The painful task of updating a design portfolio

How hard can it be to convey the kind of work we do in ten small pictures, without completely losing the plot?

1.I’m putting dead things in a box so that others may gaze upon them at their convenience; driving pins through butterflies. I’m updating my portfolio.I do this every couple of months, and it always drives me a little potty. I’m proud of my book covers, but this is a thankless lump of a task. And it feels unnatural, for books to be displayed in this way, demanding to be judged by their covers alone. Books are objects, printed and weighty and out there somewhere, scattered beyond my reach. Not flat images on a website, static and abstract. Is this all I do, make JPGs?

2. Maudlin schmaudlin. This is fantastic design therapy. Looking at all of my work in one go, I can see it as others do. I can see my best bits and my worst bits. And I’m able to identify and scrutinise habits and patterns. For example, I appear to have fallen idiotically in line with Pantone’s ridiculous ‘colour of the year’ nonsense, and it’s now pretty clear that my obsession with parallel lines may have got a little out of hand last year (so much so that whilst waiting for an editor to return my call, I took it upon myself to iron all the creases out of Unknown Pleasures).

I get lost in reflection and selection, trying to turn those patterns into a coherent collection, a record of what I have done and a statement of what I could do. The only problem is that everywhere I look, there are questions. How should I present all of this? Which pieces are most important? Which reflect the work I do? Which reflect the work I want to attract? What about the books that aren’t books, ideas that never escaped their digital cocoons but are worth showing off anyway – rejected concepts or personal projects? Could a sprinkle of that LiveSurface fairy dust give them the illusion of life? Or would that just give them a whiff of the undead? How do others do it?

3. “He seemed like such a nice chap. But he spent so much of his time indoors, staring at other designers’ websites. All we have to remember him by now is this desk covered in garbled notes about rostrum cameras and lightboxes. Still, at least he never gave in to the passing fads of portfolio presentation – never once did he take a photo of himself holding up a poster by the corners! But no, it was very sad. In those last days he used to mutter about … what was it? Something about profiteroles? We had to have him put down. So sad.”

4. Idea: don’t bother with online portfolio. Instead, all those covers I’ve worked on will be nestled in a dimly-lit, fusty old bookshop. You know the sort of place: precarious stacks of Pelicans; boxes of Ordnance Survey maps and auction catalogues; one shelf creaking under the weight of Peter Benchley. Want to look at my work? Want to see what I can do? It’s all in there somewhere, bub. See if you can find it … and my apologies to your eyes if you do. Especially the early, funny ones. Here are all my early mistakes, lessons not yet learned, bad habits running rampant and unchecked. Here are my embarrassments.

Ack. Enough. I need to get my portfolio into shape. Maybe when it’s done I can retire and buy myself a bookshop, spend the rest of my days selling other designers’ work and sulking. Right now, I have to get this done. Stop procrastinating, you fool.

5. Knoll (verb): arrange like objects in parallel or 90 degree angles as a method of organisation:

He knolled the books all over his studio floor and felt a misplaced sense of magnificent accomplishment.

6. Some things get overthought; some things get worried about far too much; some things suck time from your fingers and destroy whole days. How many ways are there to present some rectangles? Too many. And it doesn’t matter.
So I’ll pick ten, upload them, get on with my life. The work I am doing is more important that the work I have done. Stop wasting time. Just have to pick ten. This is easy.

7. Books and books and books and portfolio portfolio portfolio prortfilfo plfttflofoiffilaaa sod it i’m going to eat a whole packet of scotch eggs and watch columbo.


Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a designer based in York. His portfolio is at danielgray.com. See also @gray

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