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ugly old portfolio

midlander

seeing posts with fabulous portfolios from young students inspired me to go back and look at my student portfolio and reflect.

what i saw in the reflection was total shit. i was an earnest student with pretty good grades who did the absolute minimum in my work, yet got through it all fine. i look at it and think i'd never hire someone with work like that! i must be a hell of an interviewer to get the jobs i've gotten.

but i've done well in my career and have a pretty good job doing what i like (designing buildings that look nice). are portfolios just not much of an indicator of work capabilities? do other people have similar feelings? what does everyone here feel when they look at their old portfolios?

in all honesty, it's like looking at my prom-night photos and thinking - thank god no one important knew me then! except my mom...

and what about people who had superlative student works - do you look proudly back on the thick 100+page portfolio of exquisite works marveling how they prefigured your eventual recognition as an architectural genius?

 
May 24, 21 10:49 am
archanonymous

Some of my student projects were promising - for student projects - but the layout and presentation of the ideas, quality of drawings and representation, and overall portfolio were all shit compared to my portfolio now. There are a couple projects in there that I would still love to build, but I've moved on from most. My thesis was especially shit. 


My portfolio is now filled almost exclusively with built work, and enough of it that I can pick and choose what projects to include. This seems like a positive to me - it means I've grown a ton personally and professionally, and that the baseline competency and skills in our profession has also improved dramatically. 


The dark side of this is the lengths that some students will go to to improve their portfolio, and the pressure and desperation behind that. As someone who teaches, I can say you are likely seeing lots of group work (2-4 student teams) presented without identifying it as group work. I've had students try to (and likely succeed) at paying rendering firms to do their images. I've had students come back to me a year or two later to see if the changes they made to an old studio project made it better for the portfolio. I've had students paying graphic design consultants to help put together their portfolio and website. It is insane how far these kids are going to get a leg up on the competition. 


May 24, 21 11:40 am  · 
2  · 
joseffischer

Totally in your boat... my portfolios have always been meh at best... I think I was hired at my first job based on my sketchpad alone, which I also brought to interviews.  

Fast-forward and the only aspect of what I do that makes it into marketing are the money shots of completed projects.  I'm glad their are so many better picture-makers than me that keep the work rolling into the office.

May 24, 21 11:41 am  · 
1  · 
tduds

I'd love to see more examples of successful mid-level portfolios. I've seen a million entry level ones, but I'm realizing I'm at a point in my career now where it would be embarrassing to walk into an interview with a book of student work (not that I'm interviewing, just realizing I'm old). I still like some of those designs, but I've done a lot more since that I think better shows off what I can do at an office - not just at a studio desk.

I haven't seen much advice or examples of how folks with, say, 8-12 years experience prep for interviews. What do you bring along? CD Sets? A nice monograph of built work? A mix of built & paper projects? 

May 24, 21 12:08 pm  · 
5  · 
archanonymous

I have a 10 page/ 10 project work sample thing, a 100 page (50 spread) small portfolio, a lengthy full-color bound monograph, and CD sets. I pick and choose. It's been a while since I interviewed in person as I'm not really looking at the moment, plus pandemic. When I did I would take everything but start out by flipping through the 50-spread portfolio. There's also the "you know that building at the corner of x and y streets?" 


 Maybe we can get a small archinect group for "private" portfolio reviews? I don't really want to post mine online like a new grad looking for my first job but, like you, would love to see what other people at my level are doing.

May 24, 21 5:59 pm  · 
6  · 
midlander

i've changed jobs a couple times in that period and to be honest portfolio mattered much less than the roles listed on my resume and project types in my cv. the interview largely consisted of discussing the projects i worked on and how i fit in the team, how we worked with the clients, how the project types related to the new company's work. images were built photos or marketing renderings.

May 24, 21 7:39 pm  · 
2  · 
zonker

I'm in thr 8 - 12 year exp category and I upgrade my thesis project every 2 - 3 years to keep it current,  and I added a new "thesis" type project to my portfolio - many interviewers ask to see my school projects still -  

May 24, 21 12:25 pm  · 
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tduds

I'd love to update my thesis project sometime, if I could find the time. There are so many obvious improvements, in hindsight.

May 24, 21 12:39 pm  · 
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archanonymous

That's crazy. I've never once been asked about work from school. Can't imagine willingly spending time updating any old work either - much rather find a new job or competition to go after and spend my energy on that. At least it might get built!

May 24, 21 6:00 pm  · 
2  · 
zonker

I get asked about my student projects every other firm I apply too. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I do everything from entitlements all the way into CA. They want to see how I stack up with those that are fresh out of school - also I just make up stuff and develop them into projects. It's a architectural gym to stay in shape.

