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Constructive feedback and advice for my online portfolio!

Discussion in 'Graphic Design & Logo Design Critique:' started by Sarah F, Feb 21, 2016.

  1. Sarah F

    Sarah F New Member

    Hi everyone,

    I am new to this forum and site!

    Just a brief bit about me before I post the link to my online portfolio...
    I have been in marketing for about 4 years (am 26) and have always felt I was missing something in my jobs, the element of creativity. I fell into a marketing and design role having no design experience, just over a year ago, and luckily was put on a training course in Illustrator to help me out a bit. I started teaching myself Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, and have progressed hugely with these programmes (I hope!) in the past year and a bit. I've loved this side of my work, and have been thinking for several months now that I would like to do a course in graphic design. I know I lack the design theory (though I have been trying to self-teach as much as possible - it's just not as fun or interesting coming from a book), and all the things that I would have learnt if I had done a course, I have been applying for marketing design roles and have had some second interviews (no agency's - unsurprisingly) but for in-house roles but have just missed out to a more experienced person.

    I have been working on my portfolio lately and setting myself briefs, and have had some feedback from agencies that I need to work on large big-bang ideas and concepts rather than just focusing on the final design. I think this means I am lacking design theory and wider knowledge and the whole lateral thinking, which is obvious considering I haven't studied design ever!

    I went to an open day at Central Saint Martins a week ago, for the Portfolio Course (not a BA - can't afford another university degree!!) and have yet to go to Shillingon's open day next week. I am applying for the Saint Martins course, but it does worry me slightly that it seems very traditional - life drawing, silk printing workshops etc. and I am left thinking will this definitely provide me with the skills I need to be able to get a junior designer role or creative role after the 10 weeks? (It is a 10 week course, with the opportunity to do one or two additional 10 week modules afterwards, £4000 very pricey).

    I have done my research and would go to Shillington tomorrow if I had £9,000 in my bank (sadly I do not - sob) as I know that I would come out with a solid portfolio. It is very different to the Saint Martins course, which also seems really interesting (not sure how practical though?) so if anyone has any comments or reviews of these places please do let me know. Also - any other great courses, let me know.

    So my portfolio. I am totally open to criticism and feedback, if it will help me grow and develop, I know I am starting out, so expect some comments such as "not anything special" etc...I would like to know these things if possible!

    1) What can I do to improve my portfolio
    2) Honest opinions about my work - quality, range, anything
    3) Opinions about what course to take / my potential / etc.
    4) Advice about how to set myself project briefs that focus on the "big bang idea" as am struggling with this having no agency experience.
    5) Where would you say I am lacking in my design theory knowledge from looking at my work?

    My portfolio is here:

    THANK YOU!!!
  2. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Hi Sarah, hope this reply doesn't come too late. You may find yourself pipped to the post on a lot of jobs simply due to experience. From looking at your portfolio it shows promise, but honestly I wouldn't consider hiring you for a full-fledged design position just yet, as the work isn't quite up to the standard I'd expect. With regards to agencies wanting big-bang ideas, they want to see this from employees and interviewees, though I can guarantee that 99% of the work they do doesn't include a big-bang idea.

    This isn't being negative towards those agencies, but is simply a fact that much of the work agencies do for the regular clients isn't always the most creative or engaging of work. It probably was to start off with, but budget-restraints and client opinions will often syphon a lot of creativity out of work. It's important to show you have great ideas and can think creatively though, simply because that's what clients expect, whether or not not they opt for it in the end.

    Here's an example of some work a lad from my course did that lead to him getting an internship at a pretty prestigious agency in Manchester –

    The final outcome isn't polished by any stretch, but the ideas is brilliant, and so simple. It works across formats as a campaign and can be adapted for other medium easily. Yes, the design is lacking, but that's not important, it's student work, it's obviously not going to look as good as professional level work. The idea is the key thing.

