of what makes it a great place to work. Still, sometimes we get an opportunity to share our advice to people who really want it. Back in May, I got one such request from a student at the Art Institute of Portland, and I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise. And, since she thought it was helpful, we decided to share it with you. It reads:
"To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Sandra Cazares and I'm a student at the Art Institute of Portland. The reason for this email is because I have some questions that will be helpful to a soon-to-be graduate. They are as follows: 1. What do you look in a graduates Portfolio? 2. What advice could you give to a soon-to-be graduate? 3. How did you get started in the business? 4. How has the company dealt with other competitors?
Thank you for your help and time,
Q. What do you look for in a graduate’s portfolio?
A. First, know that most everyone who comes through our doors will be able to pull out a book and show us good design. We’re looking for something a little different. Since most of our business is done on the web, we’re looking for a portfolio that lives and breathes. We need to be able to see it work. Whether it’s an animation, or a live website, it has to work. We’re also looking for process. Remember how the math teacher always made you write your answer out so they could see it? Well, we want that too. Make sure we see HOW you got there. Did you start with sketches? Did you use wireframes? How did you arrive at the design solution? If possible, provide a written rationale for the solution. What we’re looking for here is a designer who can think.
Q. What advice could you give a soon-to-be graduate?
A. There’s a couple pieces of advice I can think of off the top of my head. First, have things in your portfolio that weren’t done in school. We like to see real-world experience. Come to the table with production work you’ve done from a t-shirt shop, or a website you built during an internship, or a brochure you designed for a non-profit. Second, don’t underestimate the value of intangibles. Is your portfolio important? Yes. Are your skills important? Yes. But there are many other important qualities to a good employee. We’re looking for some other quality that helps us feel like we’re getting a valuable team member: a good work ethic, a positive attitude, the ability to give presentations, customer service skills, ability to cooperate, willingness to learn. About a month ago, I wrote another article you may be interested in reading, called So you’re considering becoming a Creative.
Q. How did you get started in the business?
A. I did not follow the traditional route, that’s for sure. 12 years ago, I was in a similar place. I was working as a Communications Specialist at a pharmaceutical company in Dallas TX, managing the production of video training programs. Luckily, we had existing relationships with a couple of creative agencies (one for print and two for video), and I was asked to help manage those projects. I loved the work they produced, and always felt better after the meetings I was in…that I had contributed good ideas and that those ideas had value to the company. Those meetings set a base level of interest in this industry. But it took only a single document to get me hooked into becoming “a creative.”
Our internal documents at corporate were…less than appealing. Like most offices, they were simply typed up by some random person in an office I think. So, one day when our department was supposed to send out an internal document, I took the initiative and decided I wanted to make it creative. I spent the better part of a day in Word using the spacebar to create a unique shape for the paragraphs, and sweating every single detail. It was emailed out and the next day, a crazy thing happened. Everyone loved it. All of sudden, my boss was asking me why I hadn’t done anything before and what else I could do.
We didn’t have the budget in our department to buy any Adobe products, so I was forced to work with what I had. I dove headfirst into Powerpoint (Yes, Powerpoint!), cutting my teeth on simple animation techniques and clean, corporate design. (My most embarrassing moment: I actually created a 20-page brochure that year in Powerpoint. Ouch.) I had limited tools, but that actually helped my basic design skills by not getting bogged down in training on a bunch of new software. What mattered was that I tried and I loved it.
Now, looking back, I naturally followed some of the same rules I use today…simple typography, clear headlines, ample white space and unexpected flair. I don’t know if that was talent or divine intervention or “a good eye,” but it doesn’t matter. I love it. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
Q. How has the company dealt with other competitors?
A. Competition is comfortable for us. How many times do you show up to a game and expect not to compete? When you’ve been in the business for this long, you expect it. And competition is good for the design community too, pushing us to think in new ways and built new human interactions. Having said that, we’re all professionals. There’s not too many competitors I’ve met whose work I don’t respect. That’s why we recommend being involved in your local chapter of AIGA or Art Directors Club – you can meet real people who are doing wonderful work. At the end of the day, it’s a business that we’re all trying to enjoy our lives by doing. Besides, there’s plenty of work out there for everyone.