May 24, 21 7:47 pm  · 
 · 

Post that shit up mid so we can crit it.

May 24, 21 12:37 pm  · 
5  · 
midlander

imagine a half-assed student portfolio about 12 pages long with mostly cad drawings and wacky-colored rhino model views. that's it.

May 24, 21 7:40 pm  · 
4  · 
midlander

that said I'd be happy to send it to you Miles or some other people here privately. I'm not actually looking for feedback on a dead document though, I'm bringing this up more as an observation that I don't see a close correlation between portfolio and long term achievement in myself or my colleagues.

May 24, 21 9:41 pm  · 
1  · 
joseffischer

Got some headhunters to give me portfolios of people they were happy in placing, it was all money shots, mostly built work, but the best stuff was renderings, clearly not their own renderings.  I already went through the "check out my CD set" phase... and while I could break that out at any time, including curated pages of details, revit families, construction assemblies, and construction photos rather than "here's the last set I did", I think any further job positions using a similar portfolio technique would only result in a lateral move.  The next step is clearly "I can bring in work, I can get work done, here's some pretty pictures of built stuff"


May 24, 21 2:34 pm  · 
1  · 
archanonymous

That next step isn't a portfolio, it's a killer CV and contacts list with a 10-page work sample of money shots.

May 24, 21 6:02 pm  · 
3  · 
natematt

This is probably the most interesting line of conversation on the forum. What does the 10+year portfolio look like now.

May 24, 21 6:21 pm  · 
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archanonymous

I guess it depends on your path. If you want to spend your career being a really good PA or Senior Architect, then it's pretty much the same, it just gets more refined and you get more built work to put in it. 

To say "I can bring in work." is a much different proposition, and I think the format shifts at that point.

May 24, 21 6:26 pm  · 
2  · 
bowling_ball

I'm 10 years in and couldn't honestly put together a portfolio except to say "hey, you know that building on..." and then explain how I brought it in on budget. I've never drawn a single line that's ended up in a CD set. What would I show? A crappy sketchup screenshot of something that's already built? It is a weird position. Having a good reputation amongst clients and contractors definitely would help.

May 24, 21 11:50 pm  · 
1  · 
joseffischer

One thing I pride myself on, being someone who almost always takes over post 50% DD, is keeping the original designer's intent.  I've got a number of projects under my belt where I can show a sketchup view, a corresponding built view, and some stats showing job completion on time and budget.    

My dream gig would be showing a designer/firm my track record who I thought did beautiful/strong work and having them hand me their DDs and trust me to get it done with a number of PMs/interns to accomplish it.  Bonus points if they let me help the interns get the corresponding hours for AXP or whatever they call it these days.  

May 24, 21 2:37 pm  · 
2  · 
natematt

Sounds like you're job hunting. Sort of a hard claim to backup, but good on you if you can. Hit up a big firm, they area always hunting for people to finish design phases.

May 24, 21 6:19 pm  · 
 · 
RJ87

I don't think it's necessarily fair to your past works to compare them to current students, especially if it's been quite a while since you were in school. The technology / availability of examples online has ballooned in recent years. 

My brother & I were talking the other day about how his portfolio from 2005-2008ish is very different in content from my portfolio from 2013-2016ish, despite going to the same undergrad. The primary difference was this little program called photoshop became significantly more developed & 3D modelling / rendering software was more prominent. I couldn't imagine comparing mine to my dad's "portfolio" from the late 70's & early 80's, who colored his renderings with marker.

You can also go online & look at students work from past years, other schools, professional work, all at the click of a button. Inspiration (or emulation / imitation) is easier to come by.

As for my student work, I definitely notice some key milestones where things "clicked" from a making standpoint. Things got faster mechanically, so I was able to produce more / think through ideas more efficiently. Some projects worked, others didn't. Ironically my best output came when I was going out to the bar with friends the most, so I stopped spinning my wheels in studio & focused so I could leave at a decent time.

May 24, 21 4:53 pm  · 
3  · 
midlander

this makes sense. I realize too when I put mine together there weren't many people posting portfolios online for anyone to view - the only source of guidance was my classmates, a couple out-of-date books advising things like a handcrafted cover, and some professors whose careers didn't much align with my goals.

