Presenting a Strong Portfolio

Graphic Design senior Ingrid Nelson 17 GD presents her portfolio to Cynthia Carrasco and Diego Soto of FCB Health

Every year representatives from more than 130 companies looking to hire creative talent participate in RISD Careers’ Design Portfolio Review at the Rhode Island Convention Center. But as junior Na Snidvongs 18 GD points out, their primary goal is less to recruit than to share their expertise in evaluating students’ portfolios. The feedback these professionals provide helps students build on the work they’ve already selected and develop confidence in presenting their ideas beyond the studio.

“I met with three different company reps [at the event on March 16],” says Snidvongs, “and they all said that variety is important. They also said that although they found my portfolio to be beautiful, they’d like to see more process work and sketches, rather than just the final pieces.”

That certainly jibes with the feedback Darlene Castellanos provided students. A talent acquisition specialist for the footwear giant Vans, she was keeping an eye out for surface design but really appreciated the graphic design-oriented portfolios she came across as well.

“I love seeing the student’s perspective in each project they’re showing,” Castellanos notes. “And I tell them it’s important to show the process. If you’re presenting a portfolio, you should include drawings, collage, gouache . . . as well as any sketches or textiles you’ve created.”

Highlighting personality + professionalism
The key for designers is selecting a mix of projects that show what makes their approach and solutions special. “Creating a clean portfolio pdf is important too,” says recent alum Veronica Ni 16 IL. She’s currently completing a paid internship at the video production company Black Math in Boston and was back on campus for Design Portfolio Review day and a panel discussion the day before. Co-presented by RISD Careers and the Illustration department, the panel included Shannon Crawford 15 IL, who is now working for the educational content producer Sockeye Media in New York City.

“I love seeing the student’s perspective in each project they’re showing. And I tell them it’s important to show the process and include drawings, collage, gouache . . . as well as any sketches or textiles they’ve created."

Darlene Castellanos, Vans

At Thursday’s Portfolio Review, Ni listened with interest as Evan Fellers, the founder/executive producer at Black Math, offered feedback on a reel by Jeffrey Hsueh 17 IL. “You have to limit the dead moments in your animation so that the reel as a whole is more potent,” he advised. “You could breathe life into this chicken with a little movement and maybe think about having two reels – one that’s more conservative and one that’s more ‘artsy.’”

Like most of the students who converged on the Convention Center, Hsueh showed up with a printed résumé in hand and a digital portfolio on his laptop. Other students used iPads for the same purpose. Michael Carabetta, the creative director at San Francisco’s Chronicle Books, has been working with RISD Careers for years and notes that although many students have been presenting digital portfolios in recent years, this year he reviewed more 3D work than ever before.

Carabetta advised senior Alexandra Alemany 17 IL to “show [her] work in context. How do you integrate typography?” he asked. “Harry Potter without the special typography would hardly be Harry Potter.” Alemany showed examples of her work that she’d printed and also came prepared with published clips from Martha Stewart Living, where she interned last summer.

Alemany wasn’t the only student thinking outside the digital box. In addition to her digital portfolio, grad student Yan Zeng MFA 17 TX brought a collection of her textiles for a meeting with Esther Lui from Printfresh Studio, a design firm in Philadelphia founded and co-owned by alumna Amy Voloshin 03 TX. “For me, the most beneficial part of Portfolio Review is learning about the design industry,” says Zeng. “It’s important to hear [the company reps] explain what they want and what the markets they serve want.”

“I love the palette you’ve chosen,” Lui crooned as she dug through Zeng’s samples. “Lots of students here are showing their work in application form,” she added, “and that’s awesome to see.”

“For me, the most beneficial part of Portfolio Review is learning about the design industry. It’s important to hear what companies want and what the markets they serve want.”

Grad student Yan Zeng

Identical twin sisters Yunan Xue 17 GD and Yutong Xue 17 GD – both seniors in Graphic Design – even designed a digital interface specifically for Airbnb (co-founded by Joe Gebbia 05 GD/ID and Brian Chesky 04 ID) and showed the work to company reps who attended the event. “We’re Chinese and love traveling,” Yunan explains, “so we decided to brainstorm ways for Airbnb to invite more Chinese travelers to the community. We are interested in UI/UX, so there’s a lot of that – like app designs – in our portfolios,” she adds.

Based on their experience at the Convention Center, several students even recommended showing sketchbooks to recruiters. “A lot of companies really reacted positively to my sketchbook,” Snidvongs notes.

As for the company reps, Heather McGee from the children’s book publisher Candlewick Press says that her experience reviewing portfolios at RISD was great. “It doesn’t look like these students were all in the same classes, completing the same assignments,” she notes. “Every portfolio has been unique, which is really cool.”

Simone Solondz

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Students make meaningful connections with alumni and other creative professionals at the Fine Arts Portfolio Review hosted by RISD Careers.