WIP - Part II: Review and Rediscover
Reviewing Your Work
Starting out as a designer, our first struggle is getting enough work. We are developing our skills, building our portfolio and establishing professional connections with clients and members in the industry. After some time, whether we notice it or not, we will have grown. And so, reviewing and reflecting over your improvements and mistakes can not only redirect you to where you want to go but also shape and prepare yourself to getting there.
While working on a project, looking at a concept or design with a fresh perspective or a critical eye can become difficult. We can get attached to an idea or look that could be improved or even scraped. Focusing on a design is checking off the necessary boxes of a project: Does this fit the brief? Does it aesthetically support the brand? Can it be understood in this way and that way? Does it solve the creative problem?
When I think about it, I can understand why feedback is so important. Our product that we are selling as designers is our creativity, our experience and solutions. Yes, we also need to be experts in our programs, whether that be Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop. But how we look at things, decipher, understand, construct, reconstruct, re-imagine, design and solve a problem from someone else is what differentiates us. Therefore an experienced designer looks at a logo differently from a new designer. Taking it a step further, a designer with a minimalist aesthetic (like me) may look at a design problem from a different perspective than another designer.
I mentioned I am quite harsh when it comes to my own work. For a lot of us, we struggle to achieving the look we have in mind. When I was first learning Photoshop or Illustrator, I got frustrated, because my work did not look the way I wanted it to look. But over time, we develop those skills and, as I have learned, if we lack somewhere, we can always find someone to help or collaborate with.
Reviewing your work showcases your strengths and your weaknesses. I always thought that as a designer, I had to be a master of everything. I know some designers that are. Yet, finding your specialty and niche, developing it and positioning yourself as an expert is a far better strategy of getting noticed nowadays than an all-round designer. It really depends what you are looking for. Some projects require an expert of many fields such as graphic design and web development. While other businesses prefer hiring experts in their chosen field, so the work is distributed to designers that are hyper focused on their specific skill or craft.
Seeing the Difference
As we continue to build and grow, we start to develop a process of how we design. In school, we went through the phases of research, sketching, mock-ups, redesigns, and variations. Over time, how I sketch out ideas are different. What we look at, what we hear and listen to and what we experience can affect us. Looking at daily lnstagram of logo design posts, taking part in workshops and business presentations, and even reading books inspire how I think and work. Yet seeing the difference and growth visually, as a designer, is amazing. When you see your work and your mind is already of thinking of ways to improve is startling - but in a good way. It feels like your head is exploring a new world of ideas, looks, and feelings.
For example, as a personal challenge, I would take client briefs from old school projects and redesign it. How would I solve this design problem this time? What I approach would I take? How can I improve from what I thought. For some, it may just be repetitive to keep going over and over the same thing. You can be exploring concepts for an idea for years. Yet redesigning is a part of the job! We can not only build out ideas, we are also re-configuring an idea or brand to improve it.
Rediscovery: Something Old, Something New
Do you have a folder full of old designs? I do. They are the designs of concepts that I wanted to try out, experiment, or could not fully explore and implement. When I was in school, I felt like we were pushed to the limits. A new project to be completed every week to build up our portfolios. Needless to say it was not enough time and if there was enough time, maybe my concepts should be fleshed out better. So with the fluctuating time on my hands, I am thinking of taking on some of these projects.
With so many inspiration online, I want to try everything! Designing monoline logos, applying vintage paintbrushes on graphic icons and typography tutorials. Starting something new is not easy. But if you have the time, why not try it out. A healthy challenge for anyone is to try to learn something new every day, every week or every month. So if you are looking for something to spruce up your portfolio or you are eager to try a new look in Illustrator, give it a shot! Rediscovering a new design in something old or exploring a new technique is always a healthy exercise for every designer.
Updating Your Portfolio
A neglected practice on my part is updating my portfolio. With all the work that comes with designing and continuous learning, it can be pushed back more than once. However, a killer portfolio is our ticket to our next level, our next project or our next dream client. So taking our portfolio seriously is important.
To make things simpler, I have created my own formula to updating my portfolio. The formula consists of the different element and design process I want to highlight of a given project. There are many different approaches to design portfolios, and I encourage you to research. Some designers simply have a gallery of photos, while others go in-depth explaining their solutions. My approach is a little bit of both. A small gallery with a concise summary and an downloadable PDF with further project details. This way, I client can have a quick scan of my work and if they want to learn more, find it online or in a printable format.
I agree that a portfolio is meant to showcase your work. But if we take the time in making out work easy to understand and accessible, we make it that much easier for clients to learn more about us. The purpose, therefore, is market ourselves. One of my instructors told us that our portfolio reflects the work that we want to do. If you are interested in graphic design, than projects may consist of logo designs, brochures, or infographics. Whereas a user interface designer may highlight website or app mock-ups. In short, you want your portfolio be be relevant and consistent to your brand.
It can be difficult at the beginning. In school we did a variety of projects: from graphic design to video, motion graphics and animation. So our portfolios were a bag of skills. Yours may be this way too. So if you want to do more of one, it can be hard, but you may need to let some of those projects go, unless the skills you want to highlight are relevant to what you want to convey. For example, a video may be confusing in a logo designers portfolio. But if the video highlights a brand or logo design, than it would make sense.
Of course, designers can be an expert if multiple disciplines. Yet, I would advise that sticking to a defined scope will not only help you but also clients decide which projects will be a perfect fit. So do not worry if you need to take on some design work outside of your desired skill set, but remember to focus on your brand in your portfolio.
We are constantly reinventing ourselves as we learn more about ourselves. With the circumstances and situations we have, let us try to do our best. Take the time to reflect on yourself and your work. There can be improvements here and tweaks there. We are in the process to completing another phase and preparing for a new one. So keep practicing and honing your skills. You can only keep getting better and better. ■