May 24, 21 9:43 pm  · 
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gibbost

I personally have wondered if portfolios are even necessary anymore. They sort of seem like a holdover tradition from years past.  (I suppose maybe they create a low baseline for weeding out young graduates).  I get it--we're visual people and like to look.  My portfolio from college--nearly 20 years ago--was shit then and is still shit.  Not because I lack talent, but because it was built without a focused and specific strategy.  It was basically just a collection of stuff I had worked on.  Not about my interests or what I wanted to be doing in the future.  I've landed jobs and moved steadily up the ladder--not on the merits of my portfolio, but because I've made a strong connection during the interview.  Number one priority should be to show them how you have something to offer that they need.  If that's drawings or renderings, then show them some of that I guess.  My approach has always been more about selling myself and my personality.  This strategy has proven successful as I often move ahead of other peers--not because I can design better, but because I can lead better. 

May 24, 21 6:54 pm  · 
5  · 
midlander

yes to be honest i've never felt like any of the interviewers had looked at my portfolio beforehand and in interview we ran through it perfunctorily while focusing more on discussion of my work and approach to projects.

May 24, 21 9:45 pm  · 
2  · 
joseffischer

Agreed, but try to get a job without one... definitely a baseline weeder requirement

May 25, 21 12:31 pm  · 
1  · 

My portfolio was/is crap. Thinking back, I'm not sure it was ever a major factor in getting me a job. I'm sure it helped me get in the door, but most of the time it barely was a topic during interviews. Mostly those first jobs were about my proficiency in AutoCAD and my experience with construction. Yes, some of that was shown in the portfolio, but usually we spent the most time talking about my resume and looking at a half-size set of CDs. No one hired me to do the pretty pictures (I was never all that good at them anyway, and the portfolio showed that). They hired me to figure stuff out and draft it so the pretty pictures could get built. 

The last time I updated my portfolio was back in 2012-2013 (it's still out there on issuu and it's as cringeworthy as I remember it being) and it didn't factor into me getting the job at all. I know because the job I took didn't even ask for a portfolio as part of the application process. Once I got the interview, it was all based on how well I did in the interviews and resume.  

The closest I have to a current portfolio is a list of projects on my resume that I've been involved in over the years. That plus the interview and a recommendation from a former colleague to one of the firm's managing partners are how I landed this current position. The recommendation is probably what got me in the door and them extremely interested, the resume backed up my qualifications and skillset, and the interview is what clinched it. No portfolio required.

But that's just me and the nature of the work I do. I'm sure it would be different if I were pursuing or fulfilling a different role for the firm.

May 24, 21 11:48 pm  · 
4  · 
randomised

I still have my graduation project in my general portfolio, but that’s it. It is the last project in there, I do get asked about it sometimes simply because the topic relates somewhat to what I’ve been doing since and because it also just looks amazing obviously...haven’t (re)touched the project or any older projects in there, don’t have time to rework old work and put my energy in new projects...

May 25, 21 7:17 am  · 
 · 
Non Sequitur

Interesting discussion idea.

My undergrad was all hand-renderings and basswood models (2002-07) and we had to document everything via slides as part of of our studios so I have some good images, somewhere.  Anyone have a slide scanner? Don't answer, I don't think I want to go there.

So my undergrad folio is a product of its time before shiny renderings were the norm.  My design studio stuff was good and at or near top of my studio group for most years but it was heavy experimental stuff.  Loads of paintings and study models with only a few "final" drawings.  I treat this as a good time capsule of what I was doing/thinking about back then and how it lead into grad school.  My post-grad folio has a number of digital works (Rhino2 baby!) but I treated the final renderings with the same experimental approach I did when painting.  Pissed off many of my peers back then because I dared to have fun.  

I think all this stuff in its current state is important but at this stage in my career, I'd rather point to real buildings and slap down CD sets than reminiscent on my school work.  I have been putting buildings together for longer than I was in school afterall.

I'll see if I have an old pdf on a harddrive (or 3.5" floppy) somewhere and pull a sheet out or something.

May 25, 21 7:29 am  · 
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tduds

Looking back, it's wild how fast technology took over once it got going... I'm only a year behind you (finished undergrad in '08) and most of my undergrad studios were analog. My hand rendering skills were (and still are) awful so I mostly built outrageously elaborate models. My first portfolio was just a bound collection of digital photographs of models + a few scanned sketches. By my last year the first years had migrated almost entirely to digital. By the time I returned to grad school in 2012 everything was Sketchup, Rhino & VRay and it took nearly my entire first year to catch up. Hell, we didn't even bother making a model unless we could laser cut it. It's all very impressive, but at the same time, I kinda miss the craft of the old ways.

May 25, 21 11:34 am  · 
2  · 
bowling_ball

When was the last time either of you made a physical model? I don't think I've made one in 10 years, and the last time my current office did one was probably 5 or 6 years ago. Software like enscape, as limited as it is, have met 99% of our needs over the past few years without the need for high quality renderings.

May 26, 21 2:02 am  · 
1  · 

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