New Designers and Students Needing to Build a Portfolio

portfolioIf you are a recently qualified designer or student designer it is difficult to show a portfolio of design work to potential employers when you haven’t yet had the opportunity to work on many projects. One option is to work on “dummy/fictitious” projects to try and fill in the gaps where you feel you are lacking a little design experience.

On my design resources page I have included one of my own previous briefs, but lots more can be found at Amongst the briefs is a business brochure, calendar, posters, logos etc.

All the briefs are print based, maybe some of you know of some web or interactive practice briefs you could suggest too?

Graphic and Web Design Help Online


One of the things I love about the internet is being able to share knowledge. If you are stuck on a design project whether it’s a technical or creative issue there are plenty of good online design forums to go for help.
Site Point is one of my favourite forums for technical advice. It includes sections for discussions on XHTML, CSS and different programming languages, but also advice on marketing, SEO, hosting and blogging. The site also features a lot of tutorials and I have bought a couple of their books which have been good too.
This graphic design forum is geared heavily towards new designers and students with categories such as Design Education, Young Newbie Designers, Getting Started in Design, Prepress Discussions
A good mixture of topics in this forum covering all areas of design for both print and web. There are also Software specific categories such as Quark and Adobe products to help you with software specific issues. Take a look at the design related blog too at
This forum is a spinoff of the magazine – Computer Arts it’s not as comprehensive as some of the other forums, but has a large number of users. There are the usual web and print design sections, but what may be of interest is the recruitment, design projects/competitions, and exposure (show off your work) categories. The rest of the main Computer Arts site is well worth a look too, its full of articles, reviews and tutorials. The hard copy magazine is a good read if you can get hold of one.
This forum is run by a graphic design blog reader who emailed me a link. While it currently does not have a huge number of members, when I tried it responses were very quick. It has a wide variety of categories from web programming and print design to more specific typography, logo design and a section on business.
I have only used this forum a few times, but it seems to be geared more towards the business side of design with categories such as business talk, freelancing, marketing and career advice.
Similar to sitepoint (though I prefer sitepoint) this forum is mainly about web design, programming. SEO and marketing.

If you can’t find the answers you need in any of these forums, I have been really pleased with how helpful other bloggers have been. If it’s a design for print question, you can always drop me an email and I’ll see if I can help and I’m sure other bloggers will too.

Student Design Exhibitions

posteerOn Sunday my boyfriend and I went back to my old College, actually it was his old college too, but not for design, and we didn’t know each other then. When we were there it was known as Nene College, but now it’s the University of Northampton, which sounds much better 🙂 . The college had an open day showing all their end of year exhibitions. We wandered around the fine art section which had quite a few abstracts we liked, but also a few bizarre pieces like wooden chairs taken apart and put together in different ways, I didn’t really understand those, but each to their own.

In the graphic section I was amazed at the mixture of levels of work, some had incredibly accomplished work, others you could see they were still learning. I grabbed a few brochures they had left as giveaways thinking I would post up some images only to get home and find they were from 2004, 2005, 2006 🙁 (so I can only assume they had run out of this years). So I thought I would check on the website – they would be bound to have a portfolio on the University website wouldn’t they? Well if they have I can’t find it. I also picked up the business card of a girl who’s illustration and design I liked I thought I may be able to give some work too in the future, but when I got home I was amazed to see she hadn’t got a link to a website or online portfolio on the card. Surely this is one of the most important things for new designers to promote themselves?


Matt McArthur who is a regular commentor on my blog emailed me to let me know about a video he and his fellow students have produced to promote their end of year show at Edinburgh’s Telford College 12th – 16th June, Matt’s the one with no hair (his word not mine 🙂 ). There will soon be an online portfolio for all the students there too.

animationAlso worth taking a look at is Computer Arts Graduate Showcase of Animation I liked “Death Kitty and the Fat Man,” even though it was a little weird. The Computer Arts Site has loads of other useful information for students and professionals alike.

Have you been to any graduate shows and looked at the work or are you a student just putting on a end of year show, I’d love to hear how it went?

Tips for a Design Interview


In a design interview situation I have always felt quite fortunate to be a graphic designer, unlike many other jobs you have your prop, your talking point – your portfolio. This being said I think your portfolio must be ready for the interview and you must be ready to sell your work to a potential employer. They don’t just want to see the work, they want to know your thinking and reasoning behind it and probably how long you spent on it. I think this is even more important for students, for what you may lack in experience they should be able to hear in your enthusiasm for you work.