    1. With regards to improving your portfolio, I'd focus on adding more work (even just self-initiated stuff) that's focused in one or two particular areas, ideally in the fields you'd like to work in. I see a lot of similar portfolios from students and 'entry-level' designers that features a lot of the same things – photography, photo-manipulations, sketches, logos… Essentially the superfluous work is there to bulk out the portfolio. I've done it myself and added in stuff to pad it out, when it's actually better to have just 4/5 solid, creative pieces than 12 wishy-washy pieces. Build a portfolio and then adapt it for each studio – think about the type of work and skills they'd like to see and show work that demonstrates that.

    2. As mentioned, the work shows potential but is still lacking in places, specifically hierarchy and typography, but also overall-polish. The Kew Gardens logo for example just looks like a standard illustrator gradient style applied to some shapes. The K is hard to read, and there's nothing that tells me this is a logo for botanical gardens. It also doesn't suit the Kew Gardens brand which is very traditional and refined. Look at work of other designers and studios and try and think about what they've done. Why is text placed where it is? Why that font? Why that colour?

    Look critically at work and try to understand it. I did this recently with a menu of a coffee shop and found a solution to a design problem I'd encountered earlier. Also look out for poor design in your everyday life and consider how you'd do it differently. You'll be surprised how much poor typography and crappy layouts there are around you.

    3. I can't comment on the course situation since I haven't attended either. I will say though that you get out what you put in to any course. CSM has a good reputation within the industry, or at least it's a well-known institution, but they probably have just as high a rate of unemployment among graduates as other courses. A course alone will not get you a job, YOU will get you a job.

    4. My go-to format for creative ideas is book-covers. I did this one and this one simply as mock-ups to get a couple of creative ideas I had out of my head. You could also look at some of the examples from the Chip Shop Awards. This is pure unadulterated creativity, often featuring not-entirely PC themes so be warned. It's a great place to just take in some clever, creative thinking though. Also One Minute Briefs on Twitter have daily copyrighting comps. Again, a good place to take in some quick ideas.

    5. I'd look at learning and understanding the fundamentals of design, specifically hierarchy (the order of importance of the elements on a page). Your Tech UK document for example feels very cramped. The black shape is overbearing and has much more importance than the actual text on the page. As another example, your infographic about life for example lacks a clear start and finish. Presumably you start at 'childhood' and end at 'elderly', but we in the western world read left-to-right top-to-bottom. This means my eye is naturally drawn to 'adulthood' or 'elderly' first, meaning I skip much of the content and read in the incorrect order. This piece is also missing a title/description that gives us context. It could be a case that this was included in a document or other design where it did make sense, however if it stands on its own as a portfolio piece it should be clear what it is and what it does.

    Hope that helps.
    Stationery Direct likes this.
  3. Sarah F

    Sarah F New Member

    Hi Paul,

    Nope you're not too late :)

    Firstly - thank you so much for this feedback, really appreciate it and all the detail, must have taken you a while to write all that so a massive thank you! Hope you don't mind me asking for clarification about a couple of things you mentioned, sorry about the long reply too..

    Firstly, I've pretty much decided to fork out £9k and do a graphic design course at Shillington, as i've realised that I am not going to get where I want to be without doing a course and building my skills. I'm also going to order a few books - typography, design theory and possibly a portfolio guide from amazon so I can study more about these subjects.

    1) You recommend me focusing on developing my ideas rather than just focusing on technical skills and cracking out design pieces to fill my portfolio - choosing 2 areas I want to get into and developing on this - by areas I assume you mean do I want to get into packaging design, or editorial e.g. book covers and brochures, (is logo design a field in itself or would that come under general branding identity?) I don't yet know what area I want to work in in future so I guess thats why my portfolio has quite a few things in it. Can I keep my other work in my portfolio (editing the bits you commented on) and then add a few more pieces that are more focused on one or two areas?

    *When you say adapt my portfolio for each agency, do you mean to take out work that they wouldn't be interested in, or to actually do more work to add in that will interest them?

    2) Thanks for the feedback on the kew logo, my final design was the illustration of the glasshouse with the text underneath, not sure what you thought of this one? I don't think it's amazing but I felt it was a bit different, their new rebranding is actually just "kew botanical gardens" with no image, just text - I thought this is pretty boring to be honest, and wanted to add a design of their buildings, I had more of the idea of the royal Albert Hall logo in mind, but again wasn't sure how to create the shape of the building in this 3D way when it's not a dome shape...I didn't want to use anything about gardens or standard plants, flowers etc. as I felt that would be too obvious.

