Curating a first portfolio was one of the first steps in finding myself. It was like feeling in the dark for different pieces and trying to make them fit together. I thought talking about myself would be a lot easier but by trying to say everything at once, I ended up saying nothing at all. As a student, I’m working to define who I am as a designer every day. My portfolio is a reflection of that.
My First Attempt at Greatness
The application for my dream school, dream major and dream job required a portfolio with ten pieces of my best work. Did I even have ten pieces I was proud of? I’d always been artistic and set my sights on the Graphic Design program in the College of Design very early. With the opportunity sitting right in front of me, I began to doubt myself. What kind of work should I include? With little design experience and amateur art skills, I prepared for months in advance. I thought the admissions committee would be expecting outstanding drawings, paintings and photography. Each piece required a 100 word caption and I found it difficult to explain my intentions in such few words. I focused more on my skills than my ideas and put together a portfolio with lots of variety but little depth.
The admissions decision came back in January: denied. At first, disappointment, sadness, defeat. But I knew the only solution was to apply again. When I entered the Design Studies program at N.C. State, my second choice, in the fall, I learned a lot about what the College of Design was looking for. I was still able to take a few design theory courses even though I wasn’t in a studio major. In Design Thinking, I learned to approach my work differently. It’s not about what’s in my portfolio, it’s about why. That’s where I went wrong with my first application.
If At First You Don’t Succeed
I took at second shot at the College of Design’s Graphic Design application, using many of the same projects with new and improved captions. I explained my thought process rather than my techniques. The admissions decision came back in March: accepted. This time, happy tears, pride and relief. The difference? I had a direction, an outlook on my impact in the design community, a unique approach and way of thinking.
That was four years ago. My portfolio has seen countless iterations. Now when I present my portfolio, I don’t get stressed about not having a lot of illustration or animation. I don’t just explain the programs I used or my technical process. I talk about why, what I learned and the project’s impact. The work in my portfolio has changed, grown and improved but my design thinking is the thread through it all.
About the Author: Chelsea Brown is a senior in graphic design with a minor in journalism at N.C. State. She has a passion for sharing stories and making connections through her designs and writing. She is a type-nerd, grid-lover and bookworm. On her days off, she enjoys running, baking brownies and blogging for Cut & Paste and Nights Like This with her roommate.
Linked In: http://www.linkedin.com/in/chelseaannebrown/