AIGA Portfolio Festival with Dan Mall
By AIGA August 3, 2020
AIGA Portfolio Festival with Dan Mall
By AIGA August 3, 2020
AIGA Portfolio Festival with Dan Mall
By AIGA August 3, 2020

AIGA’s 2020 Portfolio Festival kicked off with Dan Mall, founder and CEO of SuperFriendly, a design collaborative that brings exquisite creative direction and design. The webinar contained two sections–Dan first presented How to Make the Perfect Portfolio and concluded with portfolio reviews.

Dan’s suggestions for creating a portfolio that gets you hired:

Tip #1 – Learn How to Steal

Tip #2 – Practice Design Every Day

Tip #3 – A Good Portfolio Is Like a Love Letter

Tip #4 – Charge 10%

Tip #5 – Dream Projects Are About the People, Not the Work

Tip #1 – Learn How to Steal

When Dan first began designing, he had a difficult time creating work that was original. He struggled until he learned how to steal. Picasso is credited with the quote: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Dan experimented with this concept to adapt his own formula for originality: 1) imitate, 2) remix, and 3) invent.

If you lift an original, it’s still recognizable. The key to stealing is remixing, almost like remixing a song. To change an original inspiration, you mix in other sources to invent something new.

Tip #2 – Practice Design Every Day

The trick to becoming a good designer is to practice design every day. The kind of design work is irrelevant; what is important is consistency. The common narrative is that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you will emerge as an expert. That number can be daunting, but if you put in four hours a day of practice, you can become an expert in seven years. If you practice eight hours a day, the time frame shortens to three and half years. 

Tip #3 – A Good Portfolio Is Like a Love Letter

Think of a good portfolio as a love letter. It is a partial proxy for the first interview. The content and layout of your portfolio should answer three questions: 

1) For the hiring manager, do you have what I need?

2) What do you love to do?

3) What are you the best in the world at doing? 

It’s difficult to create a portfolio that suits all. For students and people starting out in their careers, Dan recommends making an individual portfolio for each hiring manager. When you develop a custom portfolio with a call to action, the value proposition should reflect your audience. If you are aiming for a specific job, tailor your portfolio to that position. Your work supports the value statement.

Tip #4 – Charge 10%

Pricing your work to the time required to complete a project is a challenge. Money is abstract, which makes this task even harder. For success, you must employ the pricing methodology which makes you confident. When you aren’t comfortable, change how you price your work.

Dan provides an overview on pricing structures such as starting with one hourly rate and completing a few projects at that rate. Over time, you can adjust accordingly. Experiment until clients push back.

A change occurred when Dan started treating pricing as an object. If a client paid him as an object, would he take the job? (For example, if I took this job, it could be my trip to Paris.) It’s called Object Value Pricing, and it’s a fundamental he still uses today, even when pricing complicated projects for his agency.

Another methodology is to ask: What does the customer get? What’s the difference if you do the work or you don’t? An example of this strategy is if a client asks you to create a poster for an event. You ask the client what happens if I don’t make the poster? The client responds by saying she won’t sell out the venue without a poster. Then you can ask what happens if you sell out the venue? The client will earn $8,000 with a sell out. Consequently, your price for designing the poster is 10% of the profit. Your fee then becomes a commission. The time required to design the poster doesn’t enter into the pricing.

To make large fees without objection, you must keep the customer focused on what’s in it for them. The framing of the situation changes: Your work helps the client become successful–a win/win.

Tip #5 – Dream Projects Are About the People, Not the Work

It’s often perceived that dream projects are the ones without restrictions. However, that’s not the case. The best projects are about the people and what they get from the work. When Dan reflects upon his most influential projects, the pattern is the people. It has nothing to do with the budget and timeline. The most important aspect of designing is to enjoy the people you collaborate with.

After a short break, Dan led a portfolio review with three volunteers from around the country. Takeaways from the critiques included:

1) The point of a presentation is to help others learn. 

2) Show three to five projects. This allows reviewers to see patterns. 

3) If something unexpected happens during a presentation, keep going. Remain calm and try not to lose your composure. It’s a mark of a good professional.

Tags Portfolio Festival