    I agree the gradient logo of the flower and the K doesn't work, I was trying to do something else that involved layering colours and plant patterns on top of the text and the image, so that both were filled with this watercolour flower pattern, but I tried for ages to make it and couldn't get it to look right so I gave up and did the simple flower logo reluctantly! My technical skills sometimes hold me back from what I really want to do...

    3) Thanks for the site shares, love the chip shop site, have some ideas about adverts from it already! Book covers and album covers I have actually been meaning to work on, so thanks for the nudge - would this come under editorial design if I chose this as a theme to add to my portfolio?

    4) Agree about the infographic looking at it, this was done several months ago when I had absolutely no idea about hierarchy, typography, design theory or anything. For the techUK brochure cover, would changing the colour of the black box to a lighter colour change the hierarchy so that the text is more of the focus point?

    Many thanks again,

  4. Paul Murray

    Paul Murray Moderator Staff Member

    Yep, packaging, brand design, books, editorial, etc. As a designer in a studio environment you may find yourself eventually doing any and all of these in your day-to-day job, but may find you prefer, or are better at, particular areas of design. I personally avoid the term 'logo' as nowadays it conjures up images of awful designs being sold for £50. I prefer the term 'brand identity' as it implies more (and allows me to target clients with budgets for 'a brand' rather than just 'a logo').

    If you're going for a portfolio critique then this is what you would do. Ideally you'd target studios who are producing work you'd like to produce so you have some common ground and can get focused feedback. There's no point showing a load of advertising campaigns if you're getting a critique at an events agency. Similarly an editorial or publishing studio who produce books, may not be able to give you the best feedback on motion graphic works.

    Don't disregard a simple typographic logo. Not all logos need to be accompanied by a visual mark, and by keeping it simple and text-based they're able to use it in a multitude of ways without being tied into any particular guidelines. Some designers stick by the philosophy that a logo should tell someone what a business does. No better way to do that than to literally spell it out for them.

    I tend to avoid gradients most of the type, unless they're very subtle. Harsh grads will instantly date a design. See my point above about keeping it simple, and see how the Kew logo is now used with a brackground image to give pattern, colour and texture with very little work…

    Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 15.52.17.png

    I suppose you could book the books under 'Editorial' though I tend to think of this more as magazines and newspaper-type media. I'd keep it simple and have a category called 'book covers' and another called 'album covers'. just make it obvious what people will see when they click the link.

    I'd just move the black shape away from the text more, give the text plenty of white space around it to help draw the eye in. The black shape should be used to direct the eye towards the copy. Keep it simple so it's clear where a reader is supposed to be looking.
  5. Levi

    Levi Moderator Staff Member

    Ok feedback time... usual disclaimer of no offence intended just reviewing the site/work etc.

    Having an understanding of marketing can actually be useful as you can understand the 'marketing language' that often gets used but at the same time it might actually stifle you creativity so just be careful of this.

    First question/issue... why have you got other people's work in your portfolio, inspiration is for scrapbooks/pinterest etc not for your site. These need to be removed as that could be misleading at the very least. As said you could do with more work so replace them with some of the other work that you're thinking of doing.

    As to the other designs... first impressions for me are pretty much it looks like work from someone who's found a new tool in photoshop/illustrator but doesn't fully understand how to use it in the context of the design they're doing or if they really should be using it at all.

    I also feel that if you're going to show work you should have something explaining why it's done. Another thing is that you try to show finished work or if like the dog picture where it's unfinished show as part of a large group of images showing the work developing to it's conclusion.

    A lot of the issues you have at the moment come with experience and understanding of the fundamentals that go with design. Like the other's I haven't done the courses you mentioned although I have done a btec foundation in art and design which sounds similar to one of the courses you're looking at and personally I did find it useful but not necessarily for my own work because it did seem to focus more on the 'art' side of things (the silk screening bit is useful to help understand how screen printing works though). Having said that at that time my focus had been very much on 'design' so it gave an added dimension to my work before uni.
    Stationery Direct likes this.

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