Re-Building My Portfolio // Part 1
This post is part of an on-going series that brings you behind the scenes as I Re-Build my personal design portfolio from the ground up. Each entry in the series is intended to be both a glimpse into my process and a reflection on what it means to design one’s body of work.
Perfection is the Danger that Doesn’t Exist Unless you Make It
As a creative person, I’ve always been bad at one thing in particular — showing my work.
It sounds fairly counterintuitive. Wouldn’t I want to show everything off to the world every step of the way?
The short answer is a definitive, “No.”
At least, that’s been the case for the better part of my adult life to date.
You see, I’m what you might call a ‘chronic perfectionist’ or a ‘tinkerer.’ My projects become mini-obsessions in that I pick and play, adjust and tune them until a moment comes when I just have to put them down and move on.
The sad truth is that a project will never actually be ‘perfect.’ The context around them will continue to change, you’ll get better at your craft, and the passage of time will render many things outdated naturally.
It’s the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn as a designer and I’m still working on letting go of the perfectionist tendencies that sometimes plague my work.
Let’s Build a Portfolio!
As a way to further break me of my bad habits, I’m going to write an ongoing series of posts that bring you behind the scenes of my personal design work. I’ll slowly reveal my projects over time by re-building my portfolio from the ground up.
My goal is to show you my work, and not just the finished work mind you, the messy sketches, process designs and everything in between. I’ll be tweaking some of the designs along the way, testing out new techniques I’ve learned since I first designed them.
The design process is rarely a straight path. It’s full of windy trails, dead, ends, pit stops, and road blocks. This series is here as the first step to describe my own process as I rebuild my portfolio from the ground up.
Where to Start?
This first post is about how I start and conceptually plan out a portfolio.
The focus is on defining the goals, parameters, and mindset for what comes next. Now, a raw, uncensored look at what it takes to make a new portfolio.
Here. we. go.
For me, there are five steps I consider in the creation of a design portfolio. In the end, it comes down to:
Gather your work
Assess what you have
Plan the overall vision
Build what you still need
Assemble your work for display
These steps may differ for you, but when I began to consider the methods I’ve used in the past to develop my own portfolio, I simply reverse engineered what worked before. It should be noted that this assumes that you already have some design projects under your belt. If not, that’s okay. You’ll just need to do more heavy lifting later in the process.
If I were say, trying to build the best team possible to do almost anything (ie. win a game, create a product, provide a service, defeat Thanos), I’d certainly want to know what I have to work with first.
So think of it like this — you’ve probably done a lot of design work before. It might have been through school, work, side projects, sketching outside, or any other number of things, but it exists.
I started this process by considering what I’ve done before. I went into my files and started with all of the personal projects. Fortunately, I’ve done a fairly good job in the past of archiving my work.
After I recognized a project, I immediately wrote it down on an index card. I only included the project title, type of project, and the year it was designed. This level of information will help give context to the decisions I make later.
An important note that I should touch on — this portfolio will only be for my personal design work outside of the 9-to-5 positions I’ve held. The reason for this is primarily to do with the fact that my work is mine. As I develop my story through the execution of the portfolio, I need complete control over all of the work I’ve produced.
While I may incorporate that work into future iterations, I’ve historically stayed away from publicly displaying work I’ve done while employed at other firms because it can often become a sensitive issue.
That said, Evolving Architect has always been about telling my personal story and that’s what I’ll do with the work I’ve already produced on my own.
You Must Choose, but Choose Wisely
I took the cards I had assembled (now representing the body of my personal projects) and laid them onto a large table.
By manifesting them into a physical form and seeing them all at once, I was able to quickly assess the validity of the projects I had already started.
There are 8 projects in total. All of the projects were design competition entries. 1 was a winner. 2 of the projects I knew needed a lot of work. They ranged from 2009 to 2018, meaning that I had produced an entry at a pace of a little over a year at a time.
After a brief think, I removed two of the eight projects from contention.
The first was 89 Commercial Wharf, a skyscraper concept that I had the least amount of overall detail in across all of my work. It was also from 10 years ago, which meant that it was work I produced at the time with far less technical and life experience.
The second was Crosby Hall, a sketch of a project I had worked on while at CJS Architects in Buffalo, NY. The important distinction there is that I entered a personal sketch I had made outside the office, but it wasn’t anything I was particularly proud of compared to the other projects.
Then there were six.
A Man with a Plan
Now that I defined the six projects I’d include in the portfolio, I needed to identify the goals and rules of the portfolio. I imagine myself as a bit of a cartographer at this point, charting out the boundaries of the map I’ll be making.
I developed a simple set of priorities to help guide me. A major priority for the portfolio, as you well know, is for me to Share My Work! This mentality came from my time reading the work of one of my heroes, Austin Kleon. If you’re unfamiliar with Austin, you absolutely must check out his work.
The second priority was to streamline and rework all of the projects so that the portfolio ultimately has a cohesive feel to it. Another way to imagine this is to think of your favorite architecture design firm. Maybe you’re a Bjarke fan or maybe Zaha is more your speed.
In any event, most firms adopt a specific, branded ‘look’ to their work. It provides internal standards for designers at those offices to work towards and it also evokes a ‘brand’ to the designs. If I put a Frank Gehry project in front of you among projects from five other firms, I’m sure you’d be able to identify Frank’s.
The final priority for my portfolio is to build the portfolio for me.
It may sound slightly egotistical, but I’m really proud of the work I’ve done and I do want to create a portfolio so that I can showcase it.
A portfolio in many ways is what an Architect hangs their hat on. We create relationships with the community, fellow professionals, and future clients, but the portfolio is the work that we share with them so that they can connect with the designs we represent.
After I established the reasons for the portfolio as my guiding light, I developed three rules.
The first — The portfolio must tell a captivating story with the work I already have.
The second — I must always question what I’m fixing as I revisit my past work.
The third — Each project must have at least a floor plan, section, elevation, and rendering.
These rules will likely keep me sane as I maneuver through the more difficult production decisions I need to make later.
At this point, we’ve done a lot of the major legwork from a planning perspective. In the next post, we’ll dive into one of my favorite aspects of the entire process — developing the graphic look of the portfolio itself. We do this next because I’ve found it much easier to develop the skeleton of a portfolio first before adding all of the organs, skin, etc.
Also, I’m going to work on my analogies. They’re becoming a little bit unruly.
Check back next month for more!
Did you enjoy this first step of the portfolio process? Is there anything you’d do differently? Let me know in the comments below!