Studio projects Friday May 08 2015 07:08 am
AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 17 invited me to review senior design portfolios on Tuesday, May 5. These are things I saw 3 times or more that need improving. Take it all with a grain of salt. Mine is one opinion. Personally, I think it is a pretty good opinion.
There is nothing wrong with centering if it is done with a conscious consideration for “it is better centered than not centered.” Too often centering is the default layout. No designer, student or professional, should do any part of any design by default. You should be able to point at every element and ask “Why is it like that?” Understand the basis for how you do things so you can immediately answer with something besides “I don’t know.” Everytime.
How do those layout bits work for or against each other? If you aren’t sure DO NOT do it that way. This goes for every choice of typeface, its size, its weight, italic or roman, color, line break, etc. Every choice should be deliberate. Think of the design as a speaker’s tone-of-voice delivering a speech. Your pitch goes up to pose a question. Your voice whispers when you want people to lean in. Words have a pause between them. A phrase gets repeated for emphasis. Design needs to have ALL of these things applied to the tone of voice of your piece. Your piece is a speech.
Designers opinion of their project
Too many pages in the portfolios didn’t feel like the student had an opinion about the subject of the project. They seemed to be doing it because that was the assignment. This is not easy, and the simpler the design the harder this is to do. A design and its presentation needs to look confident. For example consider a toothpaste ad to promote its taste. How about a sandwich with toothpaste on it and the headline, “We don’t recommend it, but we would understand it.” Make the product your favorite product, no matter how boring it is. Go all the way. Fall in love.
Portfolio pages & the images on them
YOUR PORTFOLIO should stand out and then YOUR WORK should stand out. Take a workshop at House Industries and learn to do some hand lettering. Make that opening page personal. Don’t make it corporate. Don’t make it like EVERYONE else’s. Make it yours.
Here is an idea. How about a portfolio with the title “5 design ideas” and then limit it to five projects? You show me your portfolio and ask me to pick my favorite five projects and to rank them in order. Then the opening page of your portfolio says, “Turn the page and see the project Ray Nichols (he dared me to do this) thinks is the worst piece in my portfolio.” I’ll tell you my name at the end of the portfolio. Seriously, how fun would that be? Then at the end of the portfolio put both of our résumés. To pull off something like this your 5th worst piece needs to be as good as everyone else’s 2nd best piece. Actually, that would be a good way to do every project. Pass this page on to a couple of juniors in your program. Let them have a year to play with the idea.
Most of the ledger-like portfolios (printed) I saw looked like they all came from the same school. Don’t let yours look like you came from the same school even if it is the same size and you come from the same school. They are usually bland and lifeless.
With iPad portfolios the rhythm becomes monotonous. Image. Image. Image. Image. Image. Back up and see the image. Image. Image. I noticed that while I might remember a piece, overall I cannot remember much else of what I saw in an iPad portfolio. The order gets lost in the technology. I don’t have a strong sense of how many projects I saw. It is far too easy to show too much until everything turns to oatmeal. Perhaps instead of 5 spreads in a magazine, show 1 film of someone turning the 5 spreads.
Almost everything was a rectangle. A 3D object against a white seamless adds some dimension to the page and help create a visual hierarchy to the elements. A page of rectangles generally looks flat and lifeless. There are six ways to create visual space: 1) overlap, 2) scale, 3) focus (soft edge recedes), 4) position in the format (lower looks closer), 5) color (warm colors advance / cool colors recede), 6) tone (as in aerial perspective looking at distant mountains). Good designers use them. Often I just didn’t know where to look except to follow the normal reading order of upper left to lower right. Come on. How boring is that?
WORDS: Your design CONTROLS the reader. Little blocks of type describing the project in the lower left corner of the opening page of a project are lost. Why do you think cigarette packaging always wanted to put the warning there. Now they aren’t allowed to. You shouldn’t either. Rewrite it in 3 words and put them somewhere I cannot miss. Yell what you want me to know. Then play with making me see it without it being in 72 point type. Make it big and light. Make it small and red. That is design.
IMAGES: Make some photos black & white. If everyone in class did a package design and everyone took a photo, yours should look different from all of the others. The opening photo image in a series of 2 - 4 portfolio pages should have some sense of context. Typically students feel compelled to line up 4 objects and “snap.” Aren’t there other objects or placement you could use to style your photo, nudging the meaning to help the viewer understand your work?
Here is the photo we use to promote our most recent book about a stories I have about each of my parents.
The book is Selfie! because of that photo of my parents, pre-me. My mother’s story is about her going to a Cars concert at the then Spectrum in Philly. My dad’s stoy is about the Vatican. We like having the sense of chaos to our work. Lead GRAFFITI. Rushed. Spontaneous. Confident. Step in and take a look.
Your portfolio is a design project and not just a place to gather all of your projects. Here’s 3 things to keep you in the mind of that person looking at your portfolio when you’re not there to explain things.
1) Multiple pieces with little difference
Multiple books in a book cover series MIGHT not need the same layout. If you show 3 covers that are exactly the same, and I’m assuming the image(s) are different, does that make a positive statement about you as a designer? If not, find ways to add your design skills to each. Multiple cards, coasters, packages, etc. don’t say anything about your abilities as a designer if you just change a word or two here or there. Unless you change the words really, really well. Every piece of every project either takes you forward or backward. Sideways is not forward.
2) Photographs and illustrations without any design context
Throwing in a page or two of pure photography or illustration looks out of place. If you have 4 fine art photos you really like, show 3 and then take one of them and turn it into a book cover. This shows that you are able to produce images for design projects. Without the design context you leave too much responsibility for “getting it” to the person looking at your portfolio. Making them get it is your job. Same goes for illustration. Find a way to apply it to a movie / play poster or book cover.
Several of the portfolios had good photography and illustration, but if you are looking for work as a designer, use it in a design project. Try imagining it on a package for something completely odd. Toothpaste, pizza, etc. Think of an interesting design that will justify the image. And don’t put it on a book cover for the most obvious book on the planet. Illustration of zombies? Put it on a book about religion or an article on medical techniques for making people live longer.
3) Ideas / concept
I once got in a very fun argument with someone who said you need the right typeface for the right job. “You wouldn’t use wedding script for an ad for nails and you wouldn’t use sans serif for an ad for lacy lingerie.” “Whoa,” I said, “You need the right idea for the right typeface.” Just consider a nice photo of lacy lingerie and the Franklin Gothic Bold headline “Hardcore lingerie.” Or a beautifully lit, photo of a pile of nails on the opening page of a do-it-yourself magazine article, with the headline shown like a wedding invitation using Nuptial Script, “The perfect marriage between a rock and a hard place.? Never have a favorite typeface. Have a favorite idea and change it every few minutes.
Good luck to all of you new designers. Go out there and knock some people dead in their tracks.