AIGA Portfolio Festival with Ellen Lupton
By AIGA August 3, 2020
AIGA Portfolio Festival with Ellen Lupton
By AIGA August 3, 2020
AIGA Portfolio Festival with Ellen Lupton
By AIGA August 3, 2020

The second day of AIGA’s Portfolio Festival featured Ellen Lupton, curator of contemporary design at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and founding director of the graphic design MFA program at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland.

The webinar was divided into three sections: Ellen’s presentation on the role of storytelling in portfolios, Q&A, and an interactive portfolio review.

Storytelling as a Tool

Your portfolio is so much more than your work. It’s your plan, proposal and manifesto as well as your proof of concept as a designer. Take time to reflect upon your story and incorporate it into your presentations. 

To develop a compelling narrative arc for a portfolio presentation, consider the following:

  • Choose an appropriate number of pieces. (three is a good number for a 10-minute talk)
  • Give each project its own arc. (beginning, middle, and end)
  • Don’t get bogged down in the beginning.
  • Know when to stop.

Describe the rise and fall of energy in a story. Typically, the story begins in a low place and introduces us to a character, challenge, or situation. The energy of the story builds until it reaches an apex. Then it goes down the other side of the roller coaster. Your portfolio presentation should mimic this structure with a definitive beginning, middle, and a conclusion. 

To evoke the emotional range of a portfolio presentation, consider the following:

  • Vary the intensity. Don’t treat every project the same way or in the same depth.
  • Use humor to break up heavy stuff and create a shift.
  • How do you feel about the work? Where is your passion? Share it.

Use a variety of emotions in one piece followed by a strong ending. Include something very meaningful and personal to illustrate the passion in your work. 

Questions and Answers with AIGA’s Lee-Sean Huang

The following are the highlights from their conversation: 

  • Ellen believes the first-person narrative expresses the commitment to who you are.
  • Presenting is a very narrative process–you are pitching to get work. The idea of storytelling drills down to each piece we create. Time and emotion are universal principles. 
  • Storytelling engages an audience. It’s the way you get people interested and curious. All stories are temporal.
  • Insert humor into your story so it lands well–observe patterns and structure in humor. For example, the idea of three is very important for comedians. Humor makes people feel welcome as long as it’s not at their expense. Be careful that you don’t isolate folks.
  • If you are transitioning from one profession to another, don’t hide your employment history. Use your path to illustrate the history of your work. Past experience is an asset. Use your back story; it’s valuable.
  • Request students to bring themselves to the work. Ellen asks her students to create a Personal Journey Map–show influences, mentors, ancestors, and look to the future. 

Portfolio Reviews

The following is valuable feedback Ellen shared from the critiques: 

  • Show a range of skill and an arc in your portfolio.
  • Your choice of projects should convey who you are.
  • One presentation option is to show more slides and go through them quickly to immerse your audience in the work. 
  • Designers make tools to support others.
  • Storytelling is conveying the setting and the context around your ideas.
  • There are different styles of storytelling and presenting. You can illustrate the process, plant seeds and build suspense. You can also ask questions. This approach engages the audience’s curiosity.
  • Design is a welcoming field. Graphic design is very accessible. It has roles for all kinds of people to play in everyday life. It's quite a broad and inclusive practice.
  • You get more impact when you edit and make choices. Leave your audience wanting more.
  • Try to dig deeper. When searching for inspiration, go beyond looking at other graphic designers on the internet. Find unconventional sources.
  • Show why design is worth spending money on: it’s about depth, research and original thought.

Tags Portfolio Festival