In my career I have been for many interviews, getting that first job is the difficult one, once you have a job and so the pressure is less in my opinion, interviews become a lot easier. I have a terrible sense of direction, I have often done a test run to find out where to go prior to an interview. There is nothing worse than being late, even if you ring and let them know you are lost it immediately puts you in a panicked state of mind. I think I am probably a little odd as I rarely worry about the actual interview, but will worry about finding the place.

Freelance Design Interviews

When I go for freelance interviews I tend to adjust the order and what is in my portfolio and make sure I know roughly what I will say about each piece of work. I make sure I show examples of different types of work, I will show my creative stuff, but also heavily corporate work just to prove I am able to adhere to tight corporate guidelines when required. I also often include a piece of my personal work. I recently went for an interview with a reasonable sized printers who was looking to outsource design from freelancers. In my portfolio was some of my personal children’s characters and book I had designed, a few days later they called me in and asked if it would be possible for them to pitch my children’s characters to a large hotel chain in view of using them for branding their children’s menus, with the book as a kids giveaway. Unfortunately the pitch didn’t come off, but it was a possibility that wouldn’t have emerged if I hadn’t included the characters in my portfolio.

Design Agency Interview

It is always important to have a little prior knowledge about the company you are going to see. As most companies have an online presence there is no excuse for not knowing at least a little about them.

I think its important to be honest in an interview, by that I don’t mean tell them all you weak points, but if someone asks you if you can do something and you can’t say so (unless you can learn it very quickly). If you got the job you would soon get found out anyway, so in my opinion its better to admit to it and say you are a quick learner. Be yourself in an interview too, the good about most of the design interviews I have been to is they are relatively informal, and the employer wants to know they can’t get on with you (and visa versa) as much as if they like your work or not.

What are your tips for an interview for a design job?

(see my related post What Do you Put In your Portfolio? )

Also worth taking a look at is Asgeir’s 15 resources for design students

What is it Like to be a Recently Qualified Designer?

Lauren Marie Krause has been an valuable contributor to the comments on my blog and I really like the way she writes. I asked her if she would be interested in writing a guest post and she kindly agreed. I asked her what is was like to be a recently qualified designer, Lauren’s blog post in response follows

Don’t You Make the Same Mistakes!
by Lauren Marie Krause

Profs like to scare you in school with tales of how they almost lost $10,000 on their first design job because the logo colors had 3% too much black in them. Well, unless you first client is Coca-Cola, that’s probably not going to happen.

It’s amazing how much you can learn after being in the full-time working world for only a few months. I studied all aspects of graphic/media design in school from print to photography to illustration to video to 3D to CD-ROM/DVD authoring for three and a half years. I have worked in over a dozen different design programs (most of which I’m now quite rusty in). We learned all about the fundamentals, principals and elements of design. We had projects due every other week. We even learned several programming languages. Sounds like I would be quite prepared to start working, no? Well, no. I didn’t know a lick about the business side of design.

Hopefully your professors have taught you how to sell yourself to a potential client, but what about after that? What things should you include in a contract to keep yourself as covered as possible? What about clients who don’t pay? And even before that question, how do I know what to charge? I asked several different profs this question and not one would give me a straight answer!

Maybe something that just has to be learned the hard way is how to be diplomatic and tactful. You may have a supremely amazing idea, but if you present it as a pushy know-it-all, no one will listen to you and worst yet, the CEO will call you in and tell you to not ever do that again. It’s very embarrassing. Trust me.

So I have several questions, some for experienced designers and one for the newbies:

For the experienced ones in our field

  • What business tips would you like to give the newbies?
  • What did you have to learn the hard way that you would like to spare the rest from having to experience?

Hopefully we will be wise enough to learn from your mistakes.

For the beginners

  • What, if anything, scares you the most about getting out into the real world?

I wonder how many seasoned designers share these same fears with the greener of us.

LaurenLauren graduated in December 2006 from a small design college in Southern California and is now working as a full time and freelance web and graphic designer. She enjoys the creativity she gets to express through her work and is constantly looking for new ideas and inspiration and enjoys seeing the small details in life that most people miss. Some of Lauren’s work can be seen at also please take a look at her blog