Re-Building My Portfolio | Part 3 | Project 1 - Zig-Zag Library


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.


If you recall the last post, you’ll remember that we’ve established the first three steps of the five portfolio steps.

  1. Gather your work

  2. Assess what you have

  3. Plan the overall vision

  4. Build what you still need

  5. Assemble your work for display

This time, let’s take a look at the first project, a winning design for a Little Free Library Design-Build Competition. The design is called the Zig-Zag Library.

Project Background

The Buffalo Architecture Foundation created a design-build competition in 2017 geared towards designers who wished to build their designs for Little Free Libraries that could be distributed around Buffalo, NY. If you’re unfamiliar with Little Free Libraries, they’re essentially mailb0x-sized containers where you can drop off books to share with others for free and you can take a book as well. Aside from the initial installation and some upkeep, the community essentially maintains the library and provides continual support through the sharing of books.

I entered the competition with the goal to build a library. I knew that the design had to be functional and fun. I also knew it had to be something I could build for the $300.00 stipend provided to each of the winning teams.

In the end, I took a weekend, developed an idea, and submitted it.

Shortly thereafter, I was notified that my design was one of the winning entries and would be built, installed, and maintained at a site within the City of Buffalo.

That’s where the real story began. Because, as you’ll see, I basically redesigned the entire library make it true to the original intent. In the process, I learned a lot about fabrication (as one does by having to cut about two hundred 2 x 4’s) as well as myself.

The Process

For the portfolio, I knew that I still needed a few things to round out the assets I had available. As an example, because the design changed from what I submitted initially, I needed to redo several of the drawings and renderings that I started with.

So for Zig-Zag, I identified the following additional documents I wanted to create:

  1. Section

  2. Elevations (Front and Side)

  3. Exploded Axonometric

  4. Renderings / Views

Fortunately, I had documented the fabrication and re-design process throughout the time I was building (and re-building) the library. Items I didn’t need:

  1. Fabrication Diagrams (ie. templates and kit of parts diagrams)

  2. Construction Photos

  3. Final Photos

Model Updates

The first thing I actually did was update the detailing on my SketchUp model. Because I used it extensively in the fabrication process, it was pretty close already. I added a few additional details I knew would show up when I exported views for renderings and 2D drawings and walked away as soon as I could.

SketchUp // Model Updates

The biggest changes made to the SketchUp model were additional, finer details such as a more accurate latch system, bolts, and hardware. These details are necessary for the final rendering as well as exporting 2D views to avoid having to draw them later.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a nagging tendency to nitpick and tinker with design, so I stopped after the baseline of quality I was after had been achieved.

While I plan to fully render high quality versions for the model views later with plugins or in a separate program from SketchUp altogether, that’s not the point of the initial portfolio layout. I exported views directly from SketchUp as placeholders for final renderings later.

Now, onto the drawings.

Drawing Updates

Because I generated all of my original drawings for the competition submission from the SketchUp model, I needed to re-export the 2D views and sections from the model to create a new set of drawings. I’ve found that when I utilize this workflow in my process, it can be a little frustrating at first, but saves me a lot of time in the long run.

Vectorworks // Exploded Axonometric

After exporting drawings into 2D, a lot of time is spent crafting the proper linework and lineweights for each type of drawing.

If I’m honest, the drawing that’s the most fun to work with is the exploded axonometric. It’s my favorite type of drawing because it reminds me of Stephen Biesty’s work. If you’re unfamiliar, Stephen takes items and locations and complete pulls them apart in axonometric sections to reveal the inner workings and systems that make them tick. They’re some of the most beautiful and insightful drawings I’ve ever seen, and if I had to guess, one of the reasons I wanted to become an Architect as a kid.

After I’ve established some ground rules for the line types (light, medium, dark, heavy, and dash), I apply the types accordingly to fill out the set.

Vectorworks // Sections and Elevations

After exporting drawings into 2D, a lot of time is spent crafting the proper linework and lineweights for each type of drawing.

This part does take a bit of time to complete and can be sort of tedious, but it’s so worth it.

If you’re curious, I’m working in Vectorworks here, but you could make these changes in any similar CAD program such as AutoCAD, Vectorworks, or even Adobe Illustrator.

Note: Updating the text (aka Copywriting or Copy) would normally be part of this process as well to refine the story and text. However, I made sure over the course of the entire project that I was updating the copy for just this purpose. It wasn’t something I needed to focus on as much for this project, but it’s something we’ll address in future project updates in this series. For now, the copy in the draft is a placeholder only.

Project Layout in InDesign

Now that the drawings, renderings, photos and other assets have been created, I started placing them all into the InDesign portfolio template that we created back in Part 2.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

It’s important to note that this is just a draft version of the Portfolio section for this project as we’ll need to understand how the remaining portions of the Portfolio lay out as well. For example, we may find that some of the template pages we made in Part 2 don’t work as well across all of the projects and we will take them out of the design altogether, while we may need to make new ones that can apply more organically.

Pro Tip: There’s no real rhyme or reason to how I started adding the different types of information, but I’d recommend starting with a type, completing a first pass and then adding the next type of information. For example, maybe you start with the graphics and then add text or vice versa. It makes it a bit easier to make a clean break and then move to the other type of content.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

You can start to see how everything lays out into the template in the examples here.

It’s not perfect, but that’s ultimately not the point. We’re trying to make progress consistently over time. As long as we take these steps, we can have something to react to, learn from, and build into the next project.

InDesign // Integrating Assets

Now that we have a series of photos and drawings, we can populate the layout templates.

The goal is to end up with a portfolio that works for us on many levels. So far, I’m really excited at the results.

Next Time

In the next series post, we’ll go through the second project and mark up the portfolio content to show you how I edit my work as I go. As before, I’ll print a pdf draft of the portfolio as well to see where I’m at and share the results.

For now, you can download a copy of where I ended up by clicking the button below.

Let me know in the comments how your own portfolio is coming and if there’s anything specifically you’d like me to follow up on or address in a future post.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me. I think we’re really making some good progress!

SkillsMichael LaValley