At a former student’s suggestion, I attended Central Pennsylvania AIGA’s Student Portfolio Review. As an instructor, I’d been aware of this AIGA event for years, but never attended for three major reasons:
- I’m not an AIGA member.
- I’m not hiring. I’ve never aspired to hire employees, and always felt that critiquing would mean occupying the space of a potential employer.
- I would see my own students’ work, twice. In addition to AIGA’s portfolio review, HACC graphic design students participate in a HACC-only review with local professionals (of which I have participated in for years). To see my own students’ portfolios again would be redundant.
I finally changed my tune this year after realizing that I would get to see the work coming out of other design programs in the Central Pa. area. Teaching in a tight-knit program can be very insular, and I’ve been doing it for over eight consecutive years (I’ll admit, seeing a lot of peers attending as reviewers didn’t hurt my comfort level, either). Central Pa. AIGA president Tim McKenna graciously accommodated my request to not review any of my own students, and I was in.
In all, I reviewed students from York College, Pennsylvania College of Art and Design, Susquehanna University, and Millersville University. The average portfolio was the appropriate size of 10 to 12 pieces, and the best ones were those that had print pieces matted (not under glossy covers!) with an accompanying mock-up. One student relied on a laptop (suitable provided their interactive focus), however, the reflection of the sun and the relatively small window for the projects on the webpage detracted from their presentation. A tablet with a simple slide presentation would have hit that home run for them.
Reviewing these 4th year students made me pity my own students, as my pupils had less than two years of design classes at a community college. On the other hand, I knew some members of my class would hold their own. What reassured me was the founder of a local ad agency telling me that design programs shouldn’t segregate by media—no web design versus print design. This division is something I’ve thought about as a means to afford more time towards a particular focus, but the fact that HACC’s graphic design program integrates these disciplines is probably the right approach.
This founder went on to say how he would not consider hiring a print designer without interactive work in their portfolio, and this echoed my overall concern while attending this review—nearly every design portfolio I saw was print-focused, while the industry is clearly moving more towards digital.
I reviewed two students that had inserted a single web design comp at the tail end of their portfolio—clearly out-of-place with the rest of their work. My response: “You don’t want to do web, do you? Okay, then just take this one out”.
The Millersville student was the exception, having a demo reel on YouTube, a website portfolio, and even an iPad app design. Still, I know that my students were unlikely to show off their website designs—despite taking two classes and having worked on multiple projects, I know that most of them do not have the same confidence in their coding abilities as they do with placing text in InDesign or editing in Photoshop.
Overall, the AIGA student portfolio review provided invaluable real-world feedback to students, and I was grateful to take part in it. I’m also glad it’s mandatory for HACC students, and think that all local design programs should require it.
Ultimately, what I gathered from this event is that the lack of balance between interactive and print work is on an epidemic level, and is one that is not exclusive to my college. Representing the interactive realm, I know this is something I will struggle to help balance in my program, but I hope other instructors saw and recognized